Reflecting on Dad's 90th Birthday!

Nine decades is a very long time, yet it seems that many are reaching this birthday bench mark these days with relative ease! Thanks to God’s grace, good genes, healthy living and excellent doctoring, we now have one of our own who has joined the “ninety club!”

My Dad turned ninety on December 9. Joseph Donald Keppler was born in Fayette County, Illinois on this date in 1929 to Kenneth and Thelma Keppler. Dad is the second oldest of what was 14 living children. Their farm house sat north of Vandalia on 80 acres at the base of “thrill hill!” This was only part of what my great grandpa, Joseph (Dad’s namesake!) farmed just south of the state property surrounding the Vandalia Correctional Center today.
Joseph Donald Keppler
Vandalia, IL

Grandpa Joseph also farmed 120 acres on the east side of highway 51 in the bottom land of the Kaskaskia River. Dad said that they planted corn most years and sowed grasses for pasture. There were 14 milk cows, and 8 work horses along with 20 pigs and 250 chickens. An orchard also sat on the property. In addition, there were 3 rent houses. It was a fairly self-sufficient operation that fed many mouths!

His mother, Thelma, passed down to Dad some of the specifics surrounding his birth. She had come to town to stay with relatives at a residence on West Randolph Street that was only two blocks from where Dad and Mom would raise us. In essence, Dad remarked, “I have only gone two blocks in ninety years!” The weather conditions on the day of his birth included heavy snow with accumulations so deep that the snow was at the window sills! (Dad has been prone to exaggeration at times!)

Charging a mere $7.00 for his services, Dr. A.R. Stanbery delivered baby Joseph Donald Keppler at 8:00 P.M. that evening. Playfully, I asked Dad if Dr. Stanbery had been the family physician administering immunizations and well-care during his growing up years. Dad said, “Why… there were no shots for anything! If you weren’t strong during those days, you never made it!”  Dad claims, he never remembered hearing about or seeing Dr. Stanbery again!

If you are ever to ask Dad about his age, he would be quick to admit his actual age, but he likes to throw in a comment or two about it. One he adamantly declares with delight is, “I’m not old!” He does have the most forward look of any I meet at his age. He goes out to the shop every day to join my brother Kevin in changing oil, diagnosing troubles, and repairing vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Dad’s friends like to tell how they love to see Joe coming out from under a car on a creeper and then jumping to his feet aided only by the bumper!

Dad also likes to comment when I ask him why he only “hangs out” with people twenty years younger and closer to my age, “Why, everybody my age is either in a wheel chair, behind a walker or at the nursing home!” In short, he knows that God has been very good to him all of these years. He has been blessed to know the love and devotion of one wife over 68 years of marriage, and by that happy union to have had 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren!

That earlier statement from Dad about “only going two blocks in ninety years” is only partially true. He spent four years in the Navy and then another eight in the reserves. Dad often remarked, “I have travelled the world and now I don’t want to go anywhere!” I can only remember him taking one vacation in all the years that we were growing up! Mom and Dad gave us the stability of living in the same community among familiar people in addition to modeling a work-ethic that would forever impact our lives!

I think about the details of the Christmas story in this season and how Mary and Joseph traveled the ninety miles on foot from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son…” (Luke 2:6-7a). Mary and Joseph eventually returned back to Nazareth to bring up their Son, Jesus, in a rather obscure, out-of-the-way community. It was not God’s plan that Jesus should spend the first thirty years of His life in the busyness of Jerusalem and Judea, but rather in the relaxed and rural life of Galilee.

A rural up-bringing was my Dad’s background and to some extent, mine as well since Vandalia is heavily dependent upon the farming economy. I also think about how when we are young, we try to imagine ourselves somewhere more glamorous only to discover later in our maturity that God knew what He was doing when "he sets us in our families" (Psalm 68:6) in a certain geographic context. Dad’s birthday gave me another opportunity to visit Fayette County and to see Dad in his element. It is a good life for him and was a blessing to me those first eighteen years as well!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.


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