Kenwood lost a good friend and longtime community supporter with the passing of Jim Kempers on Jan. 29. Jim became a volunteer fireman the year after he moved to Kenwood to live with his bride, Charlotte and her three very young daughters. He continued serving as a fireman until time took its toll on his physical activities, at which point he stepped up and became a member of the Kenwood Fire Protection District Board, where he continued to serve and support the organization he embraced for the rest of his life.
“At 2 a.m. in the morning, the radio would go off, or in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, and he loved it,” Charlotte said. “He felt like he was helping people. As he got older, and all the volunteers were younger, he wanted to serve on the board of directors.” He served on the board for seven years, and was re-elected to the office last November.
Jim joined the department in 1979 and became a Captain in 1983. He worked as an active firefighter until his retirement in 2013 when he moved on to serve on the district board of directors. He became the first certified Emergency Medical Technician in the Kenwood Fire Department and worked diligently all through the 1980s and ‘90s to get everyone up to speed on current EMT regulations and practices, Chief Daren Bellach said. Just 16 when he first met Jim, Bellach said, “He was very forward moving for EMS and medical aides for responders.”
One of his oldest friends in Kenwood was fellow board member John Cooper, having met him before Charlotte. The friends would spend weekends on Kemper’s boat, Doofus, in Lake County, and continued as friends living not far apart.
“He always came out of left field with a different opinion and what he thought, but also a way to solve it,” Cooper reflected. “He was a straight shooter. You knew where you stood on issues, both personal and departmental. He was always there, for whatever was needed.” New board chair Augie Moretti found his help invaluable as a new member last year: “Jim was instrumental in helping me understand the history of the Kenwood Fire Protection District.”
Both Jim and Charlotte are San Francisco natives, though they had to move to Sonoma before they met. Jim graduated from Galileo High School while Charlotte went to Balboa. He honorably served active duty in the U.S. Army from 1962-1965 and did a tour in Vietnam. He grew up with a younger brother and three sisters. His younger brother and two sisters are predeceased, and he has a sister who lives in Wikiup (Marge Gambelin).
Charlotte had moved to Kenwood with her first husband and three very young children. He passed away in 1976, just a few months after they had built and moved into their Kenwood home. She needed to go to work, landing a part-time job in the front office of a plumbing company where Jim was the estimator for residential contractors. They fell in love and married in 1978, when Jim became a full time, loving father to the three girls, Lesa Camarri, Jeannette Radavice, and Leslie Camarri. Today, two daughters live near Sacramento and a third lives in Arizona. There are two grandchildren, Jessica (20) and Kyle (13).
One of the family activities was soccer. Everybody loved to play soccer and Kenwood fielded some of the toughest teams in Sonoma County in the 1980s and 1990s. “He coached and played. It was a big activity in our lives.
Jim’s father grew up in Amsterdam, and a connection was made in 2015 with cousins he never knew existed. Jim and Charlotte visited his newly discovered family in Amsterdam. “Jim’s dad didn’t talk much about his past and we were not aware there was any family in Amsterdam. They found us through the internet. It was wonderful to meet his cousins and learn about Jim’s father when he was a young man.”
A lifelong Giants fan, Jim loved talking baseball statistics with his 13-year-old grandson, Kyle, a dedicated A’s fan. While the pair always rooted for the Bay team against other teams, all bets were off when the two teams faced off.
The Kempers’ Kenwood home, situated just in front of Chateau St. Jean, was one of the first to burn in the 2017 Tubbs wildfire. “We woke up to a burning house and just managed to get out through the flames,” Charlotte recalls. Neighbors and good friends Sid and Jeanne Behler had them stay in their iconic hilltop home above the Chateau St. Jean vineyards. “We were so lucky they gave us their house for a few months until we Kempers – continued from page 11
found a rental.” Looking down on the ruined remains was sometimes difficult, though, Charlotte said.
They stuck it out and rebuilt a new home, though he only lived there for four months before spending his last month in the hospital. A fall in December proved to be difficult for recovery. Both daughters who live near Sacramento and the one daughter who came from Arizona have been with their parents throughout Jim’s last month. “They took turns staying here.” Kaiser allowed the family to stay with him in his last days, in spite of the pandemic restrictions. “We were so grateful we could be with him.”
The family has no immediate plans for a celebration of life or other service due to the pandemic. People may donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Find out more about this organization at www.jdrf.org/.