5 Homecoming

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

sign on the wall in Keady’s office (Calvin Coolidge)


Gene Keady was born in Larned, Kansas on May 21, 1936, which was not unlike being sketched into a Norman Rockwell picture. A speck on the map in central Kansas, the heart of the heartland, Larned, all 2.3 square miles of it, was home to about 4,000 people, the vast majority of whom qualified as honest, humble and hard-working folks whose lives were rooted in the soil. His parents, Lloyd and Mary Helen, were typical.

Mary Helen, whose maiden name was Montgomery, was English by bloodline, but had been born in Mexico. She stayed at home and oversaw the upbringing of their two children, first Gene, and then four years later, Norma.

Lloyd, an Irishman, had grown up on a farm, and quit school in the eighth grade to help put his older brother, George, through college. While George Keady went on to earn a business degree and become an executive with General Mills, Lloyd never left the greenhouse where he first found work; he never wanted to. It was owned by a German immigrant named Sam Gilbert. For many of his first 40 years there, Lloyd Keady walked to work and earned $1 an hour. He would spend eight hours a day growing, picking, potting and selling flowers, and then walk home. It was an invigorating, stress-free life, although hardly the pathway to wealth. When Gilbert, who had no family of his own, died, he willed the business to Keady, and the rest of his possessions to charity.