Specialized Ministry — June 2007
By Janet Keppler, Editorial Assistant, International Women’s Ministries
(Janet and her sisters faithfully cared for their parents in their latter years. The following article demonstrates that all they did came from a heart of love, and that’s what motivates the caregiver. Caregiving is a specialized ministry.)
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NKJV). “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you . . .” (Deuteronomy 5:15, NKJV).
Both of my parents were born and raised in a little town in Indiana called South Whitley. We spent every vacation there when I was growing up. When my sisters and I were older, we used to make jokes about how small the town was. Comments like, “The city limit signs are back to back,” “The sign going into the town should say, ‘Welcome, you are now leaving South Whitley, Indiana,’” and “The only traffic light in town is always on flash.”
It was and is a small town, and we delighted in “rubbing it in.” After all, we came from the BIG city of Cleveland, Tennessee!
There was no Church of God in South Whitley, and I don’t believe my parents had heard of the Church of God. They were both active members of the United Brethren Church. (Although not Pentecostal, the United Brethren Church’s core values closely align with the Church of God.) When a new church building was needed, my dad helped dig the basement with a shovel. He served as the janitor for many years. He faithfully fired up the coal stove on cold winter mornings to get the church warm before service, and rang the church bell on Sunday mornings.
Daddy worked at Stumps Printing Company (now Stumps Party) and as a projectionist at a theater and put himself through college. He graduated from Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana. His intention was to be a math teacher, but because of World War II, teaching jobs were scarce and he joined the Army Ordnance Corps. He served as a munitions inspector. My parents were married in 1938. Mother worked in the same munitions factory as Daddy during the war and then they worked together at Stumps Printing for a time.
After the war in 1945, Daddy was looking in a “trade paper” and saw an ad for a job at the Church of God Publishing House in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was for a job he was skilled at and, ever the adventurer, he thought Tennessee sounded like a nice place to spend a couple of years. When he contacted the publisher, Reverend E. C. Clark, Brother Clark invited him to come for an interview. Upon meeting, Brother Clark expressed that they were really looking for a younger man (Daddy was 38—not old in my book!), but Daddy impressed him with his knowledge and energy, so reluctantly, he hired Daddy.
Daddy lived with the Clark family until he could find more permanent housing. My mother, who was expecting their second child, and my sister waited in Indiana. As soon as possible, he made the 500+ mile trip (one way) and brought them to Cleveland. My mother was an only child, and her mother missed her terribly. They promised that after they had traveled the countryside and seen all the hills and dales of Tennessee and the surrounding area, they would return to Indiana when employment was available. They never moved back to Indiana.
As soon as they moved to Cleveland, my parents began a search for a church home. Since Daddy was working for the Church of God and living practically next door, the natural process lead them to North Cleveland Church of God. They joined shortly afterward and became active in the church. My mother was the president of the Dorcas Sunday school class and Daddy was the secretary/treasurer of the Men’s Bible class for many years.
In 1946, my second oldest sister was born and only eighteen months later, another sister. With three little girls, Daddy realized that his hobby of photography was too expensive to continue as just a hobby. He had several awards to his credit, so he began taking portraits, weddings, recitals, “action shots” for the Lee Vindagua, etc. Back then everything was black and white, and he set up a darkroom in the basement of our home and spent evenings after supper developing and printing pictures. The garage-turned-playroom was turned into a part-time “studio.”
Years passed and lo and behold a fourth daughter was born—me! My dad was 45 years old when I was born. My parents already had three little girls and were under the impression that their family was complete. Daddy was ten years older than my mother and was concerned that he wouldn’t live to see me graduate from high school. Thankfully, he needn’t have worried.
I still wonder how they found the time and energy, but when they weren’t both at work at the publishing house, Daddy wasn’t out on a photo “gig,” or we weren’t participating in a church or school event, we were in the car—seeing the sights! We traveled far and wide with Daddy’s camera always at the ready. He would hang by one arm to get a shot of a tree, flower, mountain, or some wild animal. One time he came face-to-face with a bear—quite by accident. He got a great picture though! When he and Mother traveled to Hawaii on a rare occasion, he scooted out to the edge of a rickety old, half-rotten pier, turned over on his stomach and held on by his toes to get a picture of a water lily! He loved nature, seeing and enjoying all God’s beautiful creation and wanted to get as much of it as possible on film.
