Jack Keel’s grandson continues legacy

  • State Farm staff (from left): Ernestine Sanders, Will Keel, Cody Keel, Elaine Johnson, and Nathan Catoe with Jack Keel’s portrait.

Jack Keel lived up to State Farm’s motto: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Now his grandson is hoping to continue that legacy.

Will Keel, the son of Mark and Jeri Keel, officially became the agent of the State Farm office located at 505 Reynolds Road, Barnwell, on Thursday, Feb. 1. The agency was started in October 1958 by his grandfather, who worked for State Farm for nearly 60 years until his death on Sept. 23, 2017.

“I want to continue what he started. He was an icon. If I can do about half the things he did, I’ll be in good shape,” said Will, citing his grandfather’s numerous awards and accomplishments, as well as deep involvement in the Barnwell community.

Though Will grew up in Irmo, he often spent time in Barnwell visiting his grandparents, Jack and Mary Keel, and other relatives. He said he is excited to now live in Barnwell and become invested in the community. His brother Cody will also be joining the agency.

Will and Cody’s uncle, Harold Keel, said it is humbling to see his nephews, who grew up in the big city, choose to come back to Barnwell. “They saw what was special in Barnwell – the people. It’s exciting to see the Keel legacy extend another generation,” said Harold, who worked for his father for 39 years before retiring a few years ago.

While he can’t dictate the prices, Will said he and his staff can ensure they provide exceptional customer service. It’s the same “neighborly feel” Jack Keel provided for nearly 60 years. Will said his grandfather went above and beyond his job duties, including shoveling snow off someone’s roof to prevent a claim.

“He loved what he did and he loved his customers,” said Will of his grandfather. “He treated everyone the same.”

Harold said his father initially worked part time for State Farm after opening his agency. During those early years, Jack Keel worked the first part of the day as a postman before spending the afternoon at Folk Buick, which was across the street from his house. He then would make cold calls in the evening for the insurance company. After 15 years Jack went to work for State Farm full time and moved the agency to its current location. Even as his health failed, Jack “still wanted to work,” said Harold.

Jack Keel’s obituary said he was an “excellent role model of hard work, kindness and compassion for family and friends. Mr. Keel loved God first, his family and all the many people of Barnwell County. He loved doing for others and helped many in Barnwell.”

Jack Keel instilled those same values, including the importance of customer service, in his grandchildren. Will said his grandfather was also one of the godliest men he knew and had three Bibles with the covers falling off due to being used so much.

“If it wasn’t for him, I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” Will said of seeing his grandfather’s impact on his clients and the community as a whole.

Jack Keel was deeply rooted in his hometown of Barnwell, including as a Mason and through his service on Barnwell City Council, the Barnwell County Hospital Board, and the S.C. Commission on Aging.

Will said he is looking forward to being invested in Barnwell and helping as much as he can. His office has already helped with Secret Santa and sponsored a baseball team, things he said that go unnoticed in bigger cities. “Everything is so much more appreciated here.”

After graduating from Dutch Fork High School, Will earned a degree in political science from the University of South Carolina. While he originally planned to go to law school, he decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. He worked for his grandfather for two years before going to an agency in Columbia for a year-and-a-half of training. He has also spent time at State Farm’s corporate office as part of the training process to become an agent.

Now he is ready to help the people of Barnwell with their home, auto, life and health insurance needs. In addition to insurance, State Farm Bank is also very competitive in the financial services arena with a great mortgage program, vehicle loans and Certificates of Deposit.

Will is joined by long-time employees Ernestine Sanders and Elaine Johnson, as well as a few new additions to the office, including Jack’s other grandson and Will’s younger brother, Cody.

Contact the State Farm office at (803) 259-3595 or visit them Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and after hours by appointment.