A man of many hats
Special to The Union
He is a big man with a big voice and, more importantly, a big heart. If you listen regularly to KVMR, you have heard him introducing the programs “The Sages Among Us,” “Classics Declassified,” and more. If you have enjoyed a performance of the Sierra Master Chorale, you have enjoyed his powerful bass vocals. The owner of these talents is none other than Keith Porter, who has worn many hats in service to this community.
Keith is almost a native, arriving with his family in Nevada County when he was eight years old. His parents, weary of life in the madness of Southern California, wanted to “return to the land.” After a search for a place to realize their dream, they settled on a seven-acre parcel, which was part of the historic Bierwagen orchard properties. Included with their purchase were 100 mature pear trees. The Porters added farm animals, including chickens and goats. Keith describes his growing-up years as “charmed” and “a wonderful place for a young boy.”
A devout Methodist, Keith’s father became a pastor. With their dedication to community, his father and mother imprinted on Keith strong values of family, service and leadership. With those values came a commitment to doing the right thing. The church was also the source of his love of music. Keith’s mother loved to sing, and Keith enjoyed singing in school as well as in the church choir.
Pastor and Mrs. Porter then relocated many times before the family was able to return to Nevada County and the family farm. By then, Keith had graduated high school in Downieville and Williams. After high school, there was college and, ultimately, a degree in electrical engineering. Not only did he graduate with a diploma, but he also had a new wife, Shirley, whom he had met at a Methodist summer camp in Lake Tahoe.
Then followed a career in telecommunications, children, multiple promotions and many moves around the country. Eventually, his company offered an attractive opportunity to retire at age 48. Not ready to stop working, Keith and Shirley moved to England when Keith was offered the chance to consult for several years. When ready to return to the U.S., the Porters decided to settle in the Bay Area and start a career counseling and training business.
Even with all these moves, the Nevada County property remained the geographic center for the family. Ultimately, that is where Keith and Shirley retired to tend to the pear orchard, as well as the remainder of what had been the family farm.
Although pear farming requires a lot of time and effort, Keith’s abundant energy led him to seek ways to engage with the broader community. Along the way, he joined the choir at Sierra College led by Ken Hardin. Ultimately, this relationship with Ken led to much bigger things.
Several years passed, during which Ken and Julie Hardin became part of the leadership of the nonprofit Twin Cities Concert Association (later renamed InConcert Sierra); Ken became artistic director and Julie was named executive director. Although having a long history in the community — founded in 1946 — Twin Cities Concert Association was still very much a “mom and pop” organization, with little community support and a modest program. But the Hardins had a vision to grow the small nonprofit into something bigger.
Enter Keith Porter, at Ken Hardin’s request, to become board president. Keith brought his genius for organization and focused leadership to lift the organization to a much higher level; his leadership was acknowledged as transformative for the growing nonprofit.
But the journey was not an easy one during his six-year tenure as president. Not only did he spend endless hours away from his farm and Shirley, but in the early years of his tenure, he also provided a number of loans for the organization’s working capital by writing large checks from family savings. Keith describes this period as a “formidable challenge.” Over time, our community began to embrace the organization now known as InConcert Sierra, one of the well-loved cultural assets of this community. Keith can rightfully point to the success of the organization as his legacy to Nevada County, contributing to our culturally rich area.
During his term as president, Keith joined the Nevada County Arts Council, then was invited on to the board of The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, where he played a significant role in its multi-million-dollar renovation.
While Keith has served the community in many other ways, including volunteering with the Red Cross and as a broadcaster for KVMR, his passion for InConcert Sierra continues. Three years ago, he rejoined the InConcert board, providing leadership as the organization navigates the challenges of the pandemic. According to Julie Hardin, “Keith wears leadership.” His colleagues describe him as focused, good hearted and ready to help in any way when needed. One of his board associates even pointed to his willingness, before a concert, to bring his snowplow to clear the venue’s parking lot after a heavy snowfall.
The most touching tribute of all comes from his wife, Shirley, who has supported his volunteer activities, financial expenditures, service and time away from her. Shirley, who is still very much in love with Keith, even after 59 years of marriage to an energetic dynamo, emphatically stated that, “I am grateful every day that I had the opportunity to marry him.”
Don W. Scoble is a long-time resident of Nevada City
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Hundreds took the Nevada County Fairgrounds main halls Friday during the opening day of the Country Christmas Faire. The faire goes on until 4 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Food and beverages are also available.