Even in retirement, David Kemp swings a hammer for others in need
People Who Matter
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Family: Married to Karen for 46 years. They have two sons, both graduates of Craig High School and both carpenters. Paul and Nancy Kemp of Janesville have two children. Michael and Marcy Kemp of Stoughton have four children.
Education: St. Paul (Minn.) Central High School, the U.S. Navy and Dunwoody Institute, the venerable Minnesota trade school.
Hobbies: Pheasant hunting with a French Brittany spaniel named Gypsy, riding Harley-Davidsons with Karen seated behind him. He owns an '82 Super Glide and an '02 Electra Glide. He wishes he had kept his first Harley, a 1953 model.
Favorite movie: The 1963 classic "Lilies of the Field," in which Sidney Poitier plays a carpenter who is persuaded by a group of nuns to build them a chapel.
If he could have dinner with anyone: His grandfather, for whom he worked summers during his youth farming. "He was my male mentor. So many things I'd like to talk to him about."
About construction: Some see it as a dirty occupation, always at the mercy of the weather, "but it's an extremely rewarding career when you stand back and see what you've done."
JANESVILLE David Kemp worked his way up from swinging a hammer to managing construction projects for Janesville's J.P. Cullen & Sons. Now retired, he hasn't stopped working or inspiring others with skillful leadership.
Rich Cullen, vice president of field operations, spent most of his career working for Kemp and counts him as a friend.
"There was nobody like him. A patient man, very good craftsman and a very good contractor all around. I would put him up against anybody in this country, as far as his abilities to superintend a project and bring it in on time, under budget and safely," Cullen said.
Kemp said he had been a Christmas-and-Easter Christian for years. He and his wife, Karen, returned in earnest to the church in 2004.
Why the change? No traumatic event, he said. It's just something that often happens when you reach a certain age and start thinking about life and death.
It was through Cargill United Methodist Church that Kemp first traveled to Louisiana in 2007.
He organized and led groups of eight to 12 volunteers in each of the succeeding years to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area.
"As a Christian, I feel I am called to serve others and help when I can," Kemp said. "Since I retired, I feel I have the time; I have the tools, and I enjoy it. I've always liked being productive and working with other people."
The latest trip was to rebuild the gutted interior of a home in Slidell, La. The owner, a nurse named Sharon, helped out when she could. She told the builders that she had descended into depression since the flood.
"She said we were a gift from God because the volunteers really brought her out of the depression," Kemp said.
As is usually the case, Kemp said, volunteers get more out of their efforts than the people they help.
Kemp said he also gets much from his church, where he is a trustee and is involved in two Bible study groups.
Kemp's knowledge and initiative have also helped close to home. He is overseeing a $1.7 million renovation of his church, and he has organized groups to re-roof a needy church member's house and help others move.
"He has just been remarkable giving in many ways and skilled at what he does," said Cargill's senior pastor, Forrest Wells.
When the Janesville Fire Department had to figure out how to display a beam from the Twin Towers in Firehouse Park last year, Lt. Dave Sheen thought of his friend and fellow Cargill member.
Kemp took the reins, recruiting an architect friend from Detroit to design it.
"He's a wonderful man. I'm lucky to know him and happy to call him a friend," Sheen said.