Listen to this article

One of the realities of being an identical twin: You are often mistaken for your sibling.

Happened all the time to the late Keith Kesler and his brother, Kenneth.

Keith, an area farmer, had a longtime tie to the Champaign County Fair. The brothers would often attend together.

“If people had a concern, they would see me and come up and tell me their problem,” Kenneth Kesler said Tuesday. “I finally went in the office and had them make me a sign to wear: ‘I’m not him. I’m the other one.’”

Worked like a charm.

Of course, the brothers were kind when they were mistaken for each other. Like the time Kenneth was at a show with his wife and one of Keith’s neighbors thought it was Keith out with another woman.

The confusion quickly got cleared up.

“When people got us mixed up, if we could at all, we never embarrassed them,” Kenneth Kesler said. “We just went along with it.”

Wednesday marks the one month anniversary of Keith’s death. He passed away March 15 at Country Health Care & Rehab in Gifford. He was 95.

“It’s pretty hard on me,” Kenneth said. “We were very close.”

* * * * *

Brad Uken got to know Keith because of Mr. Kesler’s work with the fair. Uken has been the Champaign County Farm Bureau manager since 2003.

“When I think of Keith Kesler, I think of the Champaign County Fair,” Uken said. “Keith was very involved for many, many years with the fair board. What that fair became was a lot because of the work and effort Keith put into it.”

The Champaign County Fair, and fairs across the state, remain vital to agriculture.

Uken enjoyed Mr. Kesler’s sense of humor.

“Keith was a great guy and always willing to visit with you and talk agriculture and talk about the fair,” he said.

Keith Kesler had important connections throughout state government. Helpful ties.

“He was on first-name basis with legislators in this area,” Uken said. “But he knew legislators from across the state due to his involvement with the fair. He had a good working relationship with those legislators.”

In 1980, Mr. Kesler was named Farm Leader of the Year by The News-Gazette.

“Those are really pillars of the agriculture community,” Uken said.

Though the honor only recognizes one year, it became a lifetime title for Mr. Kesler.

This year’s banquet, scheduled for the spring, but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent years, the Kesler twins attended every one.

“They were still very active and saw the importance of that farm leader,” Uken said. “They were there to support the new recipient.”

* * * * *

John Reifsteck was one of the Farm Leaders who came after Mr. Kesler. He was honored in 1991.

“The thing about Keith was he was such a steady person all the time,” Reifsteck said. “You knew that he was always going to be there. He could serve as a little bit of conscience for people.

“He was not afraid of saying things that needed to be said even though sometimes they weren’t real comfortable. I mean that in a very complimentary way. When I think of Keith, I think of that all the time.”

Reifsteck admired how active Mr. Kesler was later in life.

“Which is so amazing. You think about people wanting to retire when they were 50,” Reifsteck said. “I’m not sure he hit his stride until he was 60 or 70. He was just one of those guys who keeps on going.”

Reifsteck said Mr. Kesler realized farming required perspective and patience.

“Farming is a generational business,” Reifsteck said. “One of the things it does teach you is you have good years and bad years. But it’s what happens over a long period of time that’s important.”

* * * * *

Mention Mr. Kesler to area farmer Lin Warfel, and the first topic is the fair.

“He was an institution there,” Warfel said. “He devoted himself to seeing that grow and stay really vibrant. That’s a tough thing for county fairs.

“He was really good at keeping that enticing for the farm community and the city folks. He really had that good vision to bring people together.”

* * * * *

Mr. Kesler is survived by three sons: Stephen, Michael and Scott.

“He liked to have fun,” Scott Kesler said. “He was always into jokes and stuff. He had a great sense of humor. I think that’s why he liked being around the fair so much. It was a fun time there.”

His dad’s fair ties led to some brushes with greatness.

Earlier one summer, right after the Illinois State Fair, Scott went to the Champaign County Fair office in Urbana and noticed a string of trailers on the fairgrounds.

Scott asked his dad, “What’s up with the trailers?”

Keith Kesler shook his head and told Scott that then-Gov. James Thompson and singer Willie Nelson were together on Nelson’s bus discussing an upcoming benefit concert.

The trailers were carrying the stage from the recent Live Aid performance.

In September 1985, the first Farm Aid was held at Memorial Stadium.

Mr. Kesler had the ear of Thompson and other governors. A few years later, then-Gov. Jim Edgar visited with Mr. Kesler in the grandstand at the county fairgrounds.

“He liked being around people,” Scott said of his dad.

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).