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Marvin Rosefield Keck papers


Held at: Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library [Contact Us]Penn's Landing on the Delaware River, 211 South Columbus Blvd. and Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

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.

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. 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.

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

Independence Seaport Museum, J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Megan Good, Megan Atkinson, Becky Koch, Jennifer Duli, Jack McCarthy, Leslie Willis, Jenny Barr, Matt Herbison
Finding Aid Date
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.

Collection Inventory

Musical Activities, 1954-1967.
Box 1 Folder 1
Keck Memorial Materials, 1971-1972.
Box 1 Folder 2
World War I era clippings, 1916-1919.
Box 1 Folder 3

Letters to Ethel Johnson, 1916-1917.
Box 1 Folder 4
Letters to Ethel Johnson, 1918-1919.
Box 1 Folder 5
Letters to Ethel Johnson, 1919.
Box 1 Folder 6
Letters to Ethel Johnson, 1919.
Box 1 Folder 7
Letters to Ethel Johnson, 1920.
Box 1 Folder 8
Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1917-1972.
Box 1 Folder 9
Letters to Ethel Johnson (transcribed, cd included). There is also an included cd of the transcriptions..
Box 1 Folder 10
Physical Description

There is also an included cd of the transcriptions.

Diary, 1917-1918.
Box 2 Folder 1
Diary, 1918.
Box 2 Folder 2
Diary, 1919.
Box 2 Folder 3
Keck's Diaries (transcribed), 1917-1919.
Box 2 Folder 4

Cartoon Sketches from W.L. Evans School of Cartooning, undated.
Box 2 Folder 5

Photo Album, 1915-1931.
Box 2 Folder 6
Photo Album, undated.
Box 2 Folder 7
Photographs, 1934-1960.
Box 3 Folder 1
Scrapbook, 1917-1919.
Box 3 Folder 2
Scrapbook, 1917-1919.
Box 3 Folder 3
"A Sailor's Letters at Home and Abroad" Scrapbook, 1917-1919.
Box 3 Folder 4
Scrapbook, 1916-1919.
Oversize 1

"A Trombone Talks", 1967 February 21.
Box 3 Folder 5
Autobiography, undated.
Box 3 Folder 6
"Ezekiel's War Diary" by Keck, undated.
Box 3 Folder 7
Veterans Affairs Hospital Program Script, undated.
Box 3 Folder 8

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