Staff Sgt. Ken Keller with wife and 6 adopted children sit for photos on farm.

Courtesy photos

Ohio Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Ken Keller, an Avenger Air Defense System crewmember and squad leader with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, and Chelsea Keller, a social worker for The Bair Foundation Child & Family Ministries, sit for a family photo with their six children. All six were adopted from foster care through Montgomery County Children Services.

Love still stands: Ohio couple adopts six foster care children

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Chad Menegay, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

XENIA, Ohio (12/02/19)

He would not leave her alone.

She, 19, worked at Pretzel Fest in the Fairfield Commons Mall in his hometown of Beavercreek, Ohio, and he, also 19, was a regular customer, a party-driven student at Sinclair Community College.

Pretzel Fest was where he got his popcorn before heading into the movie theater next door with his cousin, who also worked at Pretzel Fest. He knew everyone who worked at Pretzel Fest except her. He watched her hands roll and twist pretzel dough, lassoing one end of the rope around the pole of the other end and into a knot. He watched her petite frame turn to the oven and wriggle around the bodies of her co-workers. He always wanted her to take his order. It became a gag to her co-workers, who would always tease her into taking his popcorn order.

She approached with a conservative smile, and he looked into her blue eyes, probably saying something like, “Why is popcorn way better than a movie?”

“I’m not sure, why,” she probably asked.

“Because it’s just so much butter,” he probably said.

This was probably, unknown to them, when and where they fell in love.

“He would not stop asking me out,” she said, “so I was like ‘I’ll just go out one time, and then he’ll leave me alone.’”

He would not.

Ten years and six children later, he had to leave her again because he was deploying again.

Leaving her, yes, but not alone — with the six children: Marqus, 9; Briana, 7; Robert, 4; Emmett, 4; Izzy, 2; and Josiah, 1.

Love knows no limit to its endurance

“The deployments have been hard,” said Staff Sgt. Ken Keller, an Avenger Air Defense System crewmember and squad leader with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, located in Cincinnati.

Keller has been charged twice in his 10-year Ohio Army National Guard career to defend the nation’s capital, helping to provide 24-hour ground-based air defense during the ongoing mission to protect the National Capital Region and its critical assets. He has missed his Pretzel Fest girl dearly over the two years he was away, and she has missed him just the same.

“The deployments have been hard,” said Chelsea Keller, now a social worker for The Bair Foundation Child & Family Ministries. “This last one, though, we were able to go out and visit him a few times, so that was helpful for the kids.”

What has also been helpful for the kids? The Kellers, and becoming Kellers themselves. All six children were adopted from foster care through Montgomery County Children Services. The Kellers, who live in a pristine development called Sterling Green of Xenia, in Xenia, Ohio, describe their family dynamic as “a loving chaos.” They describe their two-story, five bedroom home with a private fenced-in yard, a basement and 3½ baths as “very structured.”

“People who come in our house have commented about how there’s always a lot going on, but we have structure,” Chelsea said. “The kids know what they’re allowed to do, what they’re not allowed to do. The kids’ bedtime is 7:30, and people think we’re nuts, but we need quiet time. They’re all pretty good about going to bed.”

Chelsea likes to joke that Ken is her seventh child, but she also jokes that the only kind of partying he does these days are children’s birthday parties. Long ago Chelsea gave Ken an ultimatum.

Love knows no end to its trust

“I was raised super conservative and Kenny not so much,” Chelsea said. “So, we were very opposite, but opposites attract, I guess, but there came a time when I said, ‘OK, look, you gotta choose because if you want to party, have at it, but that’s not my style.’”

Ken believes he made a good choice.

“I think parenting has made me a better Soldier; it’s definitely made me a better person,” said Ken, who works full-time as an electrician for Reddy Electric in Xenia.

It might be difficult for some to think of how the Kellers could possibly become “better people,” given that they have devoted themselves to raising their six adopted foster children. Some would argue adoption is about the most selfless thing a person could do.

“I personally struggle when people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re like a saint here. You have a special place in heaven for you,’” Chelsea said. “I just think this is what we are meant to do. These are my kids. This is who God created us to be. He created us to be these kids’ parents, whether I birthed them or not is neither here nor there. They’re our kids.”

Ken said that people have told him he’s done enough with four or five children; why keep going?

“Really, if there were a lot more people who adopted, more of these kids wouldn’t be on the street,” Ken said. “They would have a house. They would have food. They would have a second chance at life. That’s, to me, what better way is there to give back to your country besides serving in a war? You’re helping your community. These kids jump houses, from houses to houses. It’s sad.”

Love knows no fading of its hope

The Kellers have a park they often visit, about five houses down, with a basketball court and a pavilion. Ken likes to have bonfires in the backyard, and he likes to grill out. They usually go to beaches in the summer, either Myrtle Beach, South Carolina or somewhere in Florida. They’re going to Tampa Bay this year.

“The kids love going to the beach and having bonfires,” Chelsea said. “Mom, when are we going to the beach again? Well, not until next summer.”

Ken coaches Marqus in football and wrestling, and coaches Robert in wrestling too. The twins, Robert and Emmett, both played soccer. Briana did gymnastics and tumbling. They all did swimming last year. Marqus also runs track in the spring.

“Ken is very interactive and hands-on with the kids,” Chelsea said. “He’s on the floor with them playing. He’s watching movies with them, playing video games, but when it comes to discipline, he’s firm when he needs to be firm.”

Marqus likes to refer to his parents as a team.

“Whether Daddy’s here or he’s not, we’re going to work together,” Chelsea said.

The family, altogether, are happy where they’re at in Xenia.

“The kids are in school here,” Ken said. “They love it. They have great friends.”

The Kellers have a large finished basement with beautiful hardwood floors, which they built, in part, so their children would have a comfortable space to have friends over.

“I want to always know where they’re going,” Chelsea said. “I’m probably a helicopter mom, but, that’s OK.”

Recently, they hosted about 10 of Marqus’s football teammates for the night.

“It was nice to have a place for them to come down to and hang out,” Chelsea said.

Ken is from a family of five, and his father is from a family of seven.

“I’ve always been around a large family,” Ken said.

The question of more children has come up.

Love can outlast anything

“I mean, we have space for more, but as of right now we’d like the young ones to get a little bit older before we take in anymore,” Ken said.

For those considering adopting through foster care, the Kellers advise to go in with an open mind.

“And open arms,” Ken said. “You’ve got to understand that the kids come from trauma, multiple cases of trauma, whether it’s physical abuse, whether it’s lack of food, neglect. You have to be able to adjust yourself to the kid. Some kids aren’t going to want to be hugged right away. You just have to give them their space.”

The Kellers claim they couldn’t do it alone, that they have a support system that includes friends, family and their church.

“Don’t think that you’re going to be doing it by yourself,” Ken said.

Chelsea said that despite the children taking deployments hard, that she can see Ken is very dedicated to the National Guard, and that it’s become a part of their children’s world.

“If they see a helicopter, they’ll say ‘Daddy, do you shoot down that helicopter?’ ‘No, only the bad ones.’ I think they’re definitely proud of him,” Chelsea said.

Ken cites his military background and the way he was raised, a family which includes many members who have served in the military, as reasons that he’s so well prepared to lead six adopted foster children as a father. Still, he admits the two deployments away from his wife and children has taken a toll.

“Yeah, definitely away from the kids, you know, them being that young,” Ken said. “You know, it’s ‘why is Daddy leaving again?’ Then, coming back and trying to get back into that routine as two parents and not one parent because, you know, Chelsea had to do everything for a year. That’s a struggle, and I’m sure it is for most families coming back off deployment.”

Most families, though, are not like the Kellers.

“Yeah, we definitely have an unusual story,” Chelsea said.


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