James Ketelsen
1930 - 2017
Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services
Houston, TX
James Lee Ketelsen
James Lee Ketelsen died on April 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Born on November 14, 1930 in Davenport, Iowa of Ernest H. and Helen Schumann Ketelsen, Jim kept his erect posture, his piercing gaze and his firm handshake through good times and tough challenges. A tall man, Jim was bigger than life in business as well as in retirement. As a businessman, his command of numbers and his memory were legendary. But more remarkable is the unusual dedication that Jim showed to helping people throughout his life.
Jim is preceded in death by his first wife Joan Velde Ketelsen and their son James V. Ketelsen.
He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Kathryn Lloyd Ketelsen, his daughter Lee Ketelsen and her husband Adam Parker, daughter-in-law Catherine Gittings Ketelsen, a granddaughter Naomi Parker, and grandson Jake Parker.
After graduating from Northwestern University in 1952, Jim served as an officer in the United States Navy on the destroyer U.S.S. Hunt in the Pacific during the Korean War. He began his business career as a CPA in the Chicago office of Price Waterhouse. In 1959 he joined J.I. Case Company as Assistant Comptroller, and he rose to president at the young age of 36. He remained at the head of Case until it was acquired by Tenneco, where he was tapped to be CEO and Chairman at the age of 47, and he served in that capacity for 13 years from to 1978-1992. Most Texans think of this global conglomerate as an oil company, but Jim managed this host of multi-industry businesses including ship building, natural gas pipelines, chemicals, agriculture and land management, and packaging.
During his tenure at Tenneco, Jim was among the first corporate leaders in the nation to link business profitability and employee health. Jim built a state of the art fitness center for employees. "In Tenneco's Texas sized gym which occupies 25,000 square feet, there are basketball and racquetball courts, a workout area, a glass-enclosed running track…,all free of charge to employees," the New York Times wrote March 18, 1990. Jim's focus on fitness was inspired by research after his double bypass surgery in 1979, and it did much to enhance Tenneco's reputation as a caring company.
Jim's commitment to promoting his employees' physical fitness and his style of leading by example led him to start the Houston Tenneco Marathon, which lives on today under another sponsorship. For years Jim, an accomplished runner, began the Marathon himself.
Always generous with his time, Jim led Tenneco's recognized program of volunteerism, giving paid time off to employees to pursue those interests. He was a founding board member of Central Houston, a regent of the University of Houston System and a trustee of Northwestern University. In addition, Jim very much enjoyed serving as an active member on outside boards, namely J.P. Morgan & Company of New York where he was chairman of the Audit Committee for 24 years.
Jim's dedication to and love for our city is also evident on every walk past the cascading waterfalls, distinctive lighting, gazebo and promenade of Sesquicentennial Park. Jim helped launch this project which became the seminal effort in the Buffalo Bayou beautification work. Jim was one of a small group of Houstonians who worked hard to raise the funds to build the Wortham Theater in the 1980's during the worst recession in the city's history. After the stunning facility was completed, he made it a priority to bring the nearby park up to standard.
Jim knew what a sacrifice his family had made to send him to college and recognized the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged students. After retirement, he had time for more extensive volunteer work. During the flight home from President George H. W. Bush's inauguration, inspired by the famous Thousand Points of Light speech, Jim and his wife Kathryn discussed how they could improve what Jim had started in Davis High School in Houston's Near North Side while he headed Tenneco. That discussion led to the formation of the non-profit Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams). Understanding that work had to begin earlier than high school, Jim's clear and practical vision saw the workforce challenges our city and country would face if we turned away from the enormous drop-out problem. This inspired his tireless efforts on behalf of those students for the rest of his life. The motto he chose for Project GRAD was "Whatever it takes!"
Always humble, Jim wasn't one to define himself in terms of his many accomplishments or plaques on the wall. While his laudable successes may not be on display in his office, they are visible at numerous sites around the city of Houston. Most significantly, Jim lives on through the successes of the numerous people whom he mentored and students he encouraged. Today Project GRAD has sent over 7500 students to college, inspired countless others to go, and helped an untold number to get a high school diploma.
He will be missed not only by his family and friends but by former students of James L. Ketelsen Elementary who for years when he would visit would come running to him and grab his legs, calling out to him, "Mr. K. Mr. K. Thanks for coming."
Always the optimist, Jim never stopped believing that if you just kept working at something, you could make the world better.
Jim was right. It can take just one person to make a difference.
The family wishes to thank Taavi Mark, Tina Rose and Ida Tyson for their long and caring service.
A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas Avenue, in Houston on Friday, May 5, 2017 at two o'clock in the afternoon with a reception following in Saunders Hall at the church.
Jim has requested those wishing to make memorial contributions please do so to the DREAM Scholarship Fund, Project GRAD 3000 Richmond Ave., Suite 400, Houston, Texas 77098.

