Presented by Bob Verplank
Rex Kepler May 18th, 2011
Rex, we will miss you.
Rex Kepler was one of those guys that got out of World War II and went looking for a job. He went to work for a small gravel company whose owners had come from Illinois. He worked for that company for more than 48 years. He started there in 1946. As it changed, it grew, sold and resold several times and finally wound up in the hands of a national conglomerate. It started as Western Indiana Gravel co, became Western Indiana Aggregates, That was purchased by Medusa Cement co, the Crane Corporation and last by Vulcan materials of Chicago and Birmingham, Al. These expansions only served to increase his territory.
My family came from a family of road builders, Calumet Paving company of Gary Indiana. My dad built highways all over Indiana and when he got to Lafayette, he bought gravel and sand from Western Indiana gravel company and Rex Kepler. That relationship may go back almost 70 years. Calumet Paving company built highway 52 NW., 52 SE., 25 NE. and in several locations over 25 years. When my dad left the highway paving business, he went into the ready mix concrete business in West Lafayette Indiana in 1950. He bought gravel and sand from Rex Kepler. I went into the family concrete business in 1961 and bought sand and gravel from Rex Kepler. We go back a long time. Now some of you may not realize how much sand and gravel is used in ordinary construction. Every new home has some sand and gravel as a subbase under the footings, basement slabs, garage slabs, and sidewalks. Every Purdue University building has sand and gravel Incorporated into the concrete that make up its buildings and the asphalt that makes up its parking lots. This building we are in was built of concrete that came from the sand and gravel of Western Indiana gravel company and sold by Rex Kepler. That would also be true of the location of the Rotary club before this one, the campus inn, and its predecessor, Morris Bryant.
Rex we will miss you.
He started to play the piano at the age of 6 and got better and better all of his life. He also played the baritone in the high school band and won a prize at Interlochen. He sang with the Festival Singers under the direction of Al Stewart, played in the Cherry Lane Dudes, and accompanied the Ambassadors, a singing group from the Senior Center, for 17 years. He began playing in local big bands in 1938 and was in the Citizens Band for many years.
He Married Patricia "Patty" Smart Muston, the love of his life, on July 17, 1978,
In the 1960s, our nation embarked on a massive construction effort with the interstate highway system. His company and Rex Kepler sold aggregates over perhaps 90% of the highway system running from Lebanon to Rensselaer or perhaps 75 miles of four-lane pavement. The time period for that was perhaps 15 years. The road builders included Mc Mahon construction of Rochester Indiana, Reith Riley, Goshen Indiana, Moellering construction of Fort Wayne Indiana, Burns construction Indianapolis Indiana and Ryan construction from Wisconsin. Some of the bridge builders in that period of time would have to include Bob King of Indianapolis, Russell Hornbeck of Monticello, Dave Michael of Frankfurt, Morris Holly of Kentland, and Jake Wilson of Bloomfield Indiana. That might be a partial list of his customers. Fauber construction our local asphalt company, and Concrete Ready Mix one of my competitors, would have to be included in the list as well. As his company grew, so did his territory. He sold aggregates as far south as Terre Haute, and as far north as Gary and from the Illinois line to Kokomo. The company expanded into the limestone business and they sold crushed limestone as well. He sold sand and gravel for kids sandboxes and for 600 hp trailer trains with twin trailers hauling 46 tons as well as railroad cars.
If you stand on the edge of the hill on the south side of the Purdue shops and look South, you'll be standing on a ridge overlooking a valley 40 feet deep. That Valley used to run almost a mile wide and 7 miles south past the Purdue airport. Originally that Valley had 6 feet of dirt, and up to 35 feet of gravel. It is all been excavated, processed, and made into sand, gravel, P gravel, road gravel, and many other graded classes of gravel that have gone into underlayment, roads, and buildings, of Tippecanoe County leaving behind a huge hole. My estimate would be that Rex sold two thirds of all of that gravel. Kinda makes you think of Paul Bunyon. k
Rex we will miss you.
I joined Rotary in 1962. Sometime in the next few years, I got on the Board of Directors of the Lafayette Rotary club. Rex's name came up for membership. It was a different world and he did not own the company, nor was he president, vice president, or even a sales manager. It looked as if he might get turned down until I mentioned that he was a piano player and instantly he became a member of the Lafayette Rotary club. He never looked back, and played for our lunches for over 30 years. One of our favorite entertainments at luncheon was Rex playing the piano and Bob Lett playing the organ. I always joked that if someone could sing, whistle, or hum eight bars of the song then Rex could finish it. He came up with the idea at Christmas that we could gather a group of musicians together and go around and sing Christmas carols to our shut-in members. We did that for several years. Rex was an excellent Rotary member and when he retired he retired as a Vice President of his company.
Because we were in related businesses we often went to conventions together. Traveling with Rex was a delight. When we Were in Chicago, we visited the Playboy club, and the gaslight club to listen to the music of another Lafayette musician, Harold Harris. We sampled the music of Dixieland, jazz, blues, big bands, combos, When we were in New Orleans, he suggested that I go over to a nearby hotel and listen to the music of Al Hirt. His comment was: it is expensive, but it's the best show in town. We would often wind up together going by hunky hollow in Hobart Indiana for entertainment on the way to Chicago with customers to visit the Indiana Society of Chicago started by George Ade. I remember after several of those occasions we were high up on the upper levels of the Hyatt hotel and Rex was playing the piano to accompany those who wanted to sing.
Several years ago Rex's illnesses started to get the best of him and we set out looking for a replacement. In our search we discovered the talents of those we already had. They're all here together today sharing in this celebration. They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire lifetime to forget them.
Rex, we will miss you Rex------ but we will not forget you.