Graduating in the middle of the Great Depression, members of the Class of 1935 faced bleak job prospects. But E. Keith Staley ’35, who celebrated his 100th birthday on January 13 in Oro Valley, Ariz., points out that life had been tough for some time. For example, to return home to Clayton, N.M., from Golden at the end of each semester, he would hop a freight train heading south out of the Denver rail yard. “Sometimes there were as many as 300 people jumping into different cars,” recalls Staley, who relied on woolen underwear and a heavy sheepskin coat to stay warm during the long winter trips.
After graduating with a professional degree in mining engineering, he hitchhiked around the country in search of work, any work. It wasn’t until 1937 that his luck really changed. At an intersection far from Denver, he had a chance encounter with classmate Chuck Michaels ’35. The two were hitchhiking in opposite directions, both chasing rumors of work. After comparing notes, Michaels’ sounded more promising, Phelps Dodge was opening a new open pit mine in Morenci, Ariz., so the two teamed up and headed south.
The first skilled job he was assigned involved surveying the rail line that took ore from the pit to the mill. Quickly earning his bosses confidence, he was supervising a team of 60 by 1940.
During World War II, stationed in Alaska with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he rose to the rank of major, building, among other things, a 20-mile stretch of railroad, a sawmill and a wastewater system.
Unlike his graduation a decade earlier, the economy was booming when he emerged from the military after World War II. He decided to reenter the mining industry, this time going underground.
Staley says that sinking mine shafts gave him more satisfaction than anything else in his professional life. The first was in Eureka, Nev., in 1945, and the deepest was a 5,000-foot shaft in Arizona. He was 63 when he retired as general manager of one of the largest underground copper mines in the world, located in San Manual, Ariz.
Since then he’s had plenty of time to enjoy his family and friends. Keith and his first wife, Edith, had three sons. His second wife, Frances, died several years ago; she is survived by two daughters. His ties to Mines run deep: Several family members have attended, including an uncle, George W. Mitchell ’23, and cousins J. Harold Mitchell ’36 and George W. Mitchell Jr. ’53.
He’s also had lots of time to pursue his hobbies: gardening, lapidary and silversmithing. To this day, he spends time in his workshop, cutting and polishing rough stones for silver bolo ties, bracelets and pendants.
According to our records, Staley joins this elite group of Mines alumni centenarians: Edward Carter ’38, born May 1912; John Tower ’35, born August 1912; Herbert Heckt ’36, born December 1912. Candidates up for induction this year include Lee Talbert ’36, born August 1913; Donald Cadwell ’39, born September 1913; and George Jenkin ’38, born October 1913.