Mark C. Keever: 2023 Hero of Education

Monday, October 9, 2023
Mark C. Keever is named Phoenix College's 2023 Hero of Education
Mark C. Keever's business, Adirondack Chimney Sweep, flourished after he retired from the City of Glendale
Over 25 years, Mark C. Keever attended Phoenix College while working full time to eventually graduate with his business degree.
Mark C. Keever explains why a penny in the fireplace brings good luck.

Mark C. Keever was born in Fremont, Ohio. When Mark was young, the family moved to Queensbury, New York, a small town near Lake George. As Mark recalled, most people didn’t have much, and when you graduated from high school, your career choices were going to work in the local paper mill or in the local prison. Because people had to do for themselves, one of the things students learned in shop class was how to clean wood-burning stoves and chimneys, which many homes had as the primary source of heat.

In his senior year of high school, Mark was in a motorcycle accident and was seriously hurt, breaking his foot in twelve places, breaking his left leg, and he had serious injuries to his knees and elbows, which prevented him from seeking careers in the paper mill or in the prison.

Mark came to Arizona to recuperate from his injuries. After he had fully recovered, Mark got hired by the Greyhound Corporation, where he worked for many years. Then he went to work at Southern Pacific Railroad, which was a good job, but after four years he was laid off – along with 9,000 other people, during a recession in the 1980s.

Full-time Job, Side Business, and PC Student

Not knowing what to do next, Mark looked around and found out that one in four houses in the Phoenix area has a fireplace. Well, that was a natural: Mark already knew how to clean chimneys, so he decided to start a chimney sweep business. By the time he had everything in place and was ready to start reaching out to customers, summer was coming, and as Mark said “Nobody thinks about cleaning their fireplaces during the 110-degree summer days”.

In the beginning, Mark’s business Adirondack Chimney Sweep struggled. To make ends meet, Mark decided he better get a full-time job, and found employment with the City of Glendale. He was happy to have a stable job, and he kept the chimney-sweep business as a side-gig.  Mark also decided that he better go to college to learn how to run his business, so he enrolled in a business course at Phoenix College.

For the next 25 years, Mark worked at the City of Glendale, while also working to complete a business degree at Phoenix College. Mark joked to his friends that it only took him 25 years to finish his associate’s degree!

Associate's Degree and Chimney Sweep Business

In 2009, Mark was eligible to retire from the City of Glendale, and his state pension would provide him with a steady retirement income. Mark thought to himself, “it’s now or never”, so he took the leap of faith and retired from the City of Glendale to focus on growing the chimney sweep business.

During a conversation with a customer in 2010, Mark said “I’ve never been happier! No more stress of a day job and a commute. I’ve got all the work I can do, most of it in the wintertime while the weather’s nice, and the business has really taken off.” Adirondack Chimney Sweep flourished, and at its pinnacle had more than 2,000 customers.

As Mark continued talking with the customer while cleaning the fireplace and chimney, Mark sprinkled a handful of salt at the back of the firebox, telling the customer “This brings good luck.”. Then, Mark set a shiny new copper penny in the front right corner of the fireplace.     

“A penny in the fireplace not only brings more good luck,” Mark said, “but because it’s a penny with this year’s date, all you have to do is look at it to remember when you last had the chimney cleaned.” Adding that fireplaces should be cleaned every four or five years.

2023 Hero of Education

Phoenix College is honored to celebrate Mark C. Keever, the College’s 2023 Hero of Education. Mark generously donated more than half a million dollars – the entirety of his estate – to support PC students majoring in business. Mark’s generosity is characterized by his selfless commitment to education and to developing future business leaders. Mark’s spirit lives on in the next generation of entrepreneurs and his legacy exemplifies the profound impact that a single individual can have on an institution and the lives of countless students.

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