John was born March 24, 1958, to Verdi and Lucille Kemper, and had six sisters and five brothers. At age five, John, along with several of his younger siblings, were placed in foster care. Although his foster family wanted to adopt him, John wanted to keep his last name in hopes that his family would try to locate him. John was 44 years old when he was reunited with all but one of his siblings.
John met his wife, Terry, through their church when they were teenagers, and they were married shortly after high school. They shared the next 37 years together. They loved to take family vacations in search of “brown signs” (historic sites, points of interest) in each state.
John was the proud father of Jennifer. As Jenn was growing up, John used every opportunity as a teaching moment to ensure that daddy’s little girl had the confidence that she could do anything she set her mind to.
John was equally proud of his two grandsons, Austin and Ethan. To them, he was known as PawPaw Fireman. John filled many roles in the boys’ lives. He was the PawPaw who played ball with them, the PawPaw who went to every school and sports activity the boys were involved in, the PawPaw who taught Austin how to drive and showed him how to shave, the PawPaw who worked with Ethan on his pitching, the PawPaw who made sure that no matter what he was doing, the boys were by his side.
John’s passion was muscle cars. Over the years he restored numerous Mustangs and later Buicks. John was well known in the Buick community and had many friends across the country. He loved talking cars with his buddies.
An exceptional self-taught carpenter, John could fix anything and made sure that Jenn or the boys worked with him so they would learn how things worked and how to fix things.
John’s true passion was what he referred to as his dream job—to be a fireman. At age 35, he decided it was time to pursue his dream. He began his career with the St. Louis Fire Department in 1993 and was promoted to captain in 2008. He proudly served the city just shy of his 25th anniversary.
John was a selfless man with a soft heart (especially for stray dogs!). He never met a stranger and could carry on a conversation with anyone. He retained his little boy wittiness and, for a big brute of a guy, had a giggle that would make anyone laugh. When asked how he was doing John would say, “I’m loving life and living the dream.”