FARGO — When Joe Keller was a toddler, everything seemed so perfect. Then came a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. Everyone knew the odds were against him, but the odds didn't know Joe.
Joe Keller's family walked WDAY News through his Harry Potter- and sports-adorned bedroom. The memorabilia on shelves and walls were of the things Keller loved. A super fan whose mom, dad and sister adored him.
"For Joe, the circle of family could not be drawn too large," said his sister, Kayla Keller.
Keller lived for sports, and the relationships he built from them. Whether it was at Shanley High School, where he scored his own touchdown, to MSUM basketball — where Joe became like family to the men and women's teams.
Natalie Steichen wrote, "Heaven gained the best angel," and Bryce Irsfeld tweeted, "He will make so many friends in heaven."
"He was such a great guy that brought so much happiness that impacted so many lives," said friend Natalie Steichen. "It didn't matter if you knew him for 20 years or 10 seconds, he went out of his way to make your day and say hi.'"
Some of Keller's sports stories and competitive spirit are legendary. Like the time an opponent was at the free throw line and he could make a loud beeping sound by pushing a button on his wheelchair.
"He would do that when they were shooting free throws and they were missing free throws right and left," said Joe Keller's father, Gary Keller. "He almost got a technical (foul). The ref came and said, 'you have to quit doing that or you will get a technical.'"
He wanted freedom to live, and he did. People were just drawn to him, and he made a difference in the lives of thousands.
Keller was known to roll his wheelchair into neighborhood garages just to chat with strangers who soon became friends. That was Joe — always living, always teaching and never letting his disease dictate anything.
Joe Keller's father had a message for those who knew his son and are mourning his loss alongside his family.
"Carry on the joy he had and treat other people like Joe treated you and multiply it," Gary Keller said. "There is no better lesson than that."
The Shanley Athletic Club inducted Joe into its Hall of Fame. There will be a special ceremony next fall.
A prayer service for Joe Keller will be held on Friday, May 28, at 7 p.m. at the Shanley gymnasium, with visitation starting at 5 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, May 29, at 11 a.m. at St. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church.