‘May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live.’ – Robert Heinlein
Neil ‘Grandpa Dude’ Kempka, aka Butch, waits for no one. So, in his typical, impatient way, and being just shy of a handsome 80 years old, Neil peacefully passed at home on February 9, 2022. This was the only quiet thing he did in his life. Having liberally shared his opinions with everyone on earth, he was likely looking for a new captive audience, so he joined the cadre of talented musicians, actors, politicians, writers, and famous bigwigs in the sky.
At 10 lbs. Neil was ‘prematurely’ born in Two Rivers, WI on April 21, 1942, to Leonard and Diane Emond Kempka, who were wed just 6 months before. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, WI in 1960 and immediately thereafter he Honorably Served as a radar technician in the US Airforce until 1966.
Neil called Pine River home since 1977, where he erected a marvel of a futuristic home, a geodesic dome, that was his pride and his home for decades.
Neil’s primary occupation was as an electrical engineer, and he was prolific in the auto-assembly industry for the big US manufacturers - Ford, Chrysler, and GM. He loved his American made vans. As a matter of fact, many living in the local Pine River area likely saw his Blue Ford dream machine bumbling down country roads, through town, parking at the grocery store with engine running, or haplessly parked in a ditch. We know the local gas economy will take a hit, as he is no longer driving that gas guzzling machine. This is probably why gas prices are on the rise, to compensate for the loss of revenue.
Neil was also an opinionated martini drinker, sushi and oyster eater, avid book reader, homegrown intellectual, lover of the natural world, PBS gourmand, and teller of not-safe-for-work jokes kind of guy. He lived unapologetic and gracelessly. He loved discourse and challenging people’s beliefs and assumptions. Whether you disagreed with him or not, he had a way of engaging people’s emotions through humor, impatience, love, or cash. He distributed love and wisdom widely and gave what he could to his friends and family.
Neil is survived by one sister, Lani Hordyk of Racine, WI. He is preceded in death by his younger brothers, Timothy and Gary.
The women came and went but his van always stayed. Neil is survived by 2 marvelous ex-wives, who provided companionship, friendship, food, and rides to medical appointments long beyond the bounds of their marriages. Thank you to Janet Beattie Riley and Dianne Margaret Herron, who also helped Neil with the practice of making children. He was mightily successful. And thanks to Barb Wagner for the friendship and rides provided to Neil.
Neil’s DNA is well preserved through his biologic children, and the children he loved and raised as his own: Anthony Kempka (Nancy), Renee Kempka (Greyson Murdoff), Nathan Kempka (Amy Monson), Sarah Kempka McDonald (Riley), and Jennifer Kyllingstad, who passed in December 2007.
And further on down the line, the list of Neil’s grandchildren grows– Shani Crist, Jack Nelson, Katelin Kyllingstad, Sebastian Kempka, Alex Kempka, Erin Kempka, Kayden Kempka, Abigail Kempka, Penelope Kempka, Elliette Kempka, Pepper McDonald and Kieran McDonald. They are a marvelous, lively bunch, full of the life and exuberance that Neil embodied.
The family will have a celebration of life Saturday, May 28 at the ‘Dome.’ If you knew Neil, you’re invited. We’ll provide some nibbles and drinks, and you’ll provide the stories. We’ll laugh and sing and cry, as it should be.