Most of us volunteer to do a few things each year for our congregations, the Federation Campaign, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family & Career Services, National Council of Jewish Women, Metro United Way, our children’s schools or one or two favorite nonprofit organizations. And most of us are so busy with the daily responsibilities of jobs, family, friends, etc., that one or two volunteer projects a year is all we can manage.
There are, however, a few of us for whom volunteering is much more than an occasional endeavor. In fact, it is a way of life. Keiley Caster is one of those dedicated volunteers, and he has chosen to devote so much of his time to the Jewish Film Festival that he has been chosen as the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Ronald and Marie Abrams Volunteer of the Year. He will receive his award at the JCL’s Annual Meeting, Monday, June 3, at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center.
“I’m really surprised” to receive this award, Caster said. When other people win awards, they often say other people are deserving of the award and they represent the others. “I used to think they were just talking, but now I understand.“I love and enjoy the Film Festival to the point where it’s not work,” he said. “There are so many people on the committee who contribute and do things, and I just say, ‘that’s a great idea,’ but I’m getting the award. I’m really humbled by it.”
Caster was not always a passionate volunteer, although he has always been interested in the audio/visual media. As a student at the University of Missouri, he was studying radio and television, but not journalism, and about two semesters before graduation he realized how difficult it would be for him to find a job in his chosen field. At the time, the war in Vietnam was winding down and Caster was planning to get married. He knew he needed a reliable job, so he joined ROTC. “From there,” he recounted, “I went into quartermaster because it was in food management and I had worked in restaurants [Baskin Robbins] during high school.” He eventually landed a job in the commissary.
While that worked out well for him and he wanted to continue to work in the commissary, he realized he couldn’t do it and stay on active duty because all stateside commissaries are run by civilians. So he left the service and became a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, and after working in a couple of other stores, landed at Ft. Knox where he worked for 25 years.
Caster retired in 2006, and then the fun began.
“My wife and I were friends of the Goldens,” he said, “and Angeline was chair of the Jewish Film Festival Committee at the time. One of the things we did when we socialized with the Goldens was go to movies, and she asked me if I was interested in joining the committee. I said yes.”
That was just the beginning. A couple of years later, when Golden was ready to give up the chairmanship, she asked Caster to take the reigns. “I was really hesitant,” he said. “I had been in management and liked being a worker.”
Golden, he said, “let me get in the water slowly instead of diving in” and agreed to co-chair the committee with him for a year. That was all it took.
Committee members all work hard, viewing about 50 films, meeting to compare notes and choose 10-12 each year. They also line up sponsors and help with the publicity – putting up posters and spreading the word. “I fell in love with the Film Festival,” he said. “It is fantastic. The committee is wonderful and so many members of the committee contribute vital things that make me look good.” Caster is particularly appreciative of Marsha Bornstein’s “hard work in finding the films we show and actually doing the difficult administrative things like finding the venues and doing the real leg work.”
A couple of years ago, Caster continued, Louis Levy, one of the founders of the Jewish Film Festival, suggested that the festival needed a logo and Levy saw to its creation. Caster was lukewarm to the idea at first, but has come to feel that it has really helped the festival with publicity, merchandising and getting people to come to the shows. “I fell in love with it,” he said, and has purchased “t-shirts and hats and all kinds of stuff.”
Things don’t always run smoothly. Caster recalled having technical problems with a Jewish Film Festival film that was being shown at Adath Jeshurun. “If Mike Furey [a committee member] hadn’t been there, it would have been a total disaster,” he said. “He’s a computer expert and he played with it for two minutes, and like magic the film went on. If he hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened.”
The Film Festival is also a source of innovation, moving the JCC forward, Caster explained proudly. The Film Festival was the first JCL program to sell tickets online. This year, it also introduced The Square, a device that is used with a smart phone to simplify credit card transactions at the theater. He credits committee member Pami with bringing this advance to the committee. “Prior to The Square, credit card transactions were tedious and time consuming,” he said. With The Square, transactions can be handled in seconds.
In addition to his work with the Jewish Film Festival, Caster ushers at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He’s a member of the Jewish Community Center and The Temple and vice president of its Brotherhood. He also enjoys watching his grandchildren.
Caster and his wife of 40 years, Sharon, have a daughter, Dawn Caster, a nephrologist at the University of Louisville, who is married to Justin Cartwright, and they have two grandchildren Noah, 4, and Caleb, 1. The Casters also had a son, Ryan Caster, who died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2001.