Contributed by PIDF staff Aaron Mahi, Amanda Ishigo, and leadership.
My recollection of “Jack”, as he was best known, was a man of very few meaningless words or “small talk,” but he was very thoughtful and he never lacked in response to an invitation to engage in a stimulating discussion; he was an independent thinker and initiator who believed in little “fuss” but rather results. He had a voice that was clear and reflected his strength of character and he would happily engage in a good debate with those around him.
Jack’s tenacious spirit championed in many instances the Baibala project with Partners in Development Foundation. His conviction to the “Word” in Hawaiian was indeed an important project to him and he dove into it full of zeal and conviction. Jack played a major role in seeking out the early grants to move the project forward and worked diligently to support the project and its staff led by Project Director Helen Kaupu Kaowili. He worked to develop partnerships with many including the United Church of Christ Hawaiian churches and community groups to build interest and support of the project. Jack was the external face of the project to the community in its early years and served an integral role in the Baibala Hemolele project.
Jack was not only the nurturer of the Baibala Hemolele, but an avid student spending many hours researching the scriptures in Hawaiian and English and would often call me to discuss a certain issue or question encountered in his studies. Even after moving to Oregon to be closer to his granddaughter, Jack would call and we would then engage in a healthy discussion.
Jack was “one of a kind,” kind and gentle in his aloha and stalwart in his convictions. He is a soul I am proud to have known in the most noble of circumstances— a true “keiki ‘imi na‘auao” or child in search of knowledge. He shall be missed by his many friends at Partners in Development Foundation!
I always joke that Jack Keppeler was my bodyguard. I imagine Jan Dill calling Jack to his small, corner office on Bachelot Street to call in a favor; and keep an eye on me. It was 2004 and I had inherited a working role with PIDF that involved two entities with a long, fractured history; church and state. I was a go-getter and chomping at the bit to make a difference… but oh so young and oh so “green”. So, the Project Director of Baibala Hemolele met me at every meeting with decision makers in the Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. He would bellow out a joke during tense introductions and agendas. He also never hesitated to bellow out a loaded question and directly challenge every leader at the table. I would sit quietly through leadership meetings, observing the amazing rhythm Jan and Jack had between them. These two big, strong pillars of PIDF would alternate between banter, mindful pauses, then straight shot talk about changes they would be making in Hawai’i. Jack taught me to be tough, challenge old ways, and when it was a really bad day…to laugh. Jack cared about the Hawaiian people. He was a tough guy and teddy bear wrapped up in one. He loved his wife. He loved God. Jack Keppeler was my mentor, my defender, my teacher and my uncle.
He po‘i na kai uli, kai ko‘o ‘a‘ohe hina pūko‘a. Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing. Pūku‘i, M.K. and Varez, D. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Bishop Museum Press. 1983.
You can view Jack Keppeler’s obituary on The Oregon Live.