Bob and the Rev. Melinda Keck launched their careers together, and will close them together as well.

The husband and wife will retire next month after decades inspiring hundreds of people in the greater New Milford area.

Melinda’s last day as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Kent will be June 11. Bob will wrap up his teaching career at New Milford High School at the close of the school year.

“It’s time for new blood in both places,” Melinda said recently during an interview at the church.

The Kent couple, both 63, are looking forward to spending time together, traveling and enjoying more time with family.

“I’m ready to give up the responsibilities,” Melinda said.

Bob was hired as choral director for the New Milford school system in October 1980. He always had his feet planted at the high school, but also taught at each of the town’s other schools at some point throughout his career.

Besides serving as choral director, Bob assumed the role of musical director at the high school in 1982 and began developing a reputation for being a dedicated and knowledgeable teacher and mentor.

“The job became exactly what I wanted,” Bob said. “I directed chorus, directed musicals and ran the theater.”

Al Bayers, a retired NMHS band and music teacher who worked alongside Keck for many years, praised his former colleague.

“It was the best thing that ever happened,” Bayers said of Bob joining the school system. “If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had a complete program.”

Rob Mayette of Danbury said his “best memories” of high school are of his time in musicals from 1989 to 1992, and Bob “was the reason why.”

“Everyone who knows Mr. Keck knows that his talent is matched only by his leadership,” Mayette said. “He’d set a vision and a standard and people would rise to meet it.”

Melinda leaves with fond memories of her career, having served at Congregational churches in Danbury, Monroe, Washington and Kent since 1979.

The daughter of a pastor, Melinda has seen how church has evolved throughout her life.

Upon graduating from seminary in 1977, Melinda witnessed the church moving from a model of the 1950s — when the church was the center of community life — to today, when activities such as sports and shopping contribute to a decline in church attendance.

“Church is really changing,” Melinda said.

But that hasn’t stopped First Congregational from community outreach, one of the aspects of church life for which Melinda is proud.

The church operates the Kent Thrift Shop, has since 2000 supported the Children’s Rescue Mission in Honduras, and supports numerous other programs.

“She isn’t just concerned with our church,” said 50-year member Millie Olson, senior deacon. “She’s concerned about our community.”

Jan Kamm, who with her husband Harold has been a member for 13 years, agrees.

The congregation has a tremendous focus on outreach, and Melinda has supported that 100 percent, so that while we are a small congregation, we do have an impact in the community and the world.”

RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships formed with parishioners have been the most rewarding part of Melinda’s career.

“That’s been such a gift,” she said.

Kamm describes Melinda as “nurturing and guiding” and as a teacher who inspires each parishioner to find his or her talents and voice.

“She promotes that we’re all ministers,” she said.

Millie Olson said in her 50 years as a church member she has seen many pastors come and go, but that Melinda is “special.”

“She’s made this church a family,” Olson said “And I’ve never felt so welcome in a church as I have with her.

“She’s more than just my pastor. She’s my friend.”

Bob has touched many lives, too.

“Mr. Keck was one of the most passionate teachers that I ever had,” said Kristi (Petersen) Schoonover, who was in Bob’s chorus program at Schaghticoke Middle School, and at NMHS had roles in musicals from 1987 to 1989 and spent much of her time in the theater working on props and scenery.

“What made him special was his ability to encourage personal expression within boundaries,” she said. “He’d encourage you to try new things and then there would be a discussion.

“I think this is really important for a developing creative student, especially,” Schoonover said. “I know that the process I experienced created a foundation for my artistic life today.”

Debbie McGuire, a teacher at Sarah Noble Intermediate School, has completed 24 shows as choreographer alongside Bob..

“Working with Bob is one of the easiest and most rewarding parts of my life, because he is so creative, hardworking and caring,” McGuire said.

“I am always in awe of how he visualizes the show each year and makes those dreams into reality,” the teacher said. “He knows what he is looking for, helps the students understand and deliver his vision, is never afraid to make revisions or be flexible, and always stands up for what he believes will make for an amazing show.”

Bob is known to work in the auditorium all year-long, sometimes from dawn until late night for dance recitals before returning the next day at 7 a.m.

That commitment helped turn “the high school auditorium into one of the most impressive stages in the area,” McGuire said.

In total, Bob has directed 10 senior plays and 37 all-school musicals.

It’s hard for him to pinpoint his favorite show, but “Beauty & The Beast” ranks up there because it was fun, he said. It was the first time the theater “heavily rented” costumes, it was well-attended and it was the first time six performances were staged.

Bob also cited “Drowsy Chaperone” as a favorite because the kids “did a super job,” even though the show wasn’t well-attended.

Among his cast favorites are “Cinderella” and “Mary Poppins.”

After seeing “Mary Poppins,” the last show Bob directed earlier this year, and attending a special reception for musical alumni, Mayette was inspired to audition for a local production, something he hadn’t done since high school. He got a role.

“No one could earn the amount of love and respect he has received from his students and the community without caring about others as completely as (Bob) does,” McGuire said.

FAMILY

The Kecks moved from Pennsylvania to Connecticut in 1979 and began their careers and family.

Together, they raised two daughters, Bethany and Sarah, who as they grew were at their parents’ side at the church and school.

The kids would often be present for rehearsals and, over the years, assumed roles in the theater, serving as stage managers. Bethany later helped in the box office and Sarah helped with photography.

Sarah is a fourth-generation pastor on her maternal side.