IN MEMORY OF Lt. COL. (RET.) THOMAS ALPHONSE KEENAN
January 13, 1930 – June 22, 2015
Thomas Alphonse Keenan was born on Jan 13th, 1930 in Dubois, PA to Donald Thomas and Mary Schalk Keenan. He spent his youth in Bradford, PA and graduated from St. Bernard High School in 1947. Tom attended the US Coast Guard Academy, and in 1948 joined the US Air Force. Following two years as an enlisted man in Washington, DC, he joined the Aviation Cadet program. Commissioned in 1951, Tom spent the next 10 years on a SAC combat crew, then 15 years as an aircraft maintenance officer.
After “retiring” in 1975, Tom earned his Business degree and MBA from Louisiana Tech University, then worked as a venture capitalist, ran a business college, managed the county airport in Minden, La, taught flying, maintained seaplanes in Key West, and sold real estate in Boca Raton. In 1988, he married Gloria Paige Jacobs and settled in Bristol, FL.
In 2002, with the assistance of countless others, Tom began development of the 2 ft gauge railroad at Veterans Memorial Park in Bristol. This project started with the simple purchase of an abandoned little park train with track to be installed for Tom’s grandchildren in his “backyard.” With much deliberation by Tom and Gloria, it was decided that a two foot gauge railroad would not fit well in the “backyard.” At the same time, Liberty County was developing a twenty-acre county park with a new Civic Center. An idea developed as you can surmise, and a meeting was held by several interested railroad enthusiasts to form a club and request permission to install the little railroad in the county’s park as an educational tool and entertainment for families in the county and surrounding areas. The county granted permission on one condition: “Do not request funding from the county for the railroad”. However, work crews to provide labor for this project would be requested by the county from the Liberty Correctional Institute. Many hours were provided by Liberty work crews in laying track, and for other duties needed to install the railroad and subsequent additions and expansion of the railroad in the park.
Tom worked diligently to accomplish the major expansion done in 2009. Through a “roadside enhancement grant,” the railroad was expanded to over one mile of track, a 2800 square foot Depot and Museum was constructed, as well as a 350 ft/ trestle through a cypress swamp. Other improvements provided under this grant included an Amish-made gazebo, playground and paved walking trail, and the addition of the only two foot gauge coal-fired steam engine operating in Florida.
Tom worked tirelessly on this project until poor health prevented his reporting to the Railroad on an almost daily basis. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time from many other dedicated volunteers helped develop Veterans Memorial Railroad into a regional attraction for families throughout the year, with special assistance provided for the special Halloween and Christmas events. In December 2015, over 3600 persons rode the three trains for the Christmas “Polar Bear Express” event.
In December 2014, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners passed a motion naming the Depot in Tom Keenan’s honor, as founder of Veterans Memorial Railroad. This was presented to him on his 85th birthday on January 13, 2015. Tom passed away on June 22, 2015, and was buried at the newly developed Tallahassee National Cemetery.
All of those who volunteer at VMRR strive to maintain Tom’s vision for providing children and their families with an excursion that is exciting and memorable. Railroad enthusiasts find riding the coal-fired steam train, his pride and joy, a unique experience in capturing an era gone by.