Keo O’Rourke, née Keo Helmke, was born August 17, 1932, to George Helmke and Rosa Bergner in a farm house 3 miles northeast of Iuka, KS. She was the youngest of five siblings, Dorothy Bales, Florence Curley, Flossie Ukena, and Ruth Lord, all deceased, and Benjamin Helmke of Ann Arbor, MI. She was raised during the depression on the family farm where she enjoyed singing hymns with her family and spending time outdoors. After graduating from high school in Pratt, she attended Bethany College in Lindsborg. It was at Bethany that she met Robert O’Rourke, and they married in 1953. They lived initially in Russell before moving to Iuka, Marion, Partridge, Galva, and eventually, Smith Center. In 1963 they added their son Michael to the family, followed soon thereafter by their son Kerry in 1965.
Keo earned her teaching certificate from Sterling College and began a career as an elementary school teacher, teaching several different grade levels during her career. After teaching in Canton, she spent most of her career in Smith Center. She was a creative and talented teacher who cared about her students and influenced many students over more than three decades of teaching.
In a life dedicated to service, Keo provided support for people through church and other organizations. She was a member of Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, becoming a Stephen Minister and visiting fellow parishioners and others in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. After retiring, she would regularly read with elementary school children in Lindsborg, helping them develop their reading ability. For most of her adult life, she supported people of all ages who were struggling with family crises. After retiring from teaching, she expanded these efforts and took on several statewide leadership roles to further support those in need.
Family was fundamental for Keo. Along with Bob, she would travel to visit their sons and grandchildren, devoting most of their vacation time to building snowmen, making hamburger pie, and reading storybooks. She was excited about traveling around the United States, first with Bob and her sons and later with her niece and traveling companion, Pamela Bales. One of her last trips took her on a cruise to Alaska, which had long been a dream of hers. Music was also an important part of her life. After retiring from teaching in Smith Center and moving to Lindsborg, she sang alto in the Messiah choir for many years. Keo was a foodie, and cooking and baking were two central ways she communicated love to those around her. She was also essentially curious, always interested in learning about others and trying new things. Her curiosity led her to take courses at Bethany College after her retirement, including courses in philosophy, literature, and history.
Those who knew Keo admired her for her selflessness and concern for others. She was also known for her wry sense of humor, clever wit, and insight – she would on occasion talk trash during card games with her grandchildren, and she always gave as good as she got. Another trait that defined Keo was her fierce independence. It was this that helped her survive and recover from a head-on collision at highway speed in 2002. This car accident almost killed her, but she bounced back from it and continued to help others and make the world a better place.
Keo lived the last four years of her life at Riverview Estates in Marquette. She died in her sleep on Sunday, September 11, 2022. She is preceded in death by her husband, Robert O’Rourke. She is survived by her sons, Michael O’Rourke (Liela Rotschy) and Kerry O’Rourke, her grandchildren Sarah O’Rourke (Kerry) and Joshua, Lukas, and Natalie O’Rourke (Michael O’Rourke and Rebecca O’Rourke), and her great grandchildren, Lukas Jr. (Lukas O’Rourke and Yvette Carrillo) and Elijah (Joshua O’Rourke and Molly Schumer).
Her life will be celebrated in a service to be held at Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg on Saturday, September 24, 2022, at 10:30 am, followed by interment with Robert at Elmwood Cemetery.