Blaine man has a legacy of charity
Minnesota native Ken Kellar came to Blaine in 1965 with only $20 in his wallet. By 1990 he’d been successful enough in various business enterprises to begin his Kenneth L. Kellar Foundation that gives away over $32,000 a year to Blaine area people and projects and that much or more to worthy causes in other areas. This last month the foundation marked its 16th year.
Kellar loves small towns. He grew up outside Minneapolis but adopted the town of Aiken, Minnesota, after getting to know it as the location for one of several small lakeside resorts his business had purchased. Now in his eighties, Kellar and his Exports, Inc., corporation are the sole sources of income for his foundation, which supports specific but highly varied educational, religious and environmental projects in Aiken and in Deadwood, South Dakota.
Education is a favorite beneficiary for the kind but reclusive businessman, whose top-floor office on Martin Street looks at the Peace Arch. In the last 13 years, said his assistant, Jasmine Johnson, he’s supported 24 Blaine graduates with scholarship funds totaling more than $130,000. He gave the Whatcom Community College Foundation $15,000 in 1993 which generates enough interest to provide a an annual scholarship for a Blaine graduate who attends WCC.
This is in addition to the ten to twelve thousand dollars per year he gives to the Blaine school district to help support needy students, and the 12 $100 Certificates of Deposit awards given to middle schoolers as an incentive to stay in school until they graduate, when the CD’s have matured at an average of 125 percent of their original value.
When reflecting on the fortune his business acumen has earned him, Kellar is emphatic about giving back to communities who make it possible for that to happen. “You’d better give it back,” he was quoted as saying in 1993, “because there’s no place in coffins for securities.”
Kellar’s business acumen is well known. He began his duty-free business in the ‘60s with a local store that by 1990 grew into a string of 17 duty-free stores along the border between Blaine and International Falls, Minnesota. Kellar sold the chain in 1990 that year for several million dollars and continued investing locally, something he’d begun the previous year when he bought the Whatcom State Bank.
The 10-year-old bank, based in Ferndale, had posted a net loss of over $1 million since its founding, but Kellar got it back into the black and raised its capital from $400,000 to $3.3 million in four years. He financed the $5.5 million Nooksack River Casino 20 years ago in return for 30 percent of the profits, but said at the time that being able to help create over 200 jobs in Deming was a bigger payoff for him. He also owns an armored car business, Mobile Armored, and another casino in Deadwood.