APPLETON — Pam Keane is using this year’s holiday season to remember two friends in a very special way. The musician has created a CD of piano improvisations and is donating all the proceeds in memory of her friends, Mary Ann and Jim Leschke, who both died this year. The money will go to two organizations that help people with dementia or mental illness.
“Mary Ann and Jim were like second parents to me and my family,” Keane said. “They were special to many young families here.” The Keanes met the couple at their church, St. Bernard Parish. They connected and, after enjoying a dinner together, a bond formed.
“We have five boys,” Keane said. “When they were young, Mary Ann lent a hand when I needed it. The Leschkes lived only four blocks from us and Mary Ann would help me with laundry or meals, for example – whatever I needed. Jim helped us in many ways, too.” They did this for many families in the parish and their neighborhood, she added.
The Leschkes “also were there for events like baptisms or other spiritual things, filling in when my own parents couldn’t make it,” said Keane. “Both of them passed away in 2019. I was so grateful for the time we had. I wanted to pour that energy into doing something positive.”
Thus, her CD project, “Let Us Celebrate,” was conceived. She created 100 CDs and is selling them through her church and to people she knows through her work as a teacher’s aide with the Appleton Public School System. There is no set price for the CD; she is only asking for a donation to one of two organizations. All of the money collected will go to the Fox Valley Memory Care Project and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
The Fox Valley Memory Care Project is a local collaborative nonprofit. It operates supporting programs and services that improve the quality of life for those experiencing dementia or offers support services to their families, care partners and friends. One of the most popular programs it offers is the Memory Café, which has themes and activities designed to welcome and engage people with dementia.
Another program is the Memory Loss Resource Center to support and educate friends and families of those with dementia. The project came to her attention, Keane said, while attending a New Voices Choir concert in Appleton. “I thought it was a great organization and it’s local. I wanted to do something to benefit the local community,” she said.
The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating suffering caused by mental illness through grants for scientific research. According to the foundation, 100% of donations go to research. The group has other funds for operational costs, Keane said.
Music has long been part of Keane’s life. It isn’t where her education is, she said, “but I found it was something I’m good at. It gave me confidence in myself. When others heard it and told me it was good, it fueled me to do more. I started here at St. Bernard’s as a pianist at one Mass. Now, I am also the choir director. Music makes me feel good about myself. It seemed the natural route for me to go as a way to honor Mary Ann and Jim.”
The parish has done CDs before and a Christmas one seemed like a good idea, she continued. “People go back and listen to them each year. I hope they will remember Jim and Mary Ann every time they hear it,” she said.
Keane and her husband, Paul, will celebrate 30 years of marriage in 2020. They have five sons, ages 12 to 26. Her husband is from England. “I think my sons have been affected by the desire to live elsewhere,” she said. Weston is in Taiwan. Brendan is in Whitewater and discerning the priesthood. Grant just graduated from college and is working in Verona, while Evan is a sophomore at Appleton East High School and Simon is in seventh grade at James Madison Middle School in Appleton.
“I like to travel and I love nature. I like photography,” she said. “My idea of a perfect day would be being outside with my family. I love going to national parks and just looking at nature.”
Her faith has always played an important role in her life. “It guides everything,” she said. Keane converted to Catholicism in 2000, though she had been searching for a long time before that. From the time she was young, she said she felt drawn to the Catholic faith and would sometimes attend Mass even though she was a practicing Lutheran. “My reasons for converting run deep,” she said. “I was searching for the truth. I believe the fullness of faith is here.”
Her CD, “Let Us Celebrate,” is a limited run and available through the parish while supplies last. It can also be heard at soundcloud.com by typing “Pam Keane” in the search box.