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Longtime Auburn community leader Keith Lukens dead at 88

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Longtime Auburn resident and community leader Keith Lukens died Sunday.

Lukens, who was 88, died peacefully at his home in Auburn, his daughter, Laura Lukens, said Tuesday.

A member of a family that could trace its roots in Auburn to the 1860s, Lukens was born in Sacramento. Except for time out of the community to serve in the Marine Corps in both World War II and the Korean War, Lukens was a lifelong Auburn resident.

That life was filled with community service, from more than 50 years with both the Auburn Masons and the Auburn Rotary Club to more than 40 years as assistant chief with the Auburn Fire Department.

“He was third-generation Auburn and we had four generations on the fire department,” his son, Reed Lukens, said. “That was his life.”

Reed Lukens said that if he was in a car with his father and an emergency call came in, he and his sister, Laura, would find themselves going to a rescue, fire or other emergency with their father.

With the Rotary Club, Lukens was a past president and hard-working volunteer at events large and small.

“He’d be cooking for the Rotary dinner at 5 a.m. and then staying until cleanup at 11 p.m.,” Laura Lukens said. “He was always lending a hand.”

Keith Lukens grew up around the family business, G.E. Lukens & Sons Inc. Hardware Store. He graduated from Placer High School in 1942 and went on to the College of the Pacific in Stockton. From there he enlisted as a first lieutenant, seeing service in World War II in China.

Lukens married Terril Reed in 1947. She preceded him in death in 2001. Lukens and his family sold the hardware store in the 1960s and he continued to work in the hardware business until finding a second career as Auburn Cemetery District manager. He would retire from that role in the early 1990s.

In a 2011 interview, Lukens said that his reasons for a lifelong attachment to his hometown were pretty basic.

“Primarily, I think, it was my home,” Lukens said. “I was born and raised here. I was well acquainted and that sort of thing. I like the area. I have traveled a lot ... and still consider this one of the best places to live.”

A celebration of Lukens’ life is to be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at the First Congregational Church in Auburn. Sierra Foothills Funeral Service is handling arrangements.

Bill Jansen, a past president of the Rotary Club of Auburn, said he knew Lukens all his life and looked up to him for his honesty and good nature.

“Keith’s family and my family all grew up together,” Jansen said. “My father was in the car business when Keith’s father and Keith were in the hardware business.”

When Jansen joined Rotary in 1965, Lukens was serving as president. Lukens had joined in 1948 and his father had been a charter member when the Auburn club was founded in 1924.

“We lost a great icon in the community,” Jansen said. “And he was the longest-serving Rotarian by far.”

Honesty was a quality that stood out with Lukens, Jansen said.

“He ran a hardware business, and in those days you’d better be honest or forthright or you wouldn’t keep your customers,” Jansen said.

Fire service was also an important part of Lukens’ life, he said.

“He was a valuable member of the community,” Jansen said. “When the fire bell would ring,  he’d drop what he was doing and go.”