The legacy of Waco civic advocates Kent and Lucy Keeth will live past their involvement in the Sanger-Heights Neighborhood Association and multiple community organizations and city boards, thanks to a $7 million bequest to the Waco Foundation from the Keeth estate.
Keeth, director of Baylor University’s Texas Collection for 30 years, died Dec. 29, 2017, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Lucy Keeth died in 1999.
Keeth donated his entire estate to the Waco Foundation as an unrestricted gift, the second largest made to the Waco Foundation in its history. Stephen Goldstein gave $14 million of his estate to the foundation in 1991, the largest gift made in its 51-year history. In 2007 the foundation received a $6.5 million bequest from Lyle Kay Masterson in memory of her mother, Lyle Seley Masterson.
The Waco Foundation is one of the city’s largest charitable foundations, charged with improving the quality of life for McLennan County residents through promoting solutions to community challenges and supporting local nonprofits.
Keeth, a 1960 Baylor University graduate, held graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, Berkeley and served in the Peace Corps. From 1973 to 2003, Keeth served as director of the Texas Collection.
He and his wife helped found the Sanger-Heights Neighborhood Association in 1984, the first Waco neighborhood association, and were active in organizations and boards including the Waco-McLennan County Friends of the Library, the YMCA of Central Texas, NeighborWorks, the Waco Plan Commission, Mission Waco and the Texas Collection.
“Kent was a very civic minded person,” Waco architect B.J. Greaves said. “I found him incredibly interesting.”
Greaves first met Keeth in 1975 when, as the Texas Collection director, Keeth spoke to a meeting of the American Institute of Architects.
The two became friends over the years, and Greaves was impressed with his love for community and civic involvement. Several years ago, Keeth informed Greaves of his intent to leave his estate to the Waco Foundation as a way of supporting efforts to make Waco better.
The size of Keeth’s bequest surprised some who knew him as the longtime director of the Texas Collection, but Greaves said Keeth had inherited some land and mineral rights from his family, made smart investments and lived frugally.
“He was probably the smartest person I’ve ever met in my life,” Greaves said.
Foundation members knew of Keeth’s bequest shortly after his death, but closing out his estate took more than a year, said Natalie Kelinske, the foundation’s director of communications and donor services.
In a statement announcing Keeth’s gift, Waco Foundation Executive Director Ashley Allison said it will go far to help Waco.
“It’s a tremendous honor for Waco Foundation to receive this gift,” Allison wrote. “The impact of Kent Keeth’s generosity will be far-reaching, and Waco will truly be a better place because of his kindness.”
The money will go into the foundation’s endowment of almost $100 million. Grants and scholarships are drawn from the $3 million in interest the endowment earns annually, Kelinske said.
To credit the Keeths’ gift, the foundation has created a Kent and Lucy Keeth Fund from which grants will be named.