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Keezer remembered for love of people, music

As a new professor at UW-Eau Claire in 1986, the first person Robert Baca met was Ron Keezer. Baca noticed Keezer’s kindness and affable personality right away.

“You felt like you were his best friend in about two or three sentences,” Baca wrote in an email. “He immediately tells you all the good things he knows about you and gives you his undivided attention as if you’re the only person in the room.”

The two men began a friendship that continued more than three decades, as they worked closely together in the university Jazz Studies program and were involved in many local music events.

Keezer died on Sunday at age 80 but left a lasting impression on those he encountered, who fondly remembered his welcoming attitude, selflessness and sense of humor.

“My hope would be that you meet someone like (Keezer) in your lifetime,” Baca wrote. “You will become a better person because of it.”

Like Baca, Quentin Volk said Keezer formed immediate connections with anyone he encountered.

“You could not meet someone who was more interested in who you were and what you did,” Volk said.

Volk is the executive director of Eau Claire Jazz Inc., a nonprofit that oversees the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, which Keezer helped start in 1967. Volk knew Keezer for several years and found him friendly and approachable.

“If you ever wanted a fun conversation, you just met up with him,” Volk said. “There was no such thing as a quick hello.”

Volk once visited Keezer’s house to pick up a book and ended up staying for three hours. Keezer showed Volk photos, records and regaled him with stories of his days as a UW-Eau Claire professor, which lasted from 1969 to 2001.

Keezer was one of the founding members of the first UW-Eau Claire jazz band and played a crucial role in turning the university’s Jazz Studies program into one of the nation’s best.

Volk said Keezer genuinely cared about people, and that made him a great teacher.

“He found out who you were as a person, and then he worked with that,” Volk said. “He helped you find your own potential.”

In addition to his instructional ability, Baca called Keezer, along with his son Geoffrey, one of the most talented musicians he ever heard.

Geoffrey Keezer, a Grammy-nominated jazz artist, said a career in music was “etched into my DNA” because of his upbringing. He began playing piano professionally in his father’s band at age 14 and never looked back.

Geoffrey’s mother, Mary Keezer, was a professional musician, music teacher and one of the founders of the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra. She began teaching her son piano at age 4. She died on March 31 of this year after more than 54 years of marriage to Ron.

Kimera Way, UW-Eau Claire Foundation president, met Keezer in 2001 but started working more directly with him in 2011 to help bring a collection of jazz charts and recordings to the university.

“He was just such a champion for jazz,” Way said. “We’ve lost one of our retired faculty member bright lights, as well as a real cornerstone of the UW-Eau Claire jazz program.”

Way will remember Keezer’s lively personality and indefatigable passion for music. Sporting a broad brim hat, he often sauntered into Way’s office with a new idea, and she inevitably agreed to work on whatever he proposed.

“He was so positive and in such a charming way that you could never say no to him,” Way said.

No matter how difficult the task, Keezer could seemingly accomplish anything to which he devoted his energy.

“When he set his mind to getting something done, you might as well just tell him in the beginning, ‘We’ll get it done, Ron,’ because you know he won’t give up,” Way said.

Geoffrey Keezer agreed.

“Dad embodied many of his generation’s qualities and values — showing up early for work, dressing sharp, being prepared and organized,” he wrote in an email. “Dad brought his infectious enthusiasm and sense of humor to every job. He took the music and the work seriously but didn’t take himself too seriously.”

Baca said Keezer excelled at turning thoughts into action.

“Every idea we came up with, he made sure we followed through until it came to fruition,” Baca wrote. “He was like a badger for things he believed in.”

Keezer was also involved with the Shell Lake Arts Center, which is located about 80 miles north of Eau Claire and the site of an annual jazz camp.

Volk recalled seeing Keezer enter the SLAC and sensing the admiration attendees had for him.

“He’d walk in the room, and you could feel the love and respect for Ron from people of all ages,” Volk said. “He was the father of the Eau Claire jazz culture. He started it.”

Baca agreed, saying Keezer was instrumental to the local scene.

“He was our glue that held all of us together,” Baca wrote. “Everybody knew him and loved him and therefore could work together as long as he was on board.”

Way said Keezer excelled at bringing people from disparate backgrounds together.

“His gift is that he was a connector,” Way said. “It’s up to the rest of us to keep things moving in honor of Ron.”

