Since 1969, there’s hardly a person around Pacific who was a Boy Scout or soccer player that hasn’t been influenced by Frank Kelemen.
Kelemen, 69, Catawissa, has been a Boy Scout leader for more than 33 years, and coached soccer for 25 years with the Pacific Soccer Association.
Kelemen grew up in St. Louis in an area known as “The Hill” neighborhood south of Forest Park, which is locally famous for its Italian bakeries and restaurants.
He graduated from Southwest High School in 1963 and joined the Navy, serving six years during the Vietnam War, where he earned the Vietnam service medal and Vietnam campaign medal.
During his time in the Navy, Kelemen married and had four sons.
When he was discharged in 1969, Kelemen obtained a job at the now defunct Chrysler plant in Fenton, where he was employed for 34 years.
Kelemen joined the Boy Scouts himself when he was in grade school and is still involved with the organization today.
Presently, Kelemen is Scoutmaster and Cubmaster for Boy Scout Troop 363, Catawissa.
“The Cub pack had folded and I decided to try to rejuvenate it,” he said.
Kelemen leads about 45 boys and friends say he has been a huge influence in the lives of many others.
“He’s a great guy,” said John Pickett, a friend of Kelemen’s whose son Sean achieved Eagle Scout under Kelemen’s guidance.
“Frank was a big influence on Sean. He played a big part in him getting Eagle Scout.”
Sean Pickett now serves in the U.S. Marine Corps and is stationed at Camp Pendleton. He contacted Senior LifeTimes via email, echoing his father’s sentiment concerning Kelemen.
“I have known Frank for a while and have gotten to know him quite well,” Sean wrote. “He has always been there for anyone who needed him and he will go out of his way to help. There is no doubt in my mind that without Frank, I would not be an Eagle Scout or a Marine. He has played a major part in making me into the man I am today.”
Sean said Kelemen likes to do things “the old-school way,” and “will make you earn everything.”
“When I have a child I can only hope (he or she) meets someone as good as Frank,” Sean said.
John said Kelemen never misses a Scouting event and has taken his troop to 15 summer camps. He has always helped with klondike derbies, swimming skill center activities, service projects and many other events.
“He’s always there,” he said. “If there’s a hike, he’s there; if there’s a camp out, he’s there.”
Craig Vander Haar, a sports reporter with The Missourian who grew up in Pacific, said Kelemen was an awesome coach whose No. 1 objective was to ensure his team members had fun.
“Some of my fondest memories growing up in Pacific were playing Little League sports, and having Frank as one of my soccer and baseball coaches,” Vonder Haar said. “What I remember most about Frank as a coach was how much he wanted all of his players to have fun, which is what Little League sports should be about.
“He had a great sense of humor, and still does today. He tried to make us laugh and wanted what was best for his players. Frank has always been a very approachable person, and always willing to lend a helping hand.”
Silver Beaver Award
Kelemen’s efforts with the Boy Scouts have not gone unnoticed.
Earlier this year, he was among 21 Scouters in the St. Louis Metropolitan area who received the distinguished Silver Beaver Award, the highest recognition the BSA can bestow on volunteers who have made outstanding contributions to the Scouting program.
Kelemen was nominated by the local council and approved by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
His grandson, Chase Kelemen, presented him with the award.
“It was really great,” Kelemen said. “(Chase) had a speech prepared and everything.”
Order of the Arrow
For the last five years, Kelemen has served as an adviser to the brotherhood ceremonial team of his district’s Order of the Arrow chapter. Keleman, who helped resurrect the team, has been instrumental in helping Scouts become full members of the order. Recently, he became a Boy Scout roundtable commissioner for his district.
Kelemen has been kicking around a soccer ball since he was about 6 years old, he said. He played on teams and Catholic Youth Council league until he graduated from Southwest High School in St. Louis.
“(The Hill) is where I learned how to play soccer,” he said. “I played it a lot. I was pretty good.”
There were no soccer teams in the Pacific area, and Kelemen, who still played soccer himself, wanted to give his sons the same opportunity to play.
So Kelemen set to work garnering interest in the sport and helped bring Little League Soccer to Pacific.
Before Liberty Field was opened, the Little League teams in the 1970s played on property near what is now the city park that was owned by a railroad company.
“There was a big sewer lid in the middle of the field,” Kelemen said.
In 1975, the league moved to a field in the city park, and in the 1990s Liberty Field was established.
“The league grew to 40 teams,” he said. “Then we tried to get it into the high school. We went to a lot of school board meetings and even offered to help finance it, but they kept putting us off.”
But Kelemen’s persistence finally paid off.
“I remember sitting in school board meetings begging them to pass it,” he said. “We finally got a Franklin County league in the high school. It’s big in high school now. They have (junior varsity) and varsity teams, boys and girls teams.”
On His Own Time
Kelemen worked some doing construction work with friends and family members, but decided to retire from that as well.
“I told them I didn’t want to work every day,” he said.
He and his wife Cindy enjoy camping, but traded in the tent for a fifth-wheel camper complete with a fireplace.
“We used to have a johnboat and camp on the river, but she didn’t want to live in the sand anymore,” he said.
Kelemen also enjoys other outdoor activities such as deer hunting, but he had to work that around Scouting for Food.
“They always do Scouting for Food opening day of deer season,” he said. “We put the bags out opening day of gun season then the next Saturday we come back and collect the food. So I don’t go out with the gun that much anymore.”