Keelen carries on mom’s legacy

Junior Hunter Keelen celebrates being crowned homecoming prince during the pep rally on Oct. 15, 2021. He pointed to the sky as the thought of his mom, who passed away suddenly in 2019. “I wanted to show her that I’m still succeeding, still doing stuff even though she’s not here,” he said.

Hunter Keelen looked up and pointed to the sky as soon as his name was announced for homecoming prince. Hunter was certain his late mom was watching, and he wanted her to know he was thinking of her.

Hunter Keelen with his mom Dr. Christi Keelen on the first day of school in 2019. She was starting her first year of teaching at Kingwood Park and her son was starting his freshman year on the same campus. (Photo submitted by Mark Keelen)

“I wanted to show her that I’m still succeeding, still doing stuff even though she’s not here,” he said. “I persevered through that, through my loss, and just kept going.”

Hunter’s mom, Dr. Christi Keelen, was an English teacher on campus when he was a freshman. She died suddenly in October 2019 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

The moment Hunter got in the ambulance with his mom that day, he sensed that it would not end well.

He sat in the hospital hoping for the best, surrounded by his dad and maternal grandmother.

“I felt helpless, but I also felt loved at the same time,” Hunter said.

Dr. Keelen died on a Friday night. Hunter spent that weekend with family. He returned to school on Monday, however. Hunter needed a little noise, and he didn’t want to miss a biology test. Three years later he still remembers acing that science test.

For a while after Hunter’s mom died, his dad Mark Keelen worried Hunter might suffer from depression, especially because Mark saw it so much in his line of work as a firefighter.

“He had to become an adult relatively quick,” Mark said. “He had his sad moments, but he never got deep and dark in regards to [his mom’s death].”

Hunter credits his dad and maternal grandmother Annette Johnson, who lived nine hours away, for keeping him going. She dropped everything to be with Hunter in the months following the death. And as Hunter remained active in school and in sports, Mark was always there volunteering or cheering.

The longtime firefighter cannot remember missing any soccer game Hunter has played since kindergarten. If Mark was scheduled to work, he took vacation or asked someone to cover his shift so he could attend his son’s activities.

Hunter Keelen started playing soccerwhen he was in kindergarten. He is a goalkeeper on the varsity squad now. (Photo submitted by Mark Keelen)

“It was always to show him that he is the most important thing to us, that we’re there to support him in everything and all he does [and] that it’s not a chore,” Mark said. “It’s not something we look at as a distraction to our lives, more something that enhances our lives.”

Hunter credits his athleticism to his father. The elder Keelen played soccer all the way through high school and still plays in an adult league. Hunter attributes his academic success to his late mother. She made grades a high priority, and that stuck with Hunter after she died.

She was always the parent who wanted him to succeed in school and have A’s.

“I have to still have these A’s even though she’s not here,” Hunter said.

Mark noticed school became a safe haven for Hunter after his mom’s death. Teachers would check on him. His mom’s former students would stop him at school to ask how he was doing. His longtime friends were always there too.

“I’ve watched [Hunter] mature into an amazingly confident young man who has brought so much school spirit to KPark,” said criminal justice teacher Scarlett May, who has had Hunter in her classroom for four years. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know Hunter’s mom. I only spoke to her a few times here at school.

“But as a mother myself, I am sure that Hunter’s mom would be so proud of the mature, kind, compassionate, wonderful young man that Hunter has become.”

Hunter started becoming even more involved after his mom’s death. He became the hype crew captain. He’s a goalkeeper on the varsity soccer team, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was even the Key Club president for a year.

Senior Hunter Keelen (in light blue) helps lead the student section on Hawaiian Night at the New Caney volleyball game on Aug. 10. (Arleigh Doehring)

Eventually the support others gave him led Hunter to reciprocate every chance he got.

The 5-foot-11 senior was often seen and heard in the front row cheering on his classmates at football games or starting the roller coaster cheer at basketball games. He even stepped in to play the role of Jesus when the Catholic club needed a last-minute replacement during the homecoming pep rally.

Hunter’s dad said it’s Dr Pepper and a lack of sleep that help Hunter keep up with his busy schedule. Mostly, however, the love and support of the other students keeps him going.

“He just has a special personality,” Mark said of his son. “He wants to always have fun, and he has. As a little kid, he loved to just make noise and be rambunctious.”

Hunter has always been the kid who got in trouble in class for talking too much.

“But you get the work done, and he gets straight A’s,” Mark said.

Hunter wants to major in history at Texas A&M to become a teacher like his mom. He currently helps special education students each day in the adaptive physical education program. He is also an aide in May’s class.

Homecoming king nominee Hunter Keelen is escorted by his dad during halftime of the football game on Sept. 16. (Maya Ortiz)

“Hunter is a huge jokester, but in a wonderful way,” May said. “As an aide in my sixth period, Hunter can either make the class more engaging or help in calming them down.”

Mark could not be more proud of what Hunter has accomplished. He’s certain his late wife would be proud too.

“He’s been very resilient from the get-go,” Mark said. “Of course, he’ll have moments where he sheds tears or gets sad, and we sit there and talk about it. But I think that’s expected.

“Overall, I would say he had a choice from the get-go to go down the right path or the wrong path. And he chose to go down the right path.”