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Dayton Docket

If You Build It...

Brother Raymond Fitz thought this might be the day.

But what the President of the University of Dayton didn’t know is that the large gift he’d leave a home with around Christmas time in 1991 would be small enough to fit in his pocket.

Keller night“I was really appreciative,” Fitz says.

That night is when the vision for Keller Hall, which was dedicated 20 years ago on October 4th, 1997, took a major step toward becoming a reality, but the plans for a place the School of Law could call home started taking shape even before Fitz took over as president in 1979.

The idea formed when the School of Law once again began offering classes in September 1974. It had first opened in 1922 but closed in 1935 because of the Great Depression.

Albert Emanuel HallAfter reopening, the School of Law was housed mostly in the basement of Albert Emanuel Hall, but Fitz felt to attract students something more substantial was required.

“We knew we needed a building for the long-term viability of the law school,” Fitz says.

But projects of that size don’t happen overnight.

“I think the biggest concern for us was how to put all the financing together,” Fitz says.

That’s where Joseph Keller comes in.

Joseph KellerKeller was a 1929 graduate of the first iteration of the University’s law school. He even taught there from 1930 to 1934.

Keller then went to Washington D.C. to be an administrative assistant to the Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. He would later found his own D.C. law firm, Keller and Heckman, in 1955.

“He was a great man with deep integrity,” Fitz says.

It was to the home of Keller’s sister that Fitz went that December night in 1991. Keller was in town visiting, and Fitz had a hunch he was prepared to make a gift to the law school.

What happened next Fitz will always remember.

“He pulls out a personal checkbook and writes a check for $5 million,” Fitz says.

To show its appreciation, the University offered to name the law school building after Keller, but he was reluctant at first.

“I said, it’s your gift, I’ll do whatever you want, but by putting your name on the building and putting some information in it, you can be a model for people thinking about giving back to the law school,” Fitz says. “So he said I’ll put my name on it.”

GroundbreakingWith Keller’s gift and others, the financing was in place. Now the question was where to put the building.

“There was some consideration of putting it downtown,” Fitz says. “But we wanted it on campus because of the interaction of law with other disciplines.”

There was only one problem. At that time Fitz says there was a Frisch’s restaurant located on Stewart Street in the area of where the University’s entrance is now.

“The University has enough money to build the building, but it’s going to have Frisch’s stuck in the middle of it,” Fitz says.

Fortunately, the timing worked out so that the University could use another planned gift to tear down the Frisch’s and redo the entrance.

MagazineBut the University still had to decide on a design for the law school.

“The architect came back, and he had a completely glass building,” Fitz says.

Fitz had concerns about how a glass building would match the other buildings on campus.

“That’s one place I put my foot down,” Fitz says. “We’re going to have a brick façade.”

The groundbreaking for the new building was May 5th, 1995.

It was opened in time for the start of fall classes in 1997.

MagazineThe $23 million facility included 400 miles of wiring making it among the most high-tech law schools in the country.

“It gave the law school something to build on,” Fitz says. “It was technologically advanced. It was an attractive building with plenty of space.”

The building is still a major draw for students.

Sadly, Joseph Keller never got to spend time in the building that bears his name. He passed away in 1994.

Joseph KellerBut a tribute to Keller and his life of service is located on the building’s first floor, and his spirit lives on in the learning that fills the halls.

"I've always been interested in helping people to be good lawyers,” Keller once said. “My roots came from the University of Dayton. It's the only place I feel I ever got an education."

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