The life of Hans Joachim Keil*

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ONE HAPPY FAMILY: Hans Joe and Celine Keil with their children and grandchildren in a family photo.

ONE HAPPY FAMILY: Hans Joe and Celine Keil with their children and grandchildren in a family photo.

Known as Joe Keil, I was born 11 May 1944 the second son of William and Violet Keil.

My earliest recollections were happy ones being raised on a cocoa and coconut plantation at Lotopa, which belonged to my grandmother Hazel (nee Kennison) Elkins-Harrington-Mugele-Hack.

We lived in a big old house on the river bank, and we were free to roam the plantation eating all the fruits like esi, mangoes, vi, coconuts, sugar cane etc. I learned to swim at a very young age and we swam in the river every daily.

I attended primary school at Leifiifi with my other cousins from Lotopa - Olaf, Klaus, Herma, Alfonso.

We walked to and from school every day as there were no buses and few cars on the road.

As a young boy, I built and captained a ship made of corrugated roofing iron and wood that Richard and August and I would float down the Vailima stream. Every Saturday, my brothers and I would go to the movies in town.

We loved cowboy movies, musicals and Zorro. This is how I learned the art of sword fighting and practiced regularly on my younger brothers. In August 1952, at age 8, my mother took Richard, August, and myself to join Melvin and attend school in N.Z and live with my grandmother Hazel and my Aunty Ligi.

We travelled on the Union Steamship "Tofua". It was a happy trip for me as I enjoyed roaming all over the ship. On the way we stopped in Suva for a day. Richard and I stayed in NZ while August returned to Samoa with our mother.

From 1952 to1959, I attended Napier St. School, Mt Albert Primary, Kowhai Intermediate and then Auckland Boys Grammar, the top school in NZ for education. We stayed with our grandmother, Hazel all this time. I represented my schools in swimming, athletics, and rugby.

My brother Melvin and I joined a men’s choir which gave us the opportunity to travel around NZ. We also volunteered to help build the LDS temple in Hamilton. When I was 9, I started working a newspaper route and whatever money I earned, I gave to my Granny Hazel. Once a week, I would catch the bus by myself to the fish market to get free fish heads for our sua i’a.  

I would also take Richard and sell souvenirs at rugby games to earn more money.

Granny Hazel passed away in 1959. At 14 I fell in love with Rock ‘n’ Roll and started sneaking out at night to a club called the Orange where I would watch, and sometimes perform with, my older cousins in the Keil Isles band. I learned to sing and play the guitar but nowhere near as good as my cousins. 

At 15, I was sent back to Samoa to finish my last 2 years of high school at CCWS, Pesega. I bought a motorcycle and enjoyed giving rides to pretty girls. It was during this time that Aleki Wright also joined our family. 

In August of 1961, our parents separated and my mother took Richard, August, Hermann, and myself to Hawaii. Melvin, who was still in NZ, joined us the following year. In October of 1961, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and attended basic training in Lackland AF Base, Texas then went on for technical training at Chanute AF Base, Rantoul, Illinois. This was my first experience with a snowy winter and it was a very cold one.

With my aircraft electrician training completed, I was assigned to Beale Air Force Base, 50 miles north of Sacramento, California where I maintained a fleet of B-52 Bombers and KC-135 aircraft. The work was very challenging and interesting and I regularly took hops on military aircraft to visit my mother and brothers in Hawaii.

I took evening classes at Yuba College taking courses in history, mathematics and psychology and on my weekends off-duty I would visit San Francisco and stay with Meleke Auro and his family or visit Hayward and stay with Auntie Vickie, Uncle Faiga, Elva and Sulaika. I enjoyed these visits very much and made many friends in the San Francisco Bay Area.

EARLY DAYS: Joe Keil grew up in Lotopa.
EARLY DAYS: Joe Keil grew up in Lotopa.

After my discharge in October 1965, I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend flight training at Spartan School of Aeronautics while working at American Airlines as an aircraft electrical repairman. In 1967, I was called on an LDS mission to Samoa and served under Pres. 

Price and Pres. Shute. The mission was a very humbling experience for me. I traveled from Manua to Falealupo, Savaii and came to know the people, customs, and traditions and learned to speak the language fluently; which was to be of great use to me in my later life. One of my mission companions, Tuifao Tufuga became a lifelong friend.

After my mission I returned to Tulsa Oklahoma to finish my flight training. My mother and brothers had moved to Orange County, California. Richard had joined the US Army and August had joined the Air Force. While attending flight school in Tulsa, I made many friends and participated in many church activities for Tulsa Third Ward.

I stayed with a wonderful couple Jim and Bonnie Blamires and their family who worked for American Airlines. August and Hermann also stayed with then Blamires while attending Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa and we have remained dear friends.

In 1970, I returned to Samoa and began my flying career first with Air Samoa and then with Polynesian Airlines. The aircraft I flew included Cessnas, the Britten Norman Islander, the Douglas DC3, the Hawker Siddely 748, and the Boeing 737. (Note: Dad was the first Samoan pilot to return and fly commercially here in Samoa for Air Samoa and Polynesian Airlines).

My favourite aircraft was the DC3. Many locals began joining the company, Grant Percival, Jennings McDermott, Danny Rankin, and my good friend Mark Berking. My cousin, Elva's husband, Harry Gallagher joined Polynesian.

My brother August returned to Samoa after his flight training at Spartan and he and I had flights together on many occasions. In 1971, I married Celine Hellesoe.

We have three girls; Violette, a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and a Registered Nurse, Bella who performs with the Duttons in Branson, Missouri, and Katrina, a professional photographer. And, in 1985, our special boy Nathan, was born in Hawaii. As a child with Down Syndrome, he had a very hard time as a baby but he is now healthy and strong and the joy of our family.

In February 1988, I successfully ran for Parliament representing the Individual Voters Roll, those of European descent who are not tied to the matai electoral system.

As a Member of Parliament, I served as the Minister of Transport and then the Minister of Trade and Tourism and put to good use the knowledge of the Samoan language that I had gained during my LDS mission.

I travelled all over the world representing Western Samoan in overseas meetings with the United Nations, European Union, and other international organizations. After five terms and 23 years in parliament, I retired from politics in 2011. 

I do not miss the political life. In March 1996, our family opened up the first McDonalds Family Restaurant in Samoa along with my father and the Schwenke Family.  In 2006, we established TV3, the first privately owned TV station in Samoa.

Some of our key programs, such as Samoan Idol, Young Stars singing competition, the National Spelling Bee competition, and the 8 Days of Christmas, have nurtured the talents of our Samoan youth. We also proudly broadcast live the Joseph Parker fights and LDS General Conference. I now try to live a quiet life of reading, research into the Samoan history and the European involvement, and collecting the history of the Keil family. 

My favourite hobbies are reading and swimming with my son, Nathan who is now 33 and very popular.  He is such a blessing to Celine, myself, and our family as well as everyone he meets. Celine and I also spend as much time as possible with our kids and nine grandkids (Tiana, Natalia, Selena, Rex, Nathaneal, Leila, Tama, Tara and Toa) in the US and they enjoy their visits to Samoa whenever possible. 

 

*excerpt written by Joe (and edited by his children) for the Keil Reunion book, which he edited and published.



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