Over the decades, Dennis and Connie Keller’s generosity has touched many areas of the University, from the College to the Harris School of Public Policy and the Chicago Booth School of Business, to name just a few.
On Wed., Oct. 28, the Kellers received the University of Chicago Medal—one of the highest honors the institution can bestow—for their wide-ranging philanthropic support and service to the University.
Dennis, MBA’68, is a University Trustee and cofounder and retired chairman and CEO of DeVry Education Group. Connie Keller is chair of the Field Museum’s Board of Trustees, a longtime member of the University of Chicago Women’s Board, and active in numerous educational and environmental causes.
At a dinner honoring the Kellers, President Robert J. Zimmer described the couple as “truly generous of spirit. They believe that you can change the world through education,” said Zimmer, who thanked the Kellers for their “extraordinary commitment to the University of Chicago.”
The University of Chicago Medal was established in 1976 by President John T. Wilson to recognize distinguished service of the highest order to the University by an individual or individuals over an extended period. The award is conferred by the trustees of the University “to recognize rare and exceptional friends of the University.”
“Dennis’ and Connie’s impact on the University has been widely and deeply felt,” said Joseph Neubauer, MBA’65, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees and a previous University of Chicago Medal recipient, along with his wife, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer. “I am delighted to honor them and all that their inspiring support of the University has made possible.”
The Kellers’ first major gift to the University established the Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professorship at Chicago Booth, named after Dennis Keller’s father and his mother, who entered the College in 1929 but was unable to finish for financial reasons. Keller House, in the Renee Granville-Grossman Residential Commons, is named for Dorothy Keller as well. Extending their philanthropy across campus, the Kellers have supported Odyssey Scholarships, the Urban Education Institute, Court Theatre, and the University of Chicago Medicine, among other areas of the University.
In 2014, they made a gift to the Harris School of Public Policy toward a major renovation and adaptive reuse project for the school’s future home, to be known as the Keller Center. An additional gift will help support collaborations between the business school and Chicago Harris.
The Kellers’ connection to the University reaches back to Dennis Keller’s business school days. Newly married in 1967, he was ready to develop his own entrepreneurial ideas and enrolled at what was then the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
After graduation, Dennis took a job in marketing with Bell & Howell’s educational division, DeVry, which offered associate and bachelor’s degrees in electronics and engineering. He shared his idea with Ron Taylor, DeVry’s controller, for a business school for working people, taught by instructors from the business world.
In 1973, he and Taylor left DeVry to found what would become the Keller Graduate School of Management. The school anticipated today’s widespread executive MBA programs with features like evening and weekend classes. In 1987, Keller Graduate School acquired DeVry Institute of Technology and became DeVry Inc.
Dennis and Connie’s relationship with UChicago, meanwhile, grew as their family did. All three of their sons had wonderful experiences at UChicago, says Dennis—Jeff, IMBA’97, a member of Chicago Booth’s first international MBA class; John Templeton, or “Temp,” who graduated from the executive MBA program in 2007; and David, JD’08. Temp’s wife, Kerry H. Keller, AM’12, studied at the School of Social Service Administration.
Since Dennis Keller’s retirement in 2008, the Kellers have enjoyed spending time with their eight grandchildren. Seeing the results of their support for the University—especially when it involves students—makes them happy.
“The promise that unfolds in front of your eyes—and the chance to just be part of making that possible,” says Dennis, “brings a lot of joy.”