Donald Kellner: lifetime of service to union, retirees and the community
Don Kellner was a union representative at Bethlehem Steel. Joe Cristy represented management.
So when their was an employee grievance, they found themselves on opposite sides of the table.
“I would present management’s side of it, and Don would present the union side,” Cristy recalled this week of Kellner, who passed away last week at the age of 83. “We would argue like cats and dogs.
“We were best friends, but we both had our jobs to do. He would call me all sorts of names, and then afterwards call me on the phone and say he didn’t mean any of
those things he called me.”
And then they sometimes went out for a beer.
Kellner devoted much of his life to the workers at the steel mill, the union and the steelworker retirees.
“It will be kind of hard to run the locals without him being here,” said Tom Capecci, a retired steelworker, union member of friend of Don’s. “He took care of everything. He went out of his way to help anyone with a problem.
If someone needed a couple hundred people for a rally in Washington to fight for retiree’s benefits, Don would organize some bus trips.”
Don was the president of the Steelworker’s Union Local 2609. He joined the retirees group after his own retirement, and when Local 2609 merged with local 2610, he was president of the new Local 9477.
In addition, Kellner was president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). He was still president of both when he passed away.
“He never missed a meeting, even when he lost the use of his legs,” Capecci said. “His wife, Betty, would bring him to meetings in his wheelchair. He never let it get him down.
“It was such a shock when
Betty called me that morning to tell me he had passed away. Everyone is going to miss him.”
A native Dundalkian, Kellner graduated from Dundalk High in 1955 and immediately went to work at Bethlehem Steel. He retired after 40 years.
But Don didn’t restrict himself to just helping out steelworkers.
He was active in sports, coaching football for the Gray-Charles recreation council, playing for softball teams at Bethlehem Steel, and playing, coaching and umpiring men’s slow-pitch softball.
“He was a good umpire,” Cristy said. “He would be invited to umpire a huge national tournament in Wildwood [N.J.],” Cristy said.
Kellner ran the “Bucket Brigade” at the Dundalk July 4 Parade, a group of people carrying buckets with which to solicit donations from people watching the parade.
The money would go toward the parade fund. Kellner and his volunteers would walk the entire parade length with their buckets.
When walking became an issue for Don a few years ago, he passed the Brigade over to Cristy.
Don and Betty also contacted marching bands from out of the area to be in the July 4 Parade, and found places for the band members to stay while in town.
He also worked with the Maryland Food Bank and Harvest for the Hungry to help people in need.
“He was direct,” Cristy said. “You knew where you stood with Donald. The union wouldn’t have been as strong without hm. Dundalk lost a good one.”
Don was also instrumental in creating the monument to steelworkers who lost their lives in accidents at the mill.
The monument stood in front of the old Union Hall on Dundalk Avenue. When the Hall was sold, Kellner led the effort to move the monument to its current location in Heritage Park.
“Don didn’t do all these things for people’s gratitude,” Cristy said. “He did them because he wanted to do them.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic eventually passed, Capecci said Kellner was going to lead a ceremony at the monument “to let them know we hadn’t forgotten about them.”
The current condition of the area where Bethlehem Steel once stood pained Kellner, Capecci said. A company, TradePoint Atlantic, is developing the property with warehouses and stores.
“Don would get tears in his eyes when we visited the Point,” Capecci said. “It’s rough now, seeing it. Don would be very emotional about it; they demolished everything — all the offices, mills and shops. We never thought it would be that bad.”
Tributes and memories to Don Kellner can also be found on the Facebook page: “I worked at Sparrows Point.”
Don Kellner during the 2011Labor Day Parade in Heritage Park.