Fred Kemp, 73, ‘set the bar high’ for character
by Bill Edwards
bedwards@annistonstar.com
Feb 26, 2012 | 6882 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fred Kemp is shown in a detail from a family portrait taken in March 2006. Kemp died Friday at age 73. (Anniston Star file photo)
Fred Kemp is shown in a detail from a family portrait taken in March 2006. Kemp died Friday at age 73. (Anniston Star file photo)
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“We should all be a Fred.”

That, for his friends and family, encapsulates the life of Fred Kemp, Anniston businessman and a leader in the life of the city’s Temple Beth El.

Kemp died Friday at his home in the presence of his beloved family. He was 73. Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. today at the Temple Beth El portion of Hillside Cemetery in Anniston.

Longtime friend Sherry Blanton explained her declaration above in terms of how Kemp received visitors at Kemp’s Officenter, the business he and his brother, Don, owned on Noble Street from late 1980 until early 2002.

He was always glad to see you, Blanton said, remembering her friend’s big, broad smile and, if something particularly pleased him, his hearty laugh.

“It was not too much trouble for him to get up” and help someone find whatever product was needed. “Every customer was important to him,” she said.

Indeed, said Tim Barton, who worked for the Kemps for 15 years, the hospitality at the store attracted a lunch-hour crowd to its address, 1201 Noble. Business people would “gather and talk about what was going on downtown,” for example, Barton said.

Barton, service manager for the Apple computers sold at the office supply store, recalled the low-key but supportive way Fred ran the business.

“It was like working for your father,” Barton said.

Kemp’s Officenter sold and serviced Apples in schools and universities all over northeast and east-central Alabama. In 1987, after the business had already been selling the brand for six years, Kemp’s won two contracts to furnish Apples to schools for military families at Fort McClellan and Fort Rucker.

“He loved the technology and he used the technology,” Barton said.

Fred Kemp’s specialty was sales and marketing, a skill he had honed working in the 1960s and ’70s at his father’s Anniston industry, Tape-Craft. But given his kind nature and personal integrity, it was a natural fit.

“Fred did have the personality that made him good in sales. He liked talking to people and was a good conversationalist,” Don Kemp said Saturday. “He had a wide knowledge of the world, art and music — somewhat of an intellectual. But he was also a people person.”

Apple Computer Inc. recognized Kemp’s efforts when the store was selected in 1999 as the best Apple dealership in the Southeast; a trip to the company’s headquarters in early January 2000 was part of the reward.

“He was excited to go and it was just a fun trip,” Barton said.

Of course, Kemp’s life was about much more than how he greeted the public at his business. More fundamentally, Blanton said, we should all “be a Fred” and aspire to his degree of humanity. The Yiddish word is mensch: it’s a noun referring to someone who exemplifies all the best qualities that a person can possibly have.

“When you call someone a mensch that is the highest compliment you can pay someone … they’re a joy to the world — that is Fred Kemp in a nutshell.”

Honor, decency and respect all apply to Kemp, Blanton said.

“Fred set the bar high on how you’re supposed to act toward people.”

Temple Beth El Rabbi Irving Bloom, a Kemp family friend for some six decades, said, “Fred set an example of what a human being should be. It was a privilege to have known him.”

Faith and family were integral to Kemp’s character.

For 53 years the high honor of blowing the shofar at the temple was his. The ancient instrument is sounded in particular patterns and notes during Jewish religious ceremonies, most notably during High Holy Days.

Kemp started blowing the shofar when he was just 13 years old.

“It is something that came to him naturally because he played the trombone,” his oldest daughter, Michelle Kemp-Nordell, said in an interview last September.

Later in life, Kemp was the temple’s president and vice president at different times.

“He loved participating in the temple,” Don Kemp said, recalling that his brother was an integral part of its existence.

Around the house, he was the cool dad, the Earthshoe-wearing dad — “not strict at all,” Kemp-Nordell said Saturday. “He was really gentle and kind and he didn’t have much of a temper. It would take a lot for him to get angry.”

She ventured that her father’s knowledge and practice of transcendental meditation helped keep him tranquil, even through life’s challenges and tragedies.

“It was a way of calming himself and de-stressing. It relaxed him,” Kemp-Nordell said.

He was always welcome in the family kitchen, where he loved to test his gourmet-quality abilities not just on good meals but with actual challenges — “the harder the better” — and how to present it all with flair.

In keeping with his character, Kemp bestowed warmth and wisdom not just on family but friends as well.

Steve Whitton of Jacksonville recalled the welcome the Kemps gave him when he moved to Calhoun County as a young adult in 1973.

“There was an absolute warmth about that family,” Whitton said. “You know how you can sense a genuine kindness in people?” Instantly, he added, is how fast he sensed that in Fred Kemp.

He was, said Whitton, “an amazingly kind man, a forgiving man and an understanding man.”

A mensch.

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