Bud Keysor, Patriarch-Entrepreneur, Dead at 94
Orphaned at 10, he was raised by strict, distant relatives who failed to comprehend his fertile imagination and rambunctious nature. Longing for a place in the world, he hid out in frat houses and tried to steal away on tramp steamers.
Gifted with a proclivity for engineering and chemistry, he spent thousands of hours pouring over patent instructions in libraries. Undaunted by his lack of formal education and parentless adolescence, he went on to become an industrial magnate, devoted family figurehead and founder of Keysor-Century Corp. in Saugus.
And on Thursday, James Bernard "Bud" Keysor, 94, succumbed to the maladies associated with advanced age — dying in the Newhall home he once shared with his wife Bernice, who in 1993 preceded him in death.
Born on May 7, 1906 in Salt Lake City, Utah, baby James was the youngest of James and Louie Felt-Keysor's four children. A dentist who financed his own education through hard labor in a granite quarry — the strip mine which provided the granite used in the Mormon Temple — James senior divorced Louie when the children were very young.
Now off on his own, the father only visited his family on rare occasions, leaving Louie, a budding portrait artist and chanteuse, to raise their three daughters and only son.
When Louie was 40 years of age, she went into the hospital to have a minor skin growth removed from her outer abdomen. That surgery, one that should have been routine and uneventful, turned fatal when the doctor went in too deeply, penetrating her internal organs and causing an overwhelming case of peritonitis.
Only 10 at the time, young James and his sisters were forced to live with family members, a grandmother and aunt.
Robert Keysor, third-born son of Bud and Bernice's five children reflected on that period in his father's life.
"Losing his mom at 10 wasn't easy," explained Robert. "She was very much devoted to her children. Dad never even got to say good-bye to her."
Being naturally bright and curious, Bud was always into 'doing things,' and "they'd get upset with him over the slightest thing, punishing him, restricting him, never really showing him love and attention," Robert recalled.
His siblings received the same treatment.
"Dad's sisters were the ones who provided him with maternal affection," Robert said.
So frustrated was Bud at 13 that he, and another angst-filled youth tried to ship out on a tramp steamer — willing to take off for parts-unknown so long as they could be away from parts familiar.
"That plan came to an abrupt halt when the other boy developed an acute appendicitis," Robert said, chuckling. "Dad didn't get very far."
Landlocked, Bud waited tables in restaurants for extra cash and slept in fraternity houses. During a night out at a frat party, a young lady caught his eye. Her name was Bernice Brain. Moments later, she added Bud's name to her dance card. Several years later, she would add his name to her monogram.
A New World dawned for young Bud, when, while still in high school, one of his uncles opened a radio store in downtown Salt Lake City. This was the early 1920s, when few people understood how battery radios worked.
"After spending hours in libraries, studying patents and technical designs, Dad figured them out right away," Robert said. "He found a way to eliminate the batteries, converting them from D/C to A/C, then built an amplifier and transformer. He was a genius, no one ever taught him to do this. He could look at something, no matter how technical and complicated — study it a while and understand it completely."
At 19 Bud went to work as a trouble-shooter for a power company, climbing poles in storms and repaired broken lines. In his early '20s he went to work in sound-reinforcement, making broadcast systems.
"Dad got an amateur radio license, and in 1926, along with some other people, they started radio station "KDYL" in Salt Lake City. As a side business, recalled his son, he 'wound' transformers, many of them went into sound systems in the local community.
In 1927, he and Bernice married, both were 21. Shortly after their happy event, the Depression hit, and it hit particularly hard for the young couple.
"Things got really tough for my parents. Many of Dad's side jobs dried up, he no longer had employment with the power company," Robert said.
By that time, two of the five children they would have together, had already been born; sons James Keysor and Richard "Dick" Keysor.
"This was the start of my family's peanut butter and jelly days," Robert said.
Bud's next step was to go into his own business, doing something that had intrigued him since youth — working with speaker systems, amplifiers, and microphones. That comprehension of engineering and sound led him to manufacture the PA system that broke the news of John Cobb's* record-breaking speed on the Utah Salt Flats.
Another one of Bud's handcrafted and complex sound systems provided Yuletide entertainment for the townspeople. "I remember Christmas time in our hometown," Robert said smiling. "Dad installed a super-powerful system on the tallest building in Salt Lake — for two weeks, the whole town listened to Christmas Carols."
From that time on, Bud took bigger steps into sound recording, building all of his own equipment. He went on to design a system that recorded radio shows on 16-inch records. Those records were played by the Red and Blue Network, which went on to become NBC, his son recalled.
"Dad also constructed tape-delayed broadcasts, which were played around the country at various times. He'd get the feed in Utah, record it, then feed it into the proper time zone." Robert said.
According to Robert, Bud was the first person to record the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, transmit their music and make pressed copies.
Gordon B. Hinckley, the current president of the Mormon Church, met Bud in the early 1930s. Hired by the church as their first public relations figure, he and Bud became life-long friends and worked together on a variety of church and media-related projects.
Despite his growing success in sound engineering, Bud went broke in the early 1940s. By that time, Robert had been born, as was his baby sister, Carolyn.