The professional accomplishments were numerous, but Volk said Keezer was most interested in people.

“He was a human before anything else,” Volk said. “He just wanted to learn who you were and what your story was. That was his whole thing: ‘What’s your story? Tell me about it.’ It was incredible.”

Keezer’s story, one of musical passion, altruism and adoration from others, came to an end Sunday, but the people he met will remember the impact he had on them and ensure his legacy continues.

AP centerpiece
Ex-officer charged with murder in Atlanta shooting

ATLANTA (AP) — Prosecutors brought murder charges Wednesday against the white Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the back, saying that Brooks was not a deadly threat and that the officer kicked the wounded black man and offered no medical treatment for over 2 minutes as he lay dying on the ground.

Brooks was holding a stun gun he had snatched from officers, and he fired it at them during the clash, but he was running away at the time and was 18 feet, 3 inches from Officer Garrett Rolfe when Rolfe started shooting, District Attorney Paul Howard said in announcing the charges.

“I got him!” the prosecutor quoted Rolfe as saying.

The felony murder charge against Rolfe, 27, carries life in prison or the death penalty, if prosecutors decide to seek it. He was also charged with 10 other offenses punishable by decades behind bars.

The decision to prosecute came less than five days after the killing outside a Wendy’s restaurant rocked a city — and a nation — already roiled by the death of George Floyd under a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis late last month.

“We’ve concluded at the time that Mr. Brooks was shot that he did not pose an immediate threat of death,” Howard said.

A second officer, Devin Brosnan, 26, stood on Brooks’ shoulder as he struggled for his life, Howard said. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.

The district attorney said Brosnan is cooperating with prosecutors and will testify, saying it was the first time in 40 such cases in which an officer had come forward to do so. But an attorney for Brosnan emphatically denied he had agreed to be a prosecution witness and said he was not pleading guilty to anything.

A lawyer for Brooks’ widow cautioned that the charges were no reason to rejoice.

“We shouldn’t have to celebrate as African Americans when we get a piece of justice like today. We shouldn’t have to celebrate and parade when an officer is held accountable,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart.

Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said it was painful to hear the new details of what happened to her husband in his final minutes.

“I felt everything that he felt, just by hearing what he went through, and it hurt. It hurt really bad,” she said.

The news came on a day of rapid developments involving race and equal justice. Republicans on Capitol Hill unveiled a package of police reform measures. And the movement to get rid of Confederate monuments and other racially offensive symbols reached America’s breakfast table, with the maker of Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix dropping the 131-year-old brand.

Brooks’ killing Friday night sparked new demonstrations in Georgia’s capital against police brutality after occasionally turbulent protests over Floyd’s death had largely died down. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned less than 24 hours after Brooks died, and the Wendy’s restaurant was burned.

Rolfe was fired after the shooting, while Brosnan was placed on desk duty.

Ahead of the district attorney’s announcement, Rolfe’s lawyers issued a statement saying the officer feared for his safety and that of others around him and was justified in shooting Brooks. Rolfe opened fire after hearing a sound “like a gunshot and saw a flash in front of him,” apparently from the Taser.

“Mr. Brooks violently attacked two officers and disarmed one of them. When Mr. Brooks turned and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably believed that he intended to disarm, disable or seriously injure him,” the lawyers said.

But the district attorney said the Taser that Brooks held had already been fired twice and was thus empty and no longer a threat.

Brosnan’s lawyer, Amanda Clark Palmer, said the charges against the officer were baseless. She said Brosnan stood on the wounded man’s hand, not his shoulder, for a short period of time — seconds — to make sure Brooks did not have a weapon.

About 50 demonstrators were gathered in the parking lot of the restaurant — now a burned shell with “RIP” and “Rayshard” spray-painted on it — as the charges were announced. The news prompted a few raised fists.

Police had been called to the restaurant over complaints of a car blocking the drive-thru lane. An officer found Brooks asleep behind the wheel, and a breath test showed he was intoxicated.

Police body cam video showed Brooks and officers having a relatively calm and respectful conversation — “almost jovial,” according to the district attorney — for more than 40 minutes before things rapidly turned violent when officers tried to handcuff him. Brooks wrestled with officers, grabbed one of their stun guns and fired it at one of them as he ran through the parking lot.

