Penn State mourns loss of food science pioneer Philip Keeney

Phil Keeney ice cream lab

Phil Keeney and a lab assistant examine an ice cream cone during Keeney’s heyday as the “Emperor of Ice Cream.” Keeney died Oct. 17 at the age of 95.Image: Penn State

The Penn State community is mourning the loss of Philip Keeney, professor emeritus of food science, who died Oct. 17 at the age of 95.

Intimately linked with the Department of Food Science from the time he helped to establish it in 1975, Keeney perhaps was best known for his research and teaching related to ice cream. Once called the “Emperor of Ice Cream” by People magazine, he was director of the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course from 1955 until his retirement in 1985. The short course, which expanded during Keeney’s tenure, attracts ice cream professionals from all over the United States and from many foreign countries. Until recently, he continued to help teach the course every year.

Throughout his career, he also was involved with the direction of Penn State’s Berkey Creamery, the largest university creamery in the nation. Keeney Beany, a chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks and vanilla bean, was named for him and is part of the creamery’s “hall of fame” lineup of flavors.

“Although already retired from the University, Phil welcomed me to the department and organized a lunch during my first week at Penn State in 1991 – he was just that kind of person,” said Bob Roberts, professor and head of food science. “As I have noted in the past, it would be difficult to overstate the impact that Phil Keeney had on the Food Science Department’s faculty, staff, students and alumni. He will be sorely missed.”

Phil Keeney ice cream demo

Phil Keeney, once referred to as the “Emperor of Ice Cream,” demonstrates part of the ice cream making process during the 2011 Penn State Ice Cream Short Course. An excellence fund in the Department of Food Science has been named in Keeney’s honor.

IMAGE: Penn State

A native of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Keeney served as a U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 bombardier from 1943 to 1945 in the Pacific Theater during World War II. When considering college, his first choice was Penn State, which at the time was not accepting out-of-state students. Instead, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he received a bachelor’s degree in dairy technology in 1949.

Following graduation, he worked for two years as an assistant manager of a milk-drying plant in Winthrop, Minnesota, before entering graduate school at Ohio State University, earning a master’s degree in dairy technology in 1953.

After receiving his doctorate in dairy science from Penn State in 1955, he joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor of dairy science, rising to the rank of full professor in 1966. He became a member of the food science faculty when Penn State designated the dairy manufacturing major as part of the food science program in 1975. He served as head of the Department of Food Science from 1980 to 1985.

In addition to his ice cream expertise, Keeney also directed Penn State research on the chemistry of the cocoa bean and other chocolate-related projects from 1962 until his retirement. His research – which took him to such countries as Honduras, Brazil and Malaysia – focused on how post-harvest processing of cocoa beans affects chocolate flavor.

Keeney developed and taught introductory undergraduate food science courses and developed graduate courses on product development and ingredient technology. He advised 16 doctoral and 20 master’s degree students.

After his retirement, he served as a consultant on various industry projects and initiatives and remained active in departmental and University affairs. In 1998, he was named a Penn State Distinguished Alumnus, the University’s highest alumni award. He also was a charter member of the Armsby Honor Society, which recognizes alumni and friends who have demonstrated a profound commitment to the College of Agricultural Sciences through their service, scholarship, teaching and philanthropy.

Philip Keeney, professor emeritus of food science

Philip Keeney, professor emeritus of food science

IMAGE: Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences

The relationships Keeney built throughout his career and the universal respect for his work culminated in significant industry and alumni support to fund the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building and the Berkey Creamery, which were dedicated in 2006. As a campaign committee member for the College of Agricultural Sciences during Penn State’s Grand Destiny Campaign from 1996 to 2003, Keeney was instrumental in securing support for programs and scholarships in the Department of Food Science.

He and his wife were also generous supporters of the University, lending their support to various initiatives, including the Erickson Food Science Building and the Arboretum at Penn State, and establishing the Elsie and Philip Keeney Endowment for International Programs in Food Science.

In 2014, the College of Agricultural Sciences honored Keeney by establishing the Philip G. Keeney Food Science Department Head Excellence Fund. Proceeds from the endowment are used at the discretion of the department head to support programs and new initiatives in food science research, extension and teaching.

Memorial contributions can be made to Grace Lutheran Church, 205 South Garner St., State College, PA 16801; or to the Philip G. Keeney Food Science Department Head Excellence Fund online or by sending a check payable to Penn State to Office of Development, College of Agricultural Sciences, 240 Agricultural Administration Building, University Park, PA 16802.

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