Marvin Rosefield Keck, (1895-1971) was a musician who served in World War I in Admiral Niblack’s Flagship Band of the Mediterranean Fleet on the Flagship Olympia. The Marvin Rosefield Keck papers, which date from 1916 to 1972, consists of newspaper clippings, correspondence, diaries, drawings, photographs, scrapbooks, and unpublished writings. The collection covers Keck’s experience in World War I as a band member in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Olympia and his experience in the American Legion band in South Dakota after World War I.
Marvin Rosefield Keck, (1895-1971) was a musician who served in World War I in Admiral Niblack’s Flagship Band of the Mediterranean Fleet on the Flagship Olympia. Following World War I, Keck worked for the United States Postal Service and participated in many musical endeavors in South Dakota.
Marvin Rosefield Keck was born in Odebolt, Iowa, but moved with his family to South Dakota in 1910. He graduated from Brookings High School and attended South Dakota State University. In 1914, Keck purchased his trombone and was soon playing with the State College Band in Brookings, South Dakota.
In 1917, Keck enlisted in the United States Navy, was stationed at Gibraltar and assigned to Admiral Niblack’s Flagship Band of the Mediterranean Fleet on the Flagship Olympia. According to an American Legion Post #22 letter of support for Keck’s nomination of Civil Servant of the Year, Keck and the Navy band “entertained English, French and American hospitals and the larger ships of the Allies.” After the armistice, during the summer of 1919, Keck’s fleet was sent to the Adriatic Sea to sweep for mines and the band played concerts in the Balkan States and Italy. Later in 1919, the Flagship Olympia was sent to the Black Sea to inspect ports of Asia Minor and the band played concerts in Constantinople and many other ports. In the late fall of 1919, Keck was discharged from service after 3 years.
On December 12, 1920, Keck married Ethel Johnson. They were the parents of three sons: Roger, Russell and James. They moved to Onida, South Dakota in 1921 and Keck served as the Register of Deeds for four years and Justice of the Peace for six years. While living in Onida, Keck organized a band called Keck’s Kornet Kids for children ages 4 to 15.
The Kecks moved to Rapid City in 1934, and Keck served as a member of the police force for one year before opening a dry cleaning business, which he ran until 1938, when he went to work for the Post Office on May first that year. During his twenty-five years of service to the United States Postal Service, he designed a “Letter Drop Scoop” and served as Acting Postmaster from December 30, 1960 to April 1, 1961. He retired on December 29, 1963. He was very involved with the Civil Service Board and received in 1959, the area’s Annual Civil Servant of the Year Award.
Music remained important to Keck throughout his life. He played the trombone, bugle and drum. In South Dakota, he directed the South Dakota State American Legion Band for 34 years as well as the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Band. He was a member of the Rapid City Municipal Band for nearly 30 years and he played with the Rapid City Symphony Orchestra as well. Keck also directed bands in Onida and Gettysburg, and the 709th Engineers Band. He frequently played bugle for military funerals and composed “Black Hills White House March” when President Calvin Coolidge spent a summer in Black Hills.
Keck was also a member of the American Legion and served as a Commander of the American Legion in Rapid City.
Keck died on December 14, 1971 at the age of 76. Ralph W. Smith, at a concert given in his memory, stated that Keck, “in an extraordinary fashion, served his country, his community, his God, his church, and his family.”
American Legion Post #22. Civil Servant of the Year, 1959 Nomination Form.
Obituaries, not attributed to a source.
Smith, Ralph W. “Annual Winter Concert dedicated to the Memory of Marvin Keck,” Rapid City Symphony Orchestra, January 16, 1972.
USS Olympia (C-6/CA-15/CL-15/IX-40) was a protected cruiser in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War. She is most notable for being the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay. Olympia continued in service throughout World War I and was decommissioned in 1922. As of 2008, she is a museum ship at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Marvin Rosefield Keck papers, which date from 1916 to 1972, consists of newspaper clippings, correspondence, diaries, drawings, photographs, scrapbooks, and unpublished writings. The collection covers Keck’s experience in World War I as a band member in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Olympia and his experience in the American Legion band. The majority of the material dates from 1916 to 1919 and documents his war experience.
The collection is divided into six series: “Clippings and Ephemera,” “Correspondence,” “Diaries,” “Drawings,” “Photographs and Scrapbooks,” and “Writings.”
The majority of the “Clippings and Ephemera” series consists of materials relating to Keck’s service in the American Legion band, his music, and his Civil Servant of the Year award. There is also material regarding his death, including newspaper clippings and programs. A small quantity of World War I era military newspapers and clippings are also included in this series.
The bulk of the “Correspondence” series includes letters Keck wrote to Ethel Johnson while he served in World War I. These letters contain many details of his everyday life aboard the U.S.S. Olympia. There are typed transcriptions of letters sent between 1916 and 1920, which were created by Keck’s daughter, Vickie. Of note to users, is her statement on the front page of the transcription: “transcription of original letters from M.R. Keck to Ethel Johnson. I did these several years ago and couldn’t bring myself to type words I knew he’d be embarrassed to use. V.J.” Commentary regarding his life was also added to the transcriptions. Also in this series are four letters, including a South Dakota State College faculty recommendation letter, a letter regarding the training of band members, Keck’s nomination for Civil Servant of the Year in 1949, and a letter informing his family of his death.
The “Diaries” series contains diaries that Keck wrote during the entire span of his service years in the United States Navy on the U.S.S. Olympia. Also included is an extended account written by Keck of one particular day in his diaries, July 17, 1919. The diaries have been transcribed and contain a summary of main events, with footnotes to explain entries that may need more information. An electronic copy of this transcription is available in the Archives.
The “Drawings” series consists of pen and ink drawings made by Keck, with comments from W.L. Evans School of Cartooning. Many of the cartoons appear to be of political nature.
The “Photographs and Scrapbooks” series includes four scrapbooks compiled about his military service, two photograph albums, and loose photographs. The scrapbooks and photograph albums contain postcards of ports visited, photographs of Keck and fellow sailors, foreign currency, foreign stamps, and other ephemera. The summary of events in the diary transcription will be extremely helpful in deciphering the locations of photographs.
The “Writings” series contains unpublished works by M.R. Keck including his autobiography, a creative story about his trombone’s life (“A Trombone Talks”), a satire about a World War I era sailor with drawings (“Ezekiel’s War Diary”), and a program script for Keck’s presentation at a Veterans Affairs Hospital.
This collection shows a very complete life of a sailor during World War I aboard the U.S.S. Olympia. The collection would be of interest to researchers interested in World War I, the life of a sailor, life aboard the U.S.S. Olympia, the life of a band member during World War I, wartime letters, love letters, and foreign ports of call during World War I. The collection would also be of interest to those studying the American Legion band.
- Olympia (Cruiser)
- United States. Navy
- Keck, Ethel J.
- Keck, Marvin Rosefield, 1895-1971
- Niblack, Albert P. (Albert Parker), 1859-1929
- Military bands
- World War, 1914-1918
- Cartoons (humorous images)
- Photograph albums
- Olympia, Officers and Crew
- Olympia Images