There Are Teachers and There Are Teachers – Chesterton resident Dr. Daniel Keilman is still teaching at age 80

Written by Mary Ellen Michna. Posted in Community News, Featured, Senior Living

Published on January 13, 2016 with No Comments

Dr. Daniel Keilman holds his book “The Unordained Priest” – Books are available by calling Keilman.

Dr. Daniel Keilman is a teacher ‘down to the bone.’

For this octogenarian, the days of teaching in classrooms in Northwest Indiana are behind him. A true teacher doesn’t necessarily work in the classroom, but embraces life and turns experiences and knowledge into teachable moments to share with others.

He most recently did this with the publication of his memoir, The Unordained Priesthood. After retirement from the Indiana State Department of Education in 2005, he decided to record his reminiscences about growing up in Dyer when it was a small farm town and life for the Keilmans centered on faith, family and friends.

But the book grew in scope to present not only a look at life in NWI from the 1930s on, but a look at the accumulated wisdom from a life lived true to a man’s faith and beliefs. “Our beliefs define us for the best life, the worst life or any other life in between,” reflects Keilman. On learning, he writes, “We learn so much out of the classroom. True knowledge does not just know facts, but being able to apply them to your life.”

In the book’s format, he concludes each entry in a teacher-like challenge with the “Just Think About It” section. In one entry he writes about the almost forgotten era of WWll when German prisoners were often housed by Dyer residents. With the labor shortage, non-aggressive prisoners worked on area farms. He recalls the community’s mixed feelings about the prisoners and how that became a lesson for him, forming his beliefs about war and fear and hatred of people who are different.

For the second son of four children, there was the dream of priesthood and the desire to make a difference as the pastors at St. Joseph Church had done. He held onto his dreams in spite of being sexually victimized at a young age by a parish priest. After graduating from eighth grade, he entered the seminary where he completed high school and college. As he moved towards ordination, the abuse he had experienced ultimately prompted him to do some soul searching and to make the decision, right or wrong, to leave the seminary. He recalls, “I left the seminary, but fortunately the seminary never left me. I did not become a priest, but my dream and my efforts built the person I became.”

He returned to Dyer and was offered a teaching job at St. Joseph School. He remembers his father’s constant encouragement and his mother’s words, “If you can’t be a priest, be a good teacher.”  He also remembers the wisdom of his Great Aunt Alma, a non-Catholic, who wrote to him, “The world needs a good Christian who is living the life and lessons learned in the seminary.”

He writes about his uncertainty facing his first classroom, “I began to see that a stranger in a classroom is hardly an effective teacher.”  In later years he found humor a powerful way to engage his students. He had a way of presenting material at literally different levels to demonstrate the importance of the information. He taught from a position on the floor, chair or desk.

By the end of his first year teaching, Keilman had no doubts about having left the seminary. “I knew that teaching would be my life.”

He shared that life with his wife, the former Sharon Marie Graf, also a teacher. With master’s and doctor’s degrees and certification as a counselor, he accepted the principalship at Bailey School in Chesterton. The young couple settled in the community and raised four children.

In the book, there are photographs and memories of the area and the teachers and families he lived and worked with. In his 31 years as a principal, he also worked at Jackson School in Jackson Township, both Duneland schools.  Earlier he worked in Hammond as a teacher at Caldwell School and as a counselor at Wallace School. Keilman also worked as adjunct professor at Purdue University, at both Calumet and North Central campuses; and Indiana University Northwest, retiring from that position three years ago.

He retired in 2000 from principal duties, but found himself accepting a position with the Indiana Department of Education in Indianapolis as a liaison for charter schools. Today, he is engaged in the community as an active member of the Exchange, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. He also tutors children.

The book seemed a natural progression and he is grateful to Heather Augustyn, an area journalist, who edited his book and LuLu Press for publication. Books are available by calling Keilman at 219-926-5872 or e-mailing danielkeilman@comcast.net,

On being a part of the learning process, he concludes, “When a child learns something, he becomes a different person. Teaching is the greatest joy in life.”


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