In memory of Lon Keller, his family has generously donated a hearing loop system to the Athens Theatre, a technologically advanced system that will allow hearing-impaired audience members to enjoy all the sound subtleties of a performance wirelessly and wherever they are in the theater.

The Keller family knows firsthand what it is like to live in a household with someone who is hearing-impaired. Due to a severe case of mumps that he contracted at the age of 6 in 1913, Jay Keller’s late father, renowned sports artist and DeLand resident Lon Keller, suffered from total hearing loss in one ear and progressively diminishing hearing in the other for the rest of his life.


Lon graduated cum laude from Syracuse University with a fine arts degree in 1929 — a year that most will recognize as coinciding with the crash of the stock market, which led to the Great Depression — certainly a most difficult year to embark on a career in fine arts.

Keller’s determination, however, was steadfast, and he began his career managing the store at the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, which led to creating his first commercial artwork for Sun Oil and later for the Keystone Automobile Club magazine.


In 1932, the university commissioned Keller to create the program cover for the Cornell-Penn Thanksgiving Day game. A visit by a rep for LS&Z, the company that handled the printing of those programs, led to Keller’s meeting Don Spencer, who branched out to start his own company using Keller as the artist. This laid the groundwork for Keller’s long and illustrious career.

Keller’s college-football programs, particularly the ones with female spectators on them, became highly collectible souvenirs. A contract with Coca-Cola in 1940 allowed Keller to begin creating programs for high schools nationwide, thus further expanding the popularity of his artistry. At its peak around 1948, Keller’s art was featured in about 36 million programs a year!

Beyond the art he designed in conjunction with Spencer, Keller is most recognized for creating the iconic “Uncle Sam’s hat on a bat” New York Yankees emblem, which first appeared in 1947, a time when most teams did not have a signature image representing them.

He also executed a great deal of program art for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point beginning in 1943, and created art for the Air Force Academy beginning in 1955. Additionally, Keller contributed art to Fordham, Princeton, the NFL, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, heavyweight boxing, horse racing, hockey, the Harlem Globetrotters, and more! There was virtually no part of the professional sports world that was untouched by Keller’s spectacular, lifelike art.

As technology advanced and photography took over, most organizations began producing their own programs. Keller then began painting other subjects of personal interest to him, such as abstract interpretations of geometric shapes, flora, fauna, horses, birds of all kinds, and more.

In 1984, he moved to DeLand, where he continued painting almost daily. Mourned by his family and the community, he passed away in June 1995.

Keller’s paintings today are highly collectible and treasured by art connoisseurs the world over.

During Keller’s lifetime, hearing-assistance technology was not what it is today. Keller’s son, Jay, recalls his father’s hearing aids being the size of about two packs of cigarettes — with clumsy cables attached to them. Keller would place the large device in his front shirt pocket.

“It was not uncommon for my father to forget his hearing device before heading into the city and boarding the train,” said Jay Keller. “My mother would rush down to the station and hand it to one of the conductors, who would make sure it made its way to the train my dad was on. They were different times, people looked after one another.”

With the advent of revolutionary new technology, in memory of Lon Keller, the Keller family has graciously donated the new hearing loop system to the Athens Theatre.

“It is our hope that this new system will make experiencing the theater, and all of its many exciting performances, accessible to many more individuals in our community. I only wish my father were alive to see this moment and enjoy it firsthand,” Jay added.

The Athens Theatre’s new Keller Family Hearing Loop system works by transmitting an audio signal directly into a hearing aid via a magnetic field, largely eliminating background noise, competing sounds, reverberations, and other acoustic distortions that reduce the clarity of sound. Hearing-aid wearers do not endure the inconvenience of requesting and wearing a headset that denotes them as hard of hearing.

“The theater prides itself on its diversity and inclusion of all people in our community. Along with our ASL-interpreted performances, this is simply one more step in assuring that the Athens, the true heartbeat of our community, beats loudly and clearly for all to hear,” said Alexa Baldwin, the theater’s executive director.

The Athens Theatre will debut the new Keller Family Hearing Loop system when its production of Matilda the Musical Jr. opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. Matilda’s main theme, as many may or may not know, revolves around a little girl who longs to be understood, accepted and, above all, loved. The Athens seems to be offering just that, understanding and love toward all of its patrons.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here