Published by Houston Chronicle from Apr. 30 to May 3, 2017.
To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.
Memorial Gathering
Christ Church Cathedral
in Saunders Hall, TX
Memorial service
Christ Church Cathedral
1117 Texas Avenue, Houston, TX
Funeral services provided by:
Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services
Sponsored by Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services.
Add a Message

Not sure what to say?

16 Entries
I am so very sad to learn of Mr K's death. He cared so very much more for others than for himself. I hope that heaven is full of ice cream bars, happy kids, and corgis. I loved you, Jim. Kat, I am so sorry for your loss.
Clair Burleson
June 8, 2018
I'm so sorry to hear of the passing of your love one. May the God of peace and comfort be with you and your family at this difficult time.
September 13, 2017
I just want to send my prayers to his family. I remember being in the 4th grade at Ketelsen Elementary and when they first opened the school. I was a little girl super excited to go to the new school. I was a cheerleader and i remember we still didnt have a mascot.... Then came the Ketelsen Kangaroos! I remember always seeing him there checking making sure the school was ok. Then one day they put his name on the school in silver letters and when i left elementary to go to middle school i remember walking home with my brother and i saw the letters were blue. So many memories at that school and always having him come check on us. One day he was visiting the school and walking the halls and i asked my teacher if i may go to the rr... As soon as i walked out i saw him and he said hi and asked me how did i like going to that school... I was still in 4th grade so i was speechless realizing the guy that "built the school" was actually talking to me... Those were the days..... May he rest in peace knowing he made a safe place for kids in such a tough neighborhood. I could thank him for that enough.
May 9, 2017
As A young person I worked in the locker room of the Racine Country Club. Mr. Ketelsen was a class act--always very pleasant. My condolences to the Ketelsen family.
May 7, 2017
I worked for a time at ProjectGRAD as Development Director and never forgot Mr. K's dedication to and compassion for the families and students that benefitted from his vision. In trips to LA, New Orleans and DC, he was focused on the task at hand, but always ready for a bit of fun and a good meal. If you screwed up, those steely blue eyes could cut to the quick, but he was also just as ready with praise for a job well done. I've never forgotten him or Kathryn and offer my heartfelt condolences to her and their family.
Pam Williford Lemoine
May 5, 2017
Dim the lights; a giant has passed.
Chad Wick
May 5, 2017
My condolences and prayers to the Ketelsen family.

It is through Mr. Ketelsen's endless work and dedication to education that I was provided the finances to be able to attend college. I am eternally grateful, thank you.

May you rest in peace.

Sandra Reyna-Urbina
Northside (Davis) High School Teacher
Class of 1994
Sandra Reyna-Urbina
May 4, 2017
On behalf of the students and staff at Northside HS (formerly Jefferson Davis HS), thank you for everything you have done for our community. From the Project Grad scholarships to field trips to area colleges and universities, from music lessons to summer institutes, the work your family invested in our community made a significant impact and we are forever grateful. Thank you for your investment and commitment to growing all of us. May you rest in peace and may your family know your work positively impacted the greater Houston area.
Thank You,
Dr. Alcantar-Martinez
Northside High School
May 4, 2017
My condolences to the family during this time of grief. James left a wonderful legacy that others can follow.
May 3, 2017
My deepest condolences to the family. May the God of all comfort give you strength.
May 2, 2017
The sorrow you feel is shared by many. We know the Word of God encourages all who are mourning, especially those who have loss their family member. 1 Corinthians 1: 3,4
May 2, 2017
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
May 1, 2017
Sorry for your loss may you draw comfort from Gods word at HOSEA 13:14 L Ohio
May 1, 2017
Please accept my deepest sympathies on the loss of your loved one. the God of all comfort sustain you during this time of grief.
April 30, 2017
Wishing to express deepest regret in reading of the great loss to you.
Your words truly speak volumes of his dedication, love and desire to help others.
Praying your family be united & strengthen now.
2 Corinthians 2:3-4
April 30, 2017
A remarkable person, a remarkable life. In education, Project GRAD was Jim's big contribution, but he spread his positive influence in many ways -- one of which was service on the Search Committee for the UH College of Education Dean in 2000. Such a privilege to know him.

Bob Wimpelberg
April 29, 2017
Showing 1 - 16 of 16 results