"There was not enough work for Dad to support the family," Robert said. "So he wound up selling his equipment to a company in Los Angeles and then followed that equipment to the West Coast to help set it up."
In L.A., Bud's technological acumen and sound equipment were put to use recording, mixing, pressing and distributing famous radio shows.
By 1945, when things started to improve for the family, Bernice and the children joined Bud in Southern California.
Soon after, Bud and another man built a record pressing plant in Culver City named Century Records. During late nights, Bud, who at that time was starting to focus on the "plastic" end of the business, pressed musical and entertainment recordings, known as "V-discs." They were distributed to U.S. government branches and troops around the world.
Eventually Bud's partner sold his share of the company to Bud, "but before the deal closed, Robert said, "he kindly gave Dad a large amount of plastic."
From that point on, Bud's fascination and endeavors with vinyl skyrocketed.
In the late 40s, two major additions came to the Keysor family, who by now had settled in Burbank ñ the birth of daughter Katherine, Bud and Bernice's last child, and Bud's next business venture, Poly Laboratories in Burbank. It was there that he took plastic powder, colored it a transparent red and pressed it into record discs.
"RCA was Dad's biggest customer," Robert noted, adding, "We made the plastic for almost every single see-through record on the market."
Fueled by his keen interest in plastics, Bud conceived a technique for converting gas into a solid. To implement this method, known as polymerization, Bud sent Union Carbide a request for a special pressure vessel. Upon receiving that request, recalled Robert, they sent out their chief engineers to see what Dad was up to and why he was requesting such a sophisticated instrument.
"Once they inspected Dad's pilot unit and realized the depth of his knowledge, they immediately shipped the parts."
In 1957, Bud decided to move his plastic company into the Santa Clarita Valley. Upon buying 15 acres in Saugus, purchased from landowner Bill Bonelli at the cost of $1,500 per acre, Bonelli told Bud that if he ever wanted more land, he could have it at the same price. A handshake sealed the deal.
"Five or ten years later," recalled Robert, "Bonelli made good on his word."
On Bud's intrigue and understanding of sound technology and plastics, Robert said, "Dad was a pioneer in the development of sound reinforcement, duplication and plastic processing."
It was at that facility that Keysor-Century Corp. came to be — an amalgamation of Bud's businesses all brought together under one roof. It is a corporation that still thrives to this day.
It was also in the late 50s that Bud felt the need for cleaning up the town of Burbank, which, according to Robert, was corrupt, filled with dishonest cops, crooked unions and a shady mayor.
"Bent on fighting crime, Dad, along with studio head Jack Warner and other concerned businessmen and residents, started The Burbank Crime Commission. They were responsible for bringing in the FBI, which brought in a Grand Jury investigation, prison sentences and a clean town.
In recent years as Bud grew older, family members stepped up to the plate, helping to lead the business and maintain its place in vinyl fabrication. While the heyday for vinyl records has waned, the company continues to press records, although it's major revenue come from manufacturing such plastic items as credit cards, shower curtains and hoses.
Wiping tears from her eyes, long-time Valencia resident Kathy Keysor Smith, recalled the deep commitment that her parents shared for the company as well as each other; "One night at the plant a pressure valve started to rise. This signaled an impending explosion, possibly a fire. Mom stood there next to Dad, holding a hose on the valve to cool it. Dad yelled to Mom, 'Bernice, get out of here! This thing's gonna blow!' At that Mom yelled back, 'Well, if it blows, we go together!'"
Shaking his head affirmatively, Robert agreed Kathy and said, "Mom was a supportive and loving wife who provided a solid home for all of us. Except for working in the lady's glove department during Christmas-time, she was always at home, looking after us, heading up PTA, being a natural-born mom."
He added that although his father came from Mormon roots, he did not embrace his faith until middle age. As their mother was a life-long practicing Mormon, Robert said, their father's "re-conversion" served to positively reinforce the entire family and enhance his faith in his own abilities.
For many years in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Keysor name has been synonymous with philanthropy and community involvement. Bud was an integral factor in the organization of the SCV's Rotary club, and served as their first president; Son Dick Keysor has been Man of the Year, and has sat on a plethora of school and foundation boards for a variety of entities (including Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation); Brother-in-law (and husband of Carolyn) Howard Hill has also taken an active part in these community causes and events; Kathy Keysor Smith sits on the board for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation.
In addition Bernice and Bud helped many disadvantaged families along the way, giving them money, shelter, college tuition, sponsoring expensive religious missions to far-off lands.
"And they usually did this anonymously, without revealing their name," Kathy said, adding, "the one proviso was that one day when those folks got on their feet and found success, they would the same for someone else."
In the wake of their patriarch's passing, siblings Robert and Kathy sat pondering the real meaning of their parent's legacy. Despite their father's impressive business genius and financial success, what will always treasure most about their father and mother is their spirit of altruism and community involvement.
"This has been a blessing and a great lesson to all of us," Kathy said. "One that we will cherish and continue to strive for." Funeral services for Bud Keysor will be held Wednesday, May 31, at 10 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints, 24914 Peachland Ave., Newhall. Interment will follow at Eternal Valley.
*Note: Story initially said Ty Cobb; see correction in comment section below.
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