The sights we saw were not places you had to pay to see. Vacations, as mentioned previously, were always to Indiana where we stayed with family. Although both parents worked, saying we were of “modest means” would be stretching it. I didn’t realize we were really quite poor until I was in high school. My sisters and I had everything we needed and much of what we wanted.
Although my dad had expressed concern about living to see me reach my teens, he stayed young at heart. He built a two-story house when he was 70. When asked why he would build a two-story house—with all the bedrooms upstairs, no less—he replied that he didn’t know he was going to get “old.” He didn’t start “farming” until he was 70 either! He had what he called a “truck patch” when he was a boy in Indiana, but had always wanted a big garden. He finally was able to realize this dream when he was 70. In fact, he continued to work in his darkroom until he was almost 90 and in his beloved garden even after that!
I was always a “momma’s girl.” I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad, even though he was a faithful husband, and loving father. The most time I spent with him one-on-one, was when I occasionally combed his hair (although there was precious little of it!), or—I’m being honest—when I wanted something. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my dad. I just didn’t “know” my dad. I didn’t bother to spend time with him unless it was necessary. To this day, I don’t really comprehend why. Selfishness on my part is probably mostly to blame.
I called my momma every day during my lunch break. When I phoned home, if Daddy answered, I’d just ask to speak to Momma. I did that until she developed Alzheimer’s disease, and one day Momma didn’t know what a phone was or who was on the other end. That’s when my real relationship started with my dad. Sad, but true. By then, he was in his 80s—I wasted precious time.
But God granted me the extra time to finally “connect” with my dad. Our conversations started out of necessity, but became the highlight of my day. I discovered his keen sense of humor, marveled at his love and devotion to my mother, and stayed by his side day and night during surgery and subsequent pneumonia.
I wrote the following poem and sentiment to my daddy for his 92 nd birthday. I was blessed to have a father who had all the attributes any child could ever pray for. His love for God, my mother and his family will always be a source of inspiration for me. He always found time and energy for family togetherness. My three sisters and I were blessed beyond measure to be the daughters of George Garnet Keppler. In some small way, I hope the words of this poem reflect my gratitude to him for his devotion and love.
IF I WENT SHOPPING FOR A DAD
If I had to buy a man who would be my father,
there are many things I'd look for that really matter.
First, I'd look for one who'd be faithful to my mother
and not be too sad if I didn't have a brother.
I'd pick a dad that followed the Bible's Golden Rule,
and one who went regularly to church and Sunday school.
I'd want the finest dad to place on our family tree
and then I'd try to live so he would be proud of me.
He would enjoy family times together most of all
and be kind to God's wonderful creatures, great and small.
He'd like to go on picnics and take long Sunday rides—
the dad I'd choose would be strong, yet have a tender side.
There are lots of things I'd look for if I went shopping for a dad,
but I'd never beat the daddy that I have already had!
I've never been a poet, but I guess I got inspired. I don't know how else to tell you how much you've meant to me as a little girl combing her daddy's hair, as a teenager driving and wrecking her daddy's car, and then as a young woman getting divorced and moving back in her daddy's house. It's been these last few years especially when I've seen the kind of man you are and been able to look back and see that you always have been the kind of man you are now, I just didn't appreciate it so much in my younger days. I couldn't find a card that even came close to what I wanted to say and I really can't say it all here, but you are my hero and I love you.
For his 95th birthday, we got red tee shirts and had a large, white “9” and “5” put on each one. We made a big button with “I’m” on it for Daddy to wear. When we walked into a local restaurant, it looked like we were a ball team for an eldercare facility!
Daddy, indeed, lived to see me graduate from high school. He even lived to see his baby turn 50! Because of Mother’s illness, he asked the Lord to let him live at least one day longer than she did. He wanted to take care of her to the end. They were married 63 years. When Mother died at 84, we fully expected to have a double funeral, but, thankfully, God gave us another eighteen months with him. He died one day short of what would have been Mother’s 86th birthday. We decided the only way he could surprise Mother for her birthday was to get to heaven a day early! He was 96 years old.
As I was also able to do with my mother, I was privileged to hold his hand as he drew his last breath on earth and his first breath in his new heavenly home.
I am blessed, indeed!