Drawing up a win
The weekend before the Pulitzers were announced, Mike Keefe (B.S. ’73, M.S. ’74) received a cryptic text message about a mandatory meeting that Monday at the Denver Post. With the state of the newspaper industry, he thought it must be bad news. “I called my wife and told her I might be packing my desk,” he says. It wasn’t until just before that meeting that Keefe realized he wasn’t being let go—he was being honored.
Keefe’s career path had some curves, including a swing through the Marine Corps and a stop at a Chevy factory. But he came to the proverbial fork in the road and had to make a choice: use his education and go into science and math, or go where his natural ability, his hobby and the economy led him. His dad was a truck driver and had a friend who was a commercial artist. “My dad thought that was the life compared to driving a truck, so he always tried to convince me to do something with art,” Keefe says. “I was interested in science and math. Art was a nice hobby, but not where I thought I’d end up.”
While serving in the Marine Corps, Keefe took a correspondence course in physics “because I was interested in that sort of thing,” he says. After his service, he completed his degree in math at UMKC and was working on his Ph.D. But when he realized the job market wasn’t promising, he looked another direction.
Keefe was drawing editorial cartoons for the UMKC student newspaper, U-News, as a hobby when he met Bill Shore, a cartoonist for the Kansas City Star. Keefe hastily drew up a cartoon on typewriter paper and showed it to Shore, who was impressed enough to encourage Keefe to follow through on it.
Keefe also sent some cartoons to Bill Sanders, another former Star cartoonist. Sanders liked his work so much he took the liberty of forwarding it to the Denver Post. The Post called him in for an interview and hired him in 1975. He’s been there ever since. In the end, Keefe’s career choice wasn’t necessarily the easier path. Readers bombard him with constant and unapologetic criticism. “It’s brutal,” he says, “but if I didn’t get that kind of criticism, then I’m probably not saying much.”