By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
Russell Keller – a man who has been known locally for decades as an author, lecturer, historian and memorabilia collector – has chosen to donate 10,000 images from his massive local historical photo collection to the Rim of the World Historical Society, which he has been active in and supportive of for decades.
This will enable the society to sell historic photos from the local area and create new museum displays, from “The Russ Keller Collection,” since it now has the photo rights. This will help support the museum in its mission and its programs.
The Rim of the World Historical Society operates the Mountain History Museum at 27176 Peninsula Drive in Lake Arrowhead. This historical society began in 1986 in Crestline as a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the mountain communities. Keller was on the historical society’s board of directors for decades.
Keller has been supportive of the mountain area and museum since he moved to the mountains in 1998. He had always been a collector and had a habit of buying storage lockers at auctions over the decades. As a result, he recently wrote a book on Mohammad Ali – From His Own Hand – from Ali’s writing he acquired from a storage unit he bought decades ago. The book is now available at Goodwin’s Market. It’s located in the store next to the Amazon lockers.
Keller is known locally from both his newspaper writings and books, plus his talks on local history that he gives each year and from being a docent at the Mountain History Museum. He is working on a new PowerPoint lecture topic, “The Squirrel Inn,” to add to his PowerPoint repertoire of mountain movies, Crestline history and murders, UCLA, Lake Arrowhead Village and others. He intends to continue these free talks when venues can be arranged. He also will continue in spring, when the temperatures increase, his free walking tours of Top Town Crestline.
His numerous projects have been the very generous donation of his time and energy to the community as they have been from his heart, and free to the community. Keller has been seen several days each week over the past 20 years, picking up trash along Lake Drive and maintaining the garden next to the north Switzerland monument.
Keller got interested in local history in many ways, first exploring the history of the Cliffhanger, then going to a historical society meeting at the Lake Arrowhead firehouse and being introduced to local historians such as Lee Cozad and Tom Core. He was interested in buying old post cards and photos. He met Jim Huff, which led to the two of them bidding against each other for postcards on eBay on Crestline history. He also was bidding against John Lyles for Lake Arrowhead postcards.
That interest and his purchase of Roger Hathaway’s collection led to his massive collection of about 25,000 images, from which he just donated the local photos to the historical society. These photos have been frequently seen in newspaper articles and on posters for events, including last fall’s 100th anniversary of the Lake Arrowhead Village.
Over the decades, Keller has also purchased several local photo collections, such as 2,000 images from the family of former County Supervisors John Andresen Sr. and John Andresen Jr. Supervisor John Jr. was an avid photographer of the mountain communities, which he represented.
Keller enjoys attending postcard and collectible shows, where he has purchased the rights to the thousands of photos and postcards. He was known for wanting a complete collection of everything from the mountain area. His financial investment is significant, so his images are kept protected inside his extensive collection of old bank vault safes.
Keller’s nickname is the “Mountain Collector.” His significant financial investment over the decades makes this photo collection donation even more impressive.
Keller quickly got involved when he moved to the mountains, learning about the area, joining the Rim of the World Historical Society and volunteering to do restoration work, such as the Switzerland signs, twice, the San Moritz street signs, the yodelers on the bus stops, both with Jim Huff, and so much more.
His involvement in writing books and research led to the cooperative writing of the Mountain Guide, which is now in its fourth updated edition. His weekly newspaper columns for over 17 years led to the publication of three books in the Mountain Milepost series. Keller’s books on Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the Postcards of America series and his Big Bear Images of America books for Arcadia Publishing are best sellers and he has donated all his book royalties to the society.
Many photos and displays in the museum reflect his photo collection. His 10,000 digitized photos, stories and more are now available for research for authors and those interested in the area and for local residents to purchase photos to decorate their homes. If anyone wants to order particular photos, they may still contact Keller at (909) 338-8232 to find the perfect photo for their décor or to arrange him to speak at their event or to get an RSVP for one of his walking tours.
Keller has been recognized in many ways and by many groups over the years. He was the last honorary mayor of Crestline. He was chosen the Grand Marshal of the Jamboree Days parade the year the chamber chose the title of his book, Crestline the Swingingest Town in America, as its theme, and the same year the U.S. Post Office chose that phrase for the postmark celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Crestline post office. He is still involved in preserving Crestline’s history and has written histories for a couple of local businesses such as The A, the Bear House and Crestline Café.
“I’ve been very blessed and have lived a wonderful life in Crestline and enjoyed doing all of it,” Keller told The Alpine Mountaineer. “I feel honored that my time and efforts will keep history alive for others, and I was glad to be able to do it. It’s my Christmas present to the society and community.”
“This gift is a treasure for the historical society and will benefit the community and historical society for many years to come. Russ’ many years of dedication and support for the preservation of mountain history is beyond compare,” said President Bill Pumford of the Rim of the World Historical Society in the society’s Christmas email to all historical society members this last week announcing the donation.
Russ Keller holding his Crestline and Lake Arrowhead Mountain Milepost books, published by the Rim of the World Historical Society. (Photos by Rhea-Frances Tetley)
Russ Keller (front) and Gary Bancroft at the Lake Gregory Yacht Club, during one of the murder mystery plays the historical society has done as fundraisers.