Longtime Northland veterans advocate Durbin Keeney dies at 65

By KBJR News 1

May 4, 2014 Updated May 4, 2014 at 9:56 PM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Durbin Keeney, a longtime Northland veterans advocated, has passed away.

He dedicated years to service and helping vets wherever they need a hand.

In April of 1998 Keeney joined MACV, accepting that he would have "little to no income."

Through his work with MACV, the organization was able to buy three buildings in West Duluth and provide housing for veterans who had nowhere else to turn.

The $2.5 million dollar Duluth Veterans Place project had been a decade-long goal for Keeney.

"I got a call from Diane Keeney this morning at around 6:30 and she didn't leave a message," said longtime friend and fellow veteran John Marshall, "I didn't get the phone right away and I knew it was bad."

The call was bad news that the longtime veterans' advocate had passed away from an apparent heart attack after a recent surgery.
Marshall, a Desert Storm veteran, got to know Keeney in the late 90's.

"Durbin," he said, reflecting on his character, "I met him and he was kind of gruff, really, a little bit abrasive at the time."

The abrasiveness came from Keeney's Vietnam War service as an Air Force sergeant; and from the rude welcome home he received.

"These protestors were throwing eggs at the van because I was in it, and screaming at me," said Keeney in a previous 2013 interview. "We pretty much understood that we weren't welcome, and it's pretty hard not to be welcome in your own country."

That didn't stop Keeney from devoting the rest of his life to helping fellow veterans.

Over the years, he served with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, helped build a shelter for homeless vets, planned Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades plus organized drives to build memorials to Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer and Vietnam War POW David Wheat.

"These are men and women we all owe a debt to," said Keeney during the same 2013 interview, "they served us and now when their need comes forth we need to serve them."

Now that Durbin Keeney's service is over, John Marshall and the rest of the Northland's veterans' advocates are stunned.

"We can't replace Durbin Keeney," said Marshall, "it's not possible."

But, they'll try because there are still veterans in need.

Durbin Keeney was stationed in Vietnam during 1970 and 71 in an Air Force security unit.

He retired from Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in 2011 but never stopped helping vets during his own free time.

Statement from Mayor Don Ness on the passing of Durbin Keeney

“With the passing of Durbin Keeney, our community has last a friend, a tireless advocate, and a true patriot. I always enjoyed working with Durb and appreciated his passion. I once referred to him as relentless, which he loved. He took it as a compliment, often referring to himself as ‘Relentless Keeney’ to me from then on. He was passionately devoted to helping others, especially his fellow veterans. He, and his vast contributions to our community, will always be remembered. My prayers go out to his family and friends.” – Mayor Don Ness

Written by Kevin Jacobsen and Dave Anderson
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