When Don Keller moved from Chicago to Cobb County, he did it to get away from the crowds of people in the country’s third-largest city.
“Little did I know how plugged in I was going to become,” said Keller, the owner of Marietta’s Blue Sky Exhibits, a company that makes exhibits for companies that want a presence at industry events. “It really was a community that embraced us.”
That community honored him by naming him the West Cobb Citizen of the Year. Keller was one of three honored during an emotional awards ceremony at Kennesaw’s Ben Robertson Community Center Wednesday morning, along with North Cobb High School football coach Shane Queen and Kennesaw Police Chief Bill Westenberger. The event was sponsored by Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
Sharon Mason, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, lauded Keller’s contributions to several area nonprofits.
Keller chairs the board for the Center for Family Resources, and has worked with homeless shelter MUST Ministries, West Ridge Church, and Calvary Children’s Home, among others.
Wednesday’s award was the “ultimate honor,” he said.
“As I was growing up I had to move a lot,” Keller said. “And so for me to be a part of this community for so long is really just a blessing. I never expected it in my life and I just feel very fulfilled and grateful.”
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood introduced his city’s Citizen of the Year.
“This person is someone that is always giving of himself,” Allegood said. “He always has a smile on his face. ... His smile, for me, always looks, for me, that he just won the state football championship.”
It was a hint — Allegood was talking about Queen.
“He talked about my smile and I couldn’t do anything but cry back there,” Queen said when he came up to accept the award.
“We wanna win football games, but we wanna build young men,” he continued, his voice catching. “And that’s what you did, Coach (Kenny) Palmer, 30 years ago,” he added, turning to Palmer, who had coached him at South Cobb High School in the 1980s.
During his 14 years at North Cobb, Queen has coached 28 all-state players and amassed a 96-60 record while winning two regional championships and going to the playoffs 11 times, Allegood said.
“You know what his players say about him? His players say that they play their hearts out because they love their coach,” Allegood said. “They also say that they know their coach loves them.”
One of those players vouched for it Wednesday.
“Our relationship is so good, it was almost like he was my dad,” Tyler Queen, Shane’s son and one-time quarterback at North Cobb, quipped at the ceremony.
Queen wasn’t the only one to tear up as he stood before the crowd, cradling his award.
Kennesaw Police Chief Bill Westenberger was named his city’s Citizen of the Year and he, too, was overwhelmed by the honor.
Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling introduced Westenberger, and lauded him for his faith and contributions to civic causes.
“At almost every event in the community, you’ll see him, not dressed up, dressed down in a volunteer T-shirt, sleeves rolled up,” Easterling said. “He’s sweating, he’s smiling and he’s contributing.”
“It’s hard for me to say no,” Westenberger said. “And the reason why it’s hard for me to say no is because I recognize there’s so many opportunities out there, and I don’t want to miss something or miss having an impact on someone else.”