By Kassidy Hall | Contributor
Dale Keller, co-chair of the communication department and a professor in communication, bought his first car when he was 13 years old.
With a laugh, he explained that he worked on it for three years so that when he became 16, he would be able to drive it to high school and take his date to the basketball game.
Keller grew up in a car family. He lived in Arizona, where his father managed a proving grounds for Ford and other automobile companies.
Under the mentorship of Keith Young, an older family friend, Keller began to learn the ropes of the car culture he grew up in from a young age.
"(Young) built an extra garage in his backyard," Keller said. "With this first car, I learned about engines and rebuilt an engine for my first car, which was a 1957 Ford Ranchero. He would take me through the process of not only showing me, but having me do different things so I would get my hands and actions involved with the project."
Today, Keller and his wife own multiple cars, all of which he likes to improve when necessary. One of his recent projects included putting special wheels, side moldings and a new grill on his wife's car, as well as redoing some of the interior.
Both he and his wife own a personal car, but Keller also owns what he likes to call his "hobby car," a 1983 Chevrolet El Camino. Set apart from his personal vehicles, Keller's hobby car is an old model which requires an increased level of maintenance.
"It's an old car and the tendency is, if I don't keep up with it, it's gonna fall apart and not run anymore," Keller said. "During the nice months of the year, I drive it quite regularly. It's a kind of therapy, to tell you the truth. On the weekends, I like to find places where I can just drive, turn on the stereo and see the scenery."
The El Camino was purchased after Keller finished his doctorate. Keller's wife encouraged him to buy and work on the old car as a way to celebrate Keller's hard work and because she knew cars were important to him.
Inside his hobby of working on cars, Keller finds connections between how he spends his free time and how it impacts other areas of his life.
"I've learned the importance of consistency," Keller said. "Such as making sure all the vital parts like the braking system and the cooling system and the air conditioning are working correctly, and keeping up with those. I think there's a good parallel there between our lives and discipline. Also, as I get older, there are some parallels between the maintenance - taking care of the things that you need to - but also realizing that the '83 El Camino is not something that is from 2015."
Even since graduate school, Keller has practiced managing his time to allow himself the freedom of enjoying cars and other things important to him. He doesn't ignore his responsibilities that need to be taken care of, but recognizes he also has other things in his life that require putting school or the demands of life on hold.
Keller said his hobby with cars is very important to his mental health and hopes it is even something that makes him into a better professor.
"In our culture, you ask someone, 'tell me about yourself,' and they tell you about what they do - which is an important part of our culture - rather than who they are," Keller said. "For me, spending time in things similar to a hobby that you enjoy can actually help to renew and revitalize you even though another part of your brain is probably telling you that you're wasting your time."