CELORON - Loren Smith last spoke to Jack Keeney on March 1. Both men knew it would be the last time either spoke to one another.
"He knew I was saying my goodbyes and I knew he was saying his goodbyes," Smith said.
Keeney, mayor of Celoron since 2009 and longtime head coach of the Panama football team, died Saturday of cancer.
Celoron Mayor Jack Keeney is pictured with Shirley Sanfilippo, village clerk, late last year. Keeney passed away Saturday at the age of 72.
P-J file photo
Friends and colleagues were notified of Keeney's death Sunday morning. Many recall a man dedicated to youth and eager to unite the community.
"It's been a great honor working for him," Celoron Clerk Shirley Sanfilippo told The Post-Journal. "He was one of the best mayors I've ever worked for. He did a great job serving this community."
Said Scott Schrecengost, Celoron trustee and deputy mayor, "He's going to be greatly missed. Those are going to be some pretty big shoes to fill."
"He's going to be greatly missed. Those are going to be some pretty big shoes to fill."
Celoron trustee and deputy mayor
"The community is sure going to miss him," he said. "He really changed things around. He put together a Christmas party for the youth and worked with the seniors. He worked to bring this whole community together."
Schrecengost will serve as acting mayor of Celoron until the village's April 8 meeting, at which time a new leader will be appointed to fill the remainder of Keeney's term.
Before becoming mayor, Keeney was a physical education teacher at Panama Central School; he served as athletic director for three decades and coached numerous sports teams, including the football program for 33 years.
Keeney retired in 1996, but remained active in the community.
Smith, a fifth-grade math teacher at Panama, was an assistant football coach alongside Keeney for almost a decade. A little more than a week ago, Smith was at Keeney's side again. This time it was to say farewell.
"I told him I was thankful he would let me see him, and he told me he was glad I came over. I told him I wasn't doing it for him. I was doing it for me. That put a smile on his face."
Smith said Keeney had a way of motivating his football teams over the years, some of which went on to win at then-named Rich Stadium. Playing on the Buffalo Bills' home turf at the time was the equivalent of playing in a college football bowl game.
Keeney also coached teams that never saw the win column. But it didn't matter, Smith said. Even the struggling teams under Keeney thought they were going to win.
"He was special," Smith said. "He was sharp right up to the end. He was an innovator, especially in the classroom. On the field, he had a way with words.
"I remember coming in Monday thinking our team was going to be annihilated. By Friday he had us believing that we would win. And win convincingly. Panama beat a lot of teams they shouldn't have. (Keeney) just had a way of thinking outside the box."
Keeney was active in the village up until his death. He told reporters last month he was disappointed to see Celoron would not be receiving critical state funding for village programs, including a boardwalk project and improvements for the Lucille Ball Memorial Park.
"We are a community that can't afford something like this on our own," Keeney said at the time. "We reached our hands out and we got turned down."
Sanfilippo said Keeney was dedicated to the people of Celoron.
"He cared about this community," she said. "He was a great guy, and a great mayor."
Keeney is survived by his wife Mary E. Janetos Keeney, with whom he celebrated his 50th anniversary last summer; a daughter, Kristine K. (James) Swanson of Lakewood; and a son, Michael J. (Maggie) Keeney of Lockport.