Local philanthropist Ken Kellar, who died three days before Christmas at the age of 84, spent 25 years amassing a fortune in Blaine and then spent the next 20 giving as much of it as he could back through his generous support of highly varied educational, religious and environmental projects, scholarships and causes in Blaine as well as in his previous home town of Aiken, Minnesota, and in Deadwood, South Dakota.
The quiet, self-effacing Colorado native grew up outside Minneapolis, eventually owning and managing several resorts on the upper midwest’s many lakes.
A lover of small towns, he adopted the town of Aiken, Minnesota, after buying a nearby resort. He came to Blaine in 1965 with just $20 in his wallet but by 1990 was able to start the Kenneth L. Kellar Foundation that annually gave away over $32,000 in Blaine alone, and that much or more in other parts of the country.
Kellar’s business, Exports, Inc. looks north out over at the Peace Arch from the top floor of his building on Martin Street.
He began with a local duty free store that grew into a string of 17 stores along the border between Blaine and International Falls, Minnesota. He sold the chain in 1990 for several million dollars, the year after he bought the 10-year-old Whatcom State Bank, based in Ferndale.
The bank 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 owned an armored car business, Mobile Armored, and another casino in Deadwood.
In the last 15 years Kellar supported 26 Blaine High School graduates with scholarship funds totaling more than $140,000. In 1993 Kellar gave the Whatcom Community College Foundation enough seed money to provide an annual scholarship for a Blaine graduate to attend WCC.
All this is in addition to the $10,000 to $12,000 per year he gave to the Blaine school district to help support needy students, and the twelve $100 awards given to middle schoolers as an incentive to stay in school until they graduate. The money is given as certificates of deposit that mature at an average of 125 percent of their original value if the recipient waits until he graduates to cash it in.
When reflecting on the fortune his business acumen has earned him, Kellar was 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.”
When not working, Kellar was known as a good cook, a dog lover and devoted family man who avoided the limelight. He is survived by his wife Donna, son Michael, daughter Lauren and granddaughter Sarah.
To help continue his important philanthropic work, memorial contributions should be made to the Kenneth L. Kellar Foundation, 435 Martin St., Suite 4000, Blaine, WA 98230.