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Joseph S. Keelty, longtime home builder in Baltimore suburbs, dies

Joseph S. Keelty was a home builder who developed Baltimore County's Rodgers Forge and Mays Chapel Village, and was known as a generous donor to schools and charities.
Joseph S. Keelty was a home builder who developed Baltimore County's Rodgers Forge and Mays Chapel Village, and was known as a generous donor to schools and charities. (HANDOUT)

Joseph S. Keelty, a retired home builder who developed Baltimore County's Rodgers Forge and Mays Chapel Village, and was known as a generous donor to schools and charities, died of heart disease Sunday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The former North Roland Park resident was 93.

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He was an official of the home building firm founded by his father, James Keelty.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Poplar Grove Street, he attended St. Bernardine School and was a 1940 McDonogh School graduate. He played lacrosse and football, and was a lieutenant on the school equestrian team.

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He attended Washington and Lee University and earned a bachelor's degree from what is now Loyola University Maryland in 1943 in a wartime accelerated program. Mr. Keelty then attended Midshipmen's School at Notre Dame University and was commissioned an ensign in the Navy.

He was stationed in the Pacific and participated in several military actions in the Philippines, including the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in 1944 and 1945. He was an officer on a troop transport vessel.

After the war, he joined the business founded by father, who died in 1944 while Mr. Keelty was in the service. The elder Mr. Keelty had constructed some 6,000 Baltimore homes and had purchased a dairy farm in Baltimore County as the future site of Rodgers Forge.

Mr. Keelty and his brother, James Keelty Jr., completed work, including apartments, at Rodgers Forge after World War II.

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The brothers helped transform much of suburban Baltimore. Colleagues said they constructed homes in developments at Seminary Ridge and Longford North, both in Lutherville, Padonia Village in Timonium, Village Green in Riderwood, Doncaster Village in Carney and Crestwood in Anne Arundel County.

"Renowned for high-quality building and developing new neighborhoods ... the Keelty Company today is a fourth-generation family-owned and operated business considered by many as the most established regional building company of its type in Maryland," said a Loyola University Maryland statement when Mr. Keelty was awarded its President's Medal in 2015.

Mr. Keelty's firm bought a tract of land in Timonium that in the 1960s became Mays Chapel Village. He and his brother worked with the Valleys Planning Council and hired Ian McHarg, an environmental architect and land planner, to devise a growth plan for Mays Chapel.

"All development is going to be much more controlled than it was in the past," Mr. Keelty said in a 1974 Baltimore Sun article. "A single developer can't do what he wants to do anymore. He is operating under many more constraints. But with the planning tools we have now, a developer can do a far superior job in fitting development into the plan of the community."

He retired about 20 years ago but retained an office at the company's Stevenson location.

Mr. Keelty followed local sports, including Loyola lacrosse, and had ownership interests in thoroughbred horses.

He continued philanthropic works begun by his father, who built St. Bernardine Roman Catholic Church on Edmondson Avenue and donated the church to the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a memorial to a deceased daughter.

Mr. Keelty established the Joseph Keelty Society at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, and funded scholarships at Stevenson and Washington and Lee universities. At the McDonogh School, Mr. Keelty donated work for the renovation of Keelty Hall as a three-story humanities center that opened in 1989.

He served on the board at Loyola from 1981 to 1995. He was awarded the university's Carroll Medal in 2002 and an honorary doctorate in 1992. He founded a scholarship named for his parents, James and Nora Keelty, for a Maryland student enrolled in the business school.

"He was always concerned with helping struggling poor Baltimore children get an education," said the Rev. William Watters, a Baltimore resident. "I loved being in his presence. He came from an accomplished family, but he himself was simple in the best sense of that word. His mind was always open to new ideas, and he liked meeting new people."

Father Watters recalled that Mr. Keelty was a founding donor of St. Ignatius Loyola Academy when the school opened on Calvert Street in the mid-1990s. He later donated funds when the school enlarged and moved to Federal Hill. He also provided scholarships to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Southeast Baltimore.

Another friend, retired attorney John Burnside Howard, said, "Joe was a quiet but outgoing person. He was loyal to his friends and to his large, extended family. He was interested in people and he helped many in his quiet way."

Jack Luetkemeyer, another friend, said, "Very few people could be close to his generosity and overall manner of life balance. Joe was understated and quiet. He never looked for the limelight and, in fact, he shunned it. But everybody listened to Joe when he said something. He had his priorities right."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church on Smith Avenue in Mount Washington.

Survivors include 20 nieces and nephews. His companion, Ann Watts Grieves, died in 1998. Her children are James and Richard Grieves and a daughter, Katherine Grieves.

jacques.kelly@baltsun

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