It all began one afternoon in 1992, fishing in Calhoun near Katy Trail State Park with bubble-gum worms. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris turned to Rob Keck and said he had an idea.
“Johnny said, ‘You know Rob, I have an idea for a museum and aquarium – something that’s going to rival the greatest that there is,’” Keck recalls. “He asked me if I would help him with that idea. … I said, ‘Well of course I’d love to.’”
Twenty-five years later, Keck sits as chairman of the board for Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. Although he’s worn many important hats over the years as director of conservation for Bass Pro Group LLC, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation Inc. and councilman on the Sporting Conservation Council during the George W. Bush administration, he’s an outdoorsman at heart. A passion for conservation has driven Keck to his accomplishments.
But his journey didn’t begin that way. Keck graduated with an art degree and taught in Pennsylvania. It’s a little known fact that surprises many, Keck says with a laugh.
An avid turkey hunter, Keck began competing and earned acclaim for his skill. While still teaching, he worked as program director for turkey-call manufacturer Penn’s Woods. In 1971, the NWTF offered Keck a job as director of chapter membership development – and that began a 30-year career with the organization, 20 years spent as CEO. Keck grew NWTF from 10,000 members to 500,000, from 150 chapters to 2,400 and from a $400,000 annual budget to $70 million.
Keck has been involved with WOW since before day one – and he says it was hugely gratifying to see the museum open on Sept. 22, 2017, culminating over a decade of renovations estimated in the $300 million range.
“I don’t think anybody had any idea of the magnitude this vision Johnny had was going to grow,” he says. “What a visitor sees is amazing. To me, what’s even more amazing is when you go back behind the scenes.”
Keck aims to continue inspiring future generations.
“When you look at people involved in outdoor activities, there has been a decline in many of those areas,” he says. “That to me is a real shame and that is something that we are going to pay for down the road.”
In his busy schedule, Keck still finds time to explore nature. He’s often fishing and making time for turkey hunting. WOW matches Keck’s passion for conservation, and allows him to continue that mission on a massive scale.
“It’s our hope that on this immersive journey that they make through the museum and aquarium, that it really gives an appreciation of what conservation is about and who are the conservation heroes,” he says.
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