AAM Remembers Our Friend Don Kellner

Don Kellner, left, spearheaded the creation of a food bank for laid-off steelworkers in the 1980s, and those efforts grew to help people throughout Eastern Baltimore in the decades to follow. | Photo via Facebook

The Baltimore native, who died on July 28, was a tireless advocate for steelworkers.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing is sad to report that AAM site coordinator and steadfast champion of United Steelworkers (USW) retirees Donald Kellner passed away on Tuesday, July 28. He was 83.

Kellner, who was born and raised in Baltimore, was the president of the USW local 9477 retiree committee and served as president of the Baltimore area Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 8-1.

Kellner began working at the massive Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point plant in 1955, and went on to hold many elected positions in his USW local chapter, including three terms as president before retiring in 2001. Sparrows Point was the largest steel mill in America during the mid-20th century before eventually closing in 2012.

“Don was a great man and a dedicated advocate,” said AAM President Scott Paul. “He saw firsthand the ups and downs of Sparrows Point and possessed a wealth of knowledge about what the mill and the union meant to the community.

“He was a great SOAR activist and he will be greatly missed.”

Kellner got involved in the union during the strike of 1959, a 116-day strike that idled the steel industry throughout the United States. As he rose through the ranks of his USW local leadership, Kellner also became a leader in his community. He loved sports, coaching softball, Little League and volunteered with the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks youth and adult programs, often connecting young men with good, meaningful jobs.

AAM field coordinator Mark Musho worked with Kellner during the past 10 years and recalled Kellner’s dual passion for the USW and sports.

“Don had a unique personality. He was always joking around with you about something related to sports but was super serious about his steelworker projects,” Musho said. “The thing you enjoyed most when spending time with Don is you knew you would be laughing, smiling and taking a good ribbing.

“He was the go-to guy in the Baltimore area when it came to spreading the word about AAM issues and issues of great importance to SOAR members. He had one of the largest SOAR chapters around, and you could count on Don to dig into any kind of project that would get the retirees active around our issues.

“I talked to him every other week and he was just a real lovable guy and very involved with the community.”

One of the most notable community service projects Kellner spearheaded was the food bank he began for laid-off members during the steel crisis of the 1980s. He worked with the Maryland Food Bank and remained active in the program for many decades. Since its inception, the food bank program has been adopted by activists outside the union and has grown to serve the Eastern Baltimore County community.

Kellner’s dedication to the union never wavered. As recently as two weeks ago he took part in an AAM conference call.

Kellner’s own sentiments about unions and manufacturing were preserved in a video prepared by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Said Kellner:

“I believe the only salvation of the American public is a union. No matter what you may think; and unions sure as hell have their faults. But if it isn’t for a union, young men and women don’t have a future in this country. You can’t all work at McDonalds, you can’t all work at stupid paying jobs and you can’t all become lawyers. You need a manufacturing and industrial job. If we don’t fight for some manufacturing bases in this country, there ain’t gonna be any left.”

A memorial service will be held at a later date and time. Contributions in Kellner’s name may be sent to USW Retirees 9477, 2429 Whitt Road, Kingsville, MD 21087 or Maryland Food Bank, 2200 Halethorpe Road, Halethorpe, MD 21227.