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The O’Keefes—Sara, her husband,
Pete ’91, and Marist Professor
Emeritus Peter O’Keefe—
pause for a sky-high
photo during their
ascent of Mount
Kilimanjaro, the
highest peak in Africa.
32
10 lives). Freezing temperatures prevail and the
four-day, one-night ascent to the 19,330-foot
summit requires encampments with sleeping
bags and accompanying gear.
But for Professor O’Keefe, whose favorite
philosopher is William James—a man who
also liked to push limits—age was never an
obstacle. “We are as big as we dream,” Peter
says. “James believed in creating reality based
upon presumptions of self. Think big, feel big,
do big.” He also got the okay from his doctors
to take on the climb. “I am so lucky to have the
health and energy that God gave me!”
The O’Keefe men trained in earnest, each in
his own way. Over a two-month period, Peter
senior would regularly put a 20-pound pack on
his back and take a two-mile round-trip hike on
an abandoned ski slope in southern Dutchess
County, N.Y. A dedicated runner, the younger
Peter used that as his basis for training. He
would also habitually forgo the elevator ride to
his eighth-foor offce. Sarapreparedbyworking
with a trainer.
A Peak Father-Son Experience
The O’Keefes feel fortunate to have had
as their guide Dismass Mariki, who holds the
record for the number of successful summits
(more than 150) by an individual. “Dad was
always in thenumber-twoposition, right behind
Dismass,” says Pete. “He never fell behind. In
fact he led the pack.”
For the group, the hardest effort before the
summitwas tackling theGreatBarrancoWall—a
stiff climb up 800 meters of rock. “When we
got our frst look at the wall,” Pete recalls, “I
know many of the younger people in our group
wonderedhowtheywouldget up, not tomention
the 78-year-old in front of them. I remember the
looks on their faces when they got to the top and
saw dad standing before them—incredible!”
In the end, Peter senior stopped just a few
hours short of the summit because of his own
judgment to go no further. But the decision did
not diminish the meaning of such a unique
adventure for this father andson. “Everyonecom-
mented on it and thought it was wonderful that
he and I were having this experience,” says Pete.
“This was defnitely a father-son event and
not a macho, backslapping, bottle-of-Scotch
sprint. It was special to make this climb with
him both because it was so challenging and we
were pushing ourselves beyond our limit and
because I got a chance to look after him as he’s
done for me all my life. Perhaps my son and
I will have a similar experience one day.”
TheO’Keefes—Sara, her husband, Pete
’91, and Marist Professor Emeritus
Peter O’Keefe—pause for
a sky-high photo during
their ascent of Mount
Kilimanjaro, the high-
est peak in Africa.
Professor Emeritus of History Peter O’Keefe and
Peter O’Keefe ’91 have taken their father-son
relationship to new heights—literally. They
climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together.
Tanzania, home to Kilimanjaro, is a long
way from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where young
Peter grew up and his parents still reside. A
Heritage Professor, the senior O’Keefe came to
Marist College in 1967 and taught full time for
32 years. He celebrated his 80th birthday Feb. 2.
When Peter joined his son on the climb up
Africa’s tallest peak in summer 2008, he was 78.
Birthdays actually inspired the family venture.
“I have a great idea for how we can celebrate
my 30th and your 40th birthday,” Pete’s wife,
Sara, suggested to him. “We’ll climb Mount
Kilimanjaro!” The idea didn’t catch on until a
family get-together in Washington, D.C., where
the couple lives with their young son, Ryan, and
where Pete has a business focused on raising
capital for fnancial services and private equity
frms and renewable energy projects.
“Sara was telling my dad that she couldn’t
believe that I wasn’t all for it,” recalls Pete. The
senior O’Keefe has been a distance walker all his
life and in the past decade successfully hiked
two American peaks. He thought Kilimanjaro
was a great idea and added that he would love
to go with them.
“That actually put me over the top,” says
Pete. “Seeing dad’s excitement about the climb
certainly motivated me. If he was in, I was in.”
While the oldest person to make it to the
top of Kilimanjaro was 79 years old, the peak
is an implausible destination for seniors. It is an
arduous climb and altitude sickness is
always adanger (eachyear it claims about
B y S h a i l e e n K o p e c