An autopsy found he was shot twice in the back. One shot pierced his heart, the district attorney said. At least one bullet went into a vehicle that was in line at the Wendy’s drive-thru.

After Brooks was shot, he was given no medical attention for over 2 minutes, despite Atlanta Police Department policy that says officers must offer timely help, Howard said.

The district attorney said Rolfe and Brosnan were given until 6 p.m. Thursday to surrender. He said he would request $50,000 bond for Brosnan and no bail for Rolfe.

The charges reflect a potential “sea change” in tolerance for violence by police, said Caren Morrison, a Georgia State University law professor who used to be a federal prosecutor.

Morrison said the view until now has generally been that officers are justified in using deadly force in a case such as this one in which the suspect had a Taser or other weapon that could cause “grievous bodily harm.”

In the Minneapolis case, Derek Chauvin, the officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he pleaded he couldn’t breathe, has been charged with murder. Three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting. All four were fired and could get up to 40 years in prison.

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that more Americans today than five years ago believe police brutality is a very serious problem that too often goes undisciplined and unequally targets black Americans.

Elsewhere around the country, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas removed a statue of its “Hey Reb!” mascot outside its alumni center, and Houston officials took down a figure of a Confederate soldier in a downtown park.

As for Quaker Oats’ decision to drop Aunt Jemima, the character’s image on packages was changed in recent years to make her look like a modern housewife, but for most of her existence she was a stout, kerchief-wearing black woman who evoked the plantation-era “Mammy” stereotype.

Health officials talk cutting down virus transmission risk at bars

A coronavirus flare-up in La Crosse County this week has health officials warning patrons who visited any of six area bars or a local beach between June 5 and 7 that they’ve probably been exposed to the virus.

Bars are some of the most difficult places to keep six feet apart from people you don’t live with, Eau Claire City-County Health Department officials said Wednesday.

While La Crosse County has seen its cases double in the last eight days, Eau Claire County hasn’t “necessarily seen spikes like that because of visiting a bar or tavern in our community,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire Health Department.

“In Eau Claire, we expect our bars to follow the order,” Giese told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, referring to the countywide order that requires businesses to allot 144 square feet of space for each household unit. “Some are open, and the expectation is they’re following all the guidance in the order, including making sure cloth face coverings are worn, documenting people at those facilities when possible.”

La Crosse County has not used a countywide order but a set of phased recommendations instead. Right now, the La Crosse County Health Department’s website says the county is at “severe risk” for the spread of COVID-19, and recommends people don’t attend indoor gatherings and “stay at home unless essential.”

New cases in Eau Claire County are still on the rise, but more slowly than in May: The last two weeks have yielded 26 new cases, compared to 36 new cases in the two weeks previous. (The county sits at 140 total cases, with two new positive tests as of Wednesday and no deaths. Of the 140, 123 have recovered.)

Cases spike in La Crosse County

Twenty-one people in La Crosse County tested newly positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, and another 19 Wednesday, said Jen Rombalski, La Crosse County Health Department director, at a news conference Wednesday.

Rombalski appealed to people to use delivery, curbside pickup or takeout instead of visiting bars in person, saying “there is no indication that the cases will slow down unless we take the precautions that are being recommended.”

On June 9, it had taken La Crosse County about 27 days to double its cases of the coronavirus. Cases have doubled in the last eight days, hitting 173 on Wednesday, Rombalski said: “We are not heading in the right direction.”

On Wednesday, 19 of the new cases were men and women in their 20s, the Health Department said. One was a teenage girl. (More than 40% of La Crosse County’s total cases have been people between 20 and 29 years old.)

None in La Crosse County were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with no deaths recorded.

Socially distancing at a bar is difficult, Giese acknowledged Wednesday: “We recognize that. At a national level, CDC and state guidance says bars are one of those last places to open.”

The Eau Claire Health Department appreciates local bars that are using safety precautions, Giese added.

Positive tests in Eau Claire County reached 140 on Wednesday, and 6,603 county residents have tested negative for the virus.

Statewide, 256 new COVID-19 cases were identified on Wednesday, bringing the total to 23,454, according to the state Department of Health Services. Of those positive cases, over 3,100 have been hospitalized. Nine new deaths were reported on Wednesday, and in total 712 Wisconsin residents have died of COVID-19.