Virginia Keller and her family

Virginia Keller, RPh: A lifetime of achievement

At the opening general session during McKesson ideaShare 2023, Health Mart awarded Virginia Keller, RPh, with the Health Mart Lifetime Achievement Award for her 50 years of serving her community.

McKesson Senior Vice President of Field Sales Jeanine Singer poses with Virginia Keller, RPh, after receiving her Health Mart Lifetime Achievement Award at McKesson ideaShare 2023.
A clipping from the “Nebraska Journal,” March 25, 1976, featuring news of the new pharmacists in town.

Virginia’s story starts with her and her husband, Doug Keller, opening their doors for business at Keller Pharmacy on March 25, 1976. They were recent graduates of pharmacy school and brought a youthful enthusiasm and excitement to their business. Their mission was to provide excellent healthcare to rural northeast Nebraska and serve all their patients with love and compassion.

Over the years, Virginia and Doug, were constantly making changes to maintain an innovative and progressive pharmacy practice. One of their very first goals was to create patient profiles to maintain accurate and complete medication lists, monitor patient adherence as well as drug-drug interactions, and be able to counsel each patient about the medications they were taking.

Behind the counter at Keller Pharmacy, an early 1900s photograph is displayed of the original building and street in Ponca, Nebraska, where Virginia and her husband first opened their pharmacy in 1976.

The patient profiles were handwritten at the time but important to Virginia and Doug to ensure the safety and well-being of their patients. All prescriptions were hand typed on a typewriter and many formulations of medications were compounded because they were not commercially available at the time. Over-the-counter medications were ordered from memory and did not come in with a price label, so prices were written on each bottle with a grease marker.

In the early 1980s, they purchased their first computer system. With the technology advancements came a need to increase space, so they purchased the adjacent building to create a larger, more patient-friendly pharmacy. It was also Doug’s idea to create this space as a “solar envelope” which was how the pharmacy was heated. The front windows collected the sun’s heat and fans were installed to circulate the warm air. This resourceful idea was later published in a pharmacy journal.

The 1980s brought about an expansion of their nursing home services, as well. Bubble packaging was introduced around the same time, which required a dedicated space along with computer software specific for nursing home consulting.

Virginia’s husband, Doug, poses with two of their young children, circa 1970s.

Tragically, in 1996, Doug passed away leaving Virginia with only one option – to continue to provide the same quality care to rural Nebraska and continue to pour her heart and soul into what was once a team effort with her late husband.

Amid such adversity, Virginia continued to wear many hats as the sole community pharmacist, taking on many of Doug’s prior responsibilities including all the engineering and upkeep that went into their aging building, maintaining her staple in the community by serving on various committees and church organizations, and most importantly, raising their five children.

Store front of Keller Pharmacy’s original location

But like so many other twists and turns that came before them, Virginia did exactly what Doug would have been so proud of; she did it all with grace, and she did it with heart and love. The community was there for her with full support.

Her example influenced her children with four of them now serving as pharmacists. Typically, Virginia cannot leave the pharmacy to attend state or national pharmacy events, as the only pharmacist in town. However, she has been able to stay up to date through industry news and her children who are advocates for independent pharmacies and share their knowledge with their mother.

In 2015, with an aging building and a decision to make regarding her own retirement plans, Virginia decided to forgo retirement and give something back to the community that was always there for her – a brand new, state-of-the-art pharmacy.

Virginia poses with some of her family at the soda fountain she preserved and moved from her old pharmacy location.
Virginia behind the counter with her pharmacy team

The new pharmacy was a family project and Virginia, along with her five children, all got a say in the design and services it would provide. Even though the new location allowed for a much-needed building upgrade, there was a conglomeration of old and new.

There were two features that were essential to the new pharmacy in addition to the advances and essential requirements. The first being Virginia and the second being the old-fashion soda fountain and its wood display dating back to the 1800s.

The beautiful new building Virginia built to serve the community of Ponca, Nebraska
Virginia can usually be found beyond the counter helping patients.

Not many pharmacies have a story like Virginia’s. She has seen the profession evolve, she has stayed true to herself and the initial servant leader mentality that brought her back to her roots in Ponca, Nebraska – love and compassion.

At 76, Virginia has given her life to the pharmacy profession. In a time when independent pharmacies are closing their doors, are burned out, and ready to move on, Virginia is doing what she has always done best, extending a smile, holding a hand, running a thriving business, and providing the best care to every person that walks through the doors of Keller Pharmacy.


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