Peter Keenan was a multifaceted man.
The longtime Millbrook High School assistant football coach was the type of person who would dress up as Santa Claus and go door-to-door in Hillside Lake, with the sole objective of bringing smiles to the faces of neighborhood children.
But he also wouldn’t shy away from being forceful when necessary.
“He was one of a kind, that’s for sure,” said Sean Keenan, Peter’s son and Millbrook’s head football coach. “He was a tough guy, but had a soft heart.”
His players knew him as an intense presence on the field. But, Jacob Wright said, “He taught us how to be men.”
“He was such a great coach,” said Wright, Millbrook’s quarterback this past football season, and one of the hundreds of young athletes whom Keenan coached for various towns and schools in Dutchess County. “And he always asked how we were doing off the field. He’d go out of his way to make sure we were doing well, as athletes and as people.”
Keenan passed away on Tuesday at the age of 75, after briefly battling illness. The coach left a lasting influence on the community, and he will be remembered for being a hard-nosed leader who possessed a heart of gold. He’ll also be remembered as the grandfather of nine.
Sean Keenan recalled how his father would take his grandchildren on family fishing trips. And, of course, most of his grandchildren got involved in sports, including Christian Keenan, now a wide receiver on Marist College’s football team.
Peter Keenan wouldn’t miss a game.
“He’d leave work early if he had to,” Sean Keenan said. “Whether it was soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse or, obviously, football. He was at everything they ever did, he and my mom.”
Peter Keenan is survived by his wife, Helen; his sons, Sean Keenan, Chris Keenan, Brian Keenan and Tim Keenan, their wives and his grandchildren.
Visitation will be held on Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at McHoul Funeral Home in Hopewell Junction. The funeral mass will be held on Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Columba Church in Hopewell Junction.
Sean Keenan said he plans to tell a story in his eulogy that encapsulates how his father would protect his family when needed.
“My younger brother Tim was pitching in Hopewell and the carnival was in town,” Sean Keenan explained. “A carny was drunk and heckling my brother. (Tim) turned around to pick up the rosin bag and when he turned back around, he saw my dad beating up the carny for heckling his kid.”
Peter Keenan, who was born in Rockaway Beach, began his coaching career in Hopewell Junction’s Pop Warner league, coaching the Hopewell Jets. He also coached Little League in East Fishkill for more than 20 years. From there, Peter Keenan obtained coaching jobs at Marist College, Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Roy C. Ketcham High School and finally Millbrook. He assisted at Millbrook three different times: in the mid-1980s, 2002-03 and 2004 through last year.
His passing prompted an outpouring of support from former players and opponents.
“He was very serious on the field. He told us we had to be the ‘junkyard dogs’ to win,” Millbrook football player Conner Latimer said. “Off the field, he was the greatest man you could know. A real soft, kind guy.”
Spackenkill coach Clinton DeSouza took his team to summer football camp at Arlington for several years. Peter Keenan would dial himself in behind the Spartans’ defensive line, offering his perspective to the point where “it was almost like he was one of our coaches,” DeSouza said.
“He was a very, very good coach. You could tell he was always intense, never let a Millbrook player slack off,” DeSouza said. “It always showed in their play. The mastermind behind it all was Mr. Keenan. What he meant to football in the Hudson Valley was amazing.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports