A Celebration of the Life of
Dorothy Lois Jennings Kemps
February 16, 1916 - March 20, 2010
By Jonathan Chute ©2010
Our lives are such a blend of accident and intention, of planning and discovery, of twists and turns we could never have imagined, combined with events which depended on our best efforts. There is a humility in recognizing that we are not completely in charge of these things. When people speak of their lives being a part of God's Plan, I think that's a part of what we mean. We look over the course of our lives, and we can't believe how it all happened.
Sometimes we say that in the face of tragedy or loss, trying to make sense of an event which seems to have no earthly meaning or value. Sometimes we say that when we recognize just how fortunate we have been, how blessed.
But we also know, when we find ourselves in such happy circumstances, that we are not relieved of the responsibility to make something even more meaningful out of them - to make our own contribution to the common good, to the well-being and happiness of others.
It's a balancing act. On the one hand, we don't want to suggest that we are just passive participants in the events of our lives. On the other hand we aren't exactly masters of the universe, either. Some of the best things that ever happened to us were completely unplanned. They were gifts, surprises, discoveries.
But lots of people receive the same gifts and never do anything with them. Or they do, but the results of their efforts look utterly different. This afternoon we are gathered to give thanks for the life of Dorothy Kemps, or "Dottie," as she was known to many of you.
Hers was a life of grace. It was a remarkable life, spanning nearly a century of the most dramatic and decisive years in the history of the world. When Dottie was born in 1916, the First World War had settled into a grueling struggle between trench lines. That year the British Army suffered its worst losses in its history, with nearly 20,000 dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The United States had yet to enter the conflict, and Imperial Russia was headed by Czar Nicholas II. It would have been impossible to imagine the changes that were being born that year.
She came into the world that February, joining her older brother and preceding Walter, the youngest member of the family. Their father worked in the advertising business. They lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time, but Dottie remembered moving almost every year around the northern and midwestern states. That ended, at least for a time, in 1928, when the family came to Glendale.
Things were tight, and they rented a home on Cleveland Road. It wasn't too far from Hoover Senior High School, where she would soon be enrolled, and where she would graduate in 1933. She was very popular among the student body, serving on the student council and sharing her warm, engaging personality wherever she was. Having moved so much in her early years, she made the most of actually being in one place for a time. She had learned how to make friends quickly, and for the first time she got to keep some of them.
She met William Worth, or "Bud" Kemps, when they were both students at Hoover. He was a couple of years ahead of her, and the captain of the school tennis team. Like Dottie, he had come out to California when his family moved from the northern midwest, where they had sold the Kemps Ice Cream Company, then based in Minneapolis. His father had settled first in Beverly Hills, but was looking for something warmer. Glendale suited him just fine.
Bud went to work for Beverly Dairies, which provided milk and Green Lantern ice cream to many of the local drug stores. He and Dottie built the house at 1546 Allen Avenue, just a little closer to the hills above the city, moving into it in 1937. She and Bud traveled around the west and southwest, camping and fishing, hiking around the high Sierras and the Mojave Desert. At home, their daughter, and two sons completed the picture, and Dottie devoted herself to the roles of wife and mother.
Even then, she was quite active in a number of community ventures. She took part in the Glendale YMCA, and in the Visiting Nurses Association. She became involved in the Glendale Hospital Auxiliary, helping develop a no-interest community lending resource for families facing medical emergencies. She was active at the Oakmont Country Club, helping put on all kinds of performances during their Gold Gulch Days, and taking her place in the chorus line. She and Bud became active in the North Glendale Methodist Church, and developed many warm friendships.
In 1949 she was honored as Glendale Mother of the Year by the local Optimist Club, both for her involvement in the wider community and for her devotion to her own children. Of course by then the children were growing up, and getting ready to chart their own courses. In the 1950s she became involved with the Glendale Philharmonic, and that led to a relationship of many years with the Hollywood Bowl. As the three children made their ways through high school, and on to college and beyond, Dottie started taking courses at Glendale Community College. She graduated from UCLA in 1969 with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology.
In 1973, her reputation for both accomplishment and kindness in community ventures led to her invitation to join the staff of KCET. Jim Loper had been asking around, looking to find just the right person to develop the volunteer operations at the station, and a number of people had said to him that he needed Dottie Kemps. He took her to lunch one day, and that was the beginning of 20 years of personal and professional joy. It was the perfect job for Dorothy, blending her organizational talents with her personal warmth. She knew how to get things done, and she knew how to take care of people along the way. It used her creativity, demanded her best efforts, and provided tremendous gratification. She worked 60 hours a week much of the time, and more than that during pledge drive season. I know you will hear more about those years in just a little while.
When she retired in 1993, she began a new chapter in her life, taking the family, by which I mean the WHOLE family, on trips to Washington, DC, to England and Scotland. By then she had long transferred her church membership to Burbank First UMC, where many deep and lasting friendships were made. She remained active in the KCET Women's Council, but also joined the women's organization, P.E.O. She and Bud enjoyed attending Dodger games with their friends the Kellogs, and had seats in the Founders Circle at the Music Center from when it first opened. Some years before, Dorothy Chandler had sought to recruit Dottie to help with the efforts to raise the funds necessary for its construction, but she had felt she had to decline. It was just a little more than she was comfortable taking on at the time.
When I first knew Dorothy, it was through her son, whose role in this congregation is not unlike that of his mother in her community. I believe it was at the Thanksgiving Dinner here, in the Fall of 1998, when I was introduced to Dottie and Bud. And I was fortunate to visit with her just a few months ago, when she was really not able to get out very much any longer. Her world had gotten smaller in one sense, but only in that one sense. She was still looking out on the world with eyes of wonder and amazement, gratitude and joy, for all that she had been given, and for all that was still hers.
She was still such a gracious, gracious person, alive and vital, having experienced so many good things, having faced her share of challenges too, and taking none of it for granted. It was a most encouraging time. But that's who she was! She made the people around her feel better. She valued them. She honored the grace and the dignity of their lives. She remembered people's names. And it wasn't some kind of trick. It was an outgrowth of actually remembering the people themselves. She knew them. Whether in the heat of a public television pledge drive, a hospital function, or helping out at the Hollywood Bowl, she was always the same. One of her friends from KCET days, Mark Waxman, described her this way: "Ah, the little lady with the white hair ... the woman Hollywood would cast as the sweet fairy godmother ... buzzing about, cheerfully greeting one and all. The world's greatest hostess. Dottie was indefatigable in her efforts to raise operating funds for our dream factory. She literally allowed us to keep the lights on. With a toast to the Queen Bee of Pledge, we pledge never to forget her inspirational sense of duty. Dottie, we thank you for adding your grace and beauty to the face of KCET."
Some of it was an accident. She didn't decide to move every year, growing up. She didn't choose to come out to California. It wasn't up to her. Her father and mother did that. But she was the one who figured out how to thrive and develop along the way, how to become the person we all knew and loved. Some of it was accident, and some of it was her own determination and spirit. It's a wonderful, mysterious mix that we bring together, each in our own way.
The scriptures that were read this afternoon were chosen in the hope of capturing, or reminding us of, the richness and depth of Dottie's life. The passage from Ecclesiastes helps us remember the length of her life, the scope of it. She had seen many, if not all of those times which the author says have been appointed by our Maker. She had come to the time for rest, and has received that gift after 94 years of living, working and loving.
Chapter 13 of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is one of the most well known descriptions of human love in all of literature. "Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude ...." This is a picture of Dorothy when she was at her best, working with others to make a difference in this world, helping to make it a more compassionate, a more joyful, a more hopeful place for all. It works hard, love does, but it doesn't trample.
When Jesus told what we know as the Parable of the Sower, he showed us a picture, once more, of the blend of accident and intention in our lives. The sower has something to offer, and does so with energy and purpose. But not everything we do, however well intended, comes out the way we planned. Some seeds get eaten up by birds, or baked in the hot sun, or choked off by the weeds. That's all true. But that's not the end of the story, or the end of our stories. Some seeds falls into good soil, and when it grows, it brings forth a hundred times what we put into it. We do our part. God does God's part. It's a collaboration. We can't do it alone. But the grace of God works in us, and through us, to bring about a harvest we could never have accomplished on our own.
So today we give thanks for the richness of Dorothy's life. We give thanks for the gift she was to you, her family and friends, but also for the gift she was to many people who never knew her. We have all been blessed by her life, and we give thanks to God for the joy of knowing her. We celebrate who she was, what she accomplished along the way, and we can't help but be grateful. And we give thanks this day, that she now rests in the arms of the One who knew and loved her best, the God of grace and compassion, the God of joy and hope, the God of mystery and wonder, who goes with us in all our days, and who welcomes us home in love. Amen.
For additional pictures of Dorothy, see this link.
For additional pictures of Dorothy and Bud, see this link.
Last updated 10/11/2010