By Jeff Shearer
ATLANTA - When he enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1947 on the GI Bill, John Keith was a 21-year-old U.S. Navy World War II veteran.
On New Year’s Day 2018, 71 years later, API’s name had long since changed, but Mr. Keith’s devotion to Auburn remained the same.
“I had season tickets for a number of years when I lived in north Alabama,” said Keith, overlooking the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl from the top deck of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “When I lived in Atlanta for a good while, I went back to most of the games pretty regularly.”
Travis Tidwell and Erskine “Erk” Russell were the stars of Auburn’s post-war teams.
“We had some good ballplayers there,” Keith said. “There just weren’t many of them. We had a coach for a couple years named Earl Brown. He was an old Notre Dame man.
“We didn’t win many games,” recalling the lean years from 1948-50, when Auburn went 3-22 with four ties. “We won one ballgame in three years. That was the year Wofford beat us. I remember that. One year, we won one game. One year, we won two, and one year, we didn’t win a game.”
Auburn rectified that by hiring Shug Jordan in 1951. John Keith went to work for Sears, Roebuck and Co. for 37 years, putting his Auburn University business administration degree to excellent use.
When the war ended, Auburn’s enrollment doubled, from 3,640 in 1942 to 7,235 in 1947.
“There were an awful lot of veterans there then,” Keith recalled. “A lot different than it is now. Not very many women although I met my wife there. She was from Russellville, Alabama. And I grew up in Athens in north Alabama.
“I lived in a fraternity house on College Street, Pi Kappa Phi. Of course, it’s been torn down and gone for a long time now for new buildings.”
Keith, who will be 92 in April, attended the bowl game with his grandson, Keith Coleman. In 2013, grandfather and grandson were together in Auburn for the Kick Six and the Prayer in Jordan-Hare.
“When I almost had a heart attack,” said the grandfather.
“I thought we were going to lose him on that game day,” said the grandson.
Coleman learned early about his grandfather’s love of Auburn.
“Diehard Auburn fan,” Coleman said. “I grew up about ‘War Eagle.’ That was one of the first things I learned how to say, thanks to him.”
Even though his alma mater came up seven points short on the scoreboard, John Keith and his grandson, Keith Coleman, added to their rich collection of shared Auburn football experiences.
“It’s amazing,” said Coleman, whose parents named him Keith in honor of his grandfather. “I’m so happy we could have him out here today.”
Wearing an Auburn sweatshirt and quick to give an enthusiastic “War Eagle,” John Keith, API Class of ’49, agreed.
“It’s great. We see each other a good bit. It’s great.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) January 1, 2018
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer