As LaPlace resident Harold Keller moved from one job to another in the early years of life, he never imagined he would find his ultimate destiny in an organization that would touch thousands of lives over the past quarter century.

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2005

Keller just getting warmed up at age 70

By KEVIN CHIRI

Publisher

LAPLACE – Harold Keller recently turned 70.

The “Get High on Life” ministry that he co-founded is celebrating 25 years in operation this year.

Yet Keller talks like he is a little kid looking forward to his next birthday.

“I feel like the richest man alive,” he said. “I’ve never had more energy or excitement for anything I have done in my life. And I think the best is yet to come for our ministry.”

On Tuesday night, “Get High on Life” will celebrate a quarter-century of helping people in the River Region, and even throughout Louisiana.

Keller has been the man at the forefront of that ministry, and today is one of the most respected and well-liked individuals in the area.

The ministry was formed 25 years ago when Reserve Christian Church Pastor Rod Aguillard called a meeting of community leaders to look at the growing drug problem among young people. Keller had recently gotten dry from being an alcoholic, and was invited to the meeting.

The result turned into a 25-year ministry that has touched thousands of lives, and finally brought his topsy-turvy life into focus, following almost 50 years of struggling to find his own personal peace.

“Get High on Life” is a ministry that offers numerous ways to reach out to young people who have addiction problems. There are programs held at schools and numerous public sites, speakers who go out and talk to kids, and counselors available to help those in need. Through it all, Keller has spearheaded the effort to the point of nearly going bankrupt, but always trusting that God would supply his needs.

Looking back on 25 years, Keller gave his usual laugh and smile, and nods in agreement about how rich he has actually become.

“I’ve always been concerned about money like anyone else. But I have learned to live a day at a time, and God has always provided what I’ve needed,” he said. “I think God took away a lot of money from me early on since he knew I might not serve Him if I had it.”

Considering the thousands of lives touched by “Get High on Life,” Keller seems overcome with humility.

“This organization was created to love people, love God and reach out to hurting people,” he said. “I just want to be a servant for God in the ministry, and I feel so grateful for what opportunities it has given me to do that. I have such a peace about what we’ve done, but I’m just a servant in all this.”

God’s Provision

For the Ministry

Keller had to endure personal financial hardship through many trials in maintaining the ministry, something he took on as his full-time job at the age of 45.

In February of 1980, Aguillard called a meeting of community leaders to discuss the drug problem, and Keller was made chairman, since he was a known former local banker who had begun speaking about overcoming his alcoholism.

Through the years of the ministry, Keller says he had numerous stories of business leaders supporting him through financial trials as he was committed to work full-time running the organization.

Once he got $61,000 in debt just believing he would be supported, and some key business leaders behind the ministry paid off all the debt. Another time he was ready to be kicked out of his apartment but had a call from a lady he had helped four years before, who sent him $3,000, even though he tried to turn her down.

“I was crying and had chest pains from the bills I faced,” he said. “I asked God to take me. But two days later this woman called from Missouri and told me I had helped her family four years before, and now God was telling her to send me some money. My pride was so big I told her I was doing OK, but she said she had to obey God. I got a check for $3,000, then a few years later the lady sent me a check for $10,000.

“God has always provided for my family in our time with the ministry,” he added.

As the ministry began, Keller was still going through a hard time personally, even though he had quit drinking.

He went to a service at Reserve Christian in October 1980 and said he was “saved” that day.

“I was raised with religion being important to me, but I never had a relationship with God,” he said. “When I went to the church that day since I was invited to speak, they had an altar call and I felt like I needed to go up. I just knew something was different about me after that.”

Within weeks his wife suddenly noticed he had quit swearing, making it clear to him there had been a real change in his life.

“I found that I had more compassion for people, I appreciated my family more, and I was more grateful for my friends who loved me unconditionally. Suddenly I realized how precious life was,” he added.

Keller started getting more and more calls to speak, and the organization began to work harder with public officials to get them to zero in on the drug problem. He started doing family intervention, and 10 years ago began a weekly visit to a drug rehab center in Mandeville that continues to this day.

Today, the business leaders on the board’s committee provide Keller $1,000 a month, a car and pay his expenses. But otherwise, he and his wife live on Social Security and seem to want everything to go towards the help the ministry provides to the community.

A Different Man in

His Early Life

Harold Keller was born and raised in Reserve, graduating from Leon Godchaux High School in 1953. His father worked at the Godchaux Sugar Mill, but died early at the age of 48, while his mother lived until she was 95.

“I remember the simple life we had as a kid growing up,” he said. “Godchaux Sugar had a place called the Community Center in town and families paid 50 cents a month so they could go there. They had three movies, a pool, library┼álots of things to do for families.”

He grew up in a Catholic home and remembers being influenced by the nuns at St. Peter Catholic School.

While he believes that early connection to religion later instilled a desire in him to serve God, he admits to straying far from the faith for many years.

He joined the Navy in 1953 “wanting to travel and see the world.” But he said it didn’t take long to realize he didn’t want to make it a career.

“I never had any regrets about being in the Navy, but it didn’t take long for me to realize home wasn’t too bad of a place,” he said with a laugh.

He attended college off and on for a short time, then got married to his current wife of 47 years, Jeanne. Together they would have four children, and many grandchildren.

He went to work at Kaiser Aluminum for five months, but then went into the insurance sales business with Metropolitan.

“I made plenty of money in the insurance business, but when a new owner took them over after eight years, I was let go,” he explained.

During that time, he ran for election to the state Legislature and won to serve one term, and later ran for sheriff against popular St. John Sheriff Lloyd Johnson in the late 70s, but lost.

“I’ve always been a competitive person and I admit I ran against Lloyd just for personal reasons because I wanted to beat him,” Keller said. “I enjoyed recognition back then, and loved being in the Legislature and doing well in the insurance business. Being successful in business what was I was striving for to be happy.”

From the insurance business, he spent time as the assistant port director, then working at the Bank of LaPlace, but still he wasn’t happy and quit the job, surviving on his wife’s income and the residuals from the insurance business.

But still, on a personal level things were getting worse. His drinking continued, and his marriage and relationship with his children suffered.

“I got sober in 1974, but I never dealt with the character reasons for drinking. So I started drinking again and my marriage was getting worse. I was always out and everyone was telling my wife she should leave me. But she never did,” he recalled. “She always stuck by me through the worst times and it was only recently I asked her if she could ever forgive me for what I put her through. She started crying and just said she already had, but it was really wonderful for me to say that.”

Finally he sought help in a 12-step program when he realized he might lose his family, which coincidentally coincided with the time he was asked to the meeting by Aguillard to start “Get High on Life.”

“I know God has a reason and a timing for everything, and you could see that in the chance to start the ministry, the timing when I got saved, and the way it saved my family,” he said. “My home life started improving although it took a while to regain the trust of my wife and kids. But today my relationship with them all is so wonderful. I’m just so grateful for it all.”

Keller doesn’t see an end to his work with the organization, and is looking forward to plans to build a local rehab center in the near future, thanks to the strong support of business leaders and public officials in the area.

“I will do this as long as I live. I’ve never had more excitement for anything in my life,” he repeated. “And the friends I have made from this ministry are so wonderful. What most people don’t know are all the business leaders behind the scenes that have supported me, and this ministry. I’m just one of the servants who has made this work.”