I Remember Kenneth Kumpel

Friday, September 9th, 2011 10:52 pm by Neal
Kenneth Kumpel — loving husband, father, firefighter, cook and all-around Renaissance man.

Kenneth Kumpel — A Passion for Living

What makes a beautiful life? I’ve always believed the surest sign is a person who loves to live and loves his life. Kenneth Kumpel was such a man.

Spend any time reading about Kenneth Kumpel, and one thing becomes crystal clear: he had a passion for living. At its essence, a firefighter takes great risk in order to save the lives of others. Such sacrifice can only come from a person whose love of living is so great that he will risk it to preserve life for others. His wife of 18 years, Nancy, said that “he was always a firefighter at heart. … He loved the camaraderie of it. He lived firefighting every moment of the day. … The Fire Department definitely helped complete him.” That kind of dedication comes from a man who is passionate about his work. A passion for work is a passion for living.

Kenneth was also the chef in the family. I know from personal experience that anyone who loves to cook is an artist. Chefs thrive on making a necessity of life — eating — a beautiful, delicious, entertaining experience: taking a requirement of life and making it a pleasure of life. Kenneth shared this gift with his family and friends. “‘There was never a woman in the kitchen at holidays,” said Mr. Kumpel’s mother-in-law, Barbara Gorman. She and her husband, James, enjoyed the feasts the firefighters in the family prepared: ”their son, Jim, also a firefighter, was Mr. Kumpel’s friend as well as his brother-in-law.” Cooking is almost a lost art in modern America, but not to Kenneth Kumpel. He took the firefighters practice of cooking in the firehouse and brought it home to share with family and friends. A passion for cooking is a passion for living.

Kenneth also loved the water. He and his family lived in the town Cornwall-on-Hudson, drawn there to be next to the river he so enjoyed. “A sleek black boat, named Batboat in honor of their son’s favorite superhero, was the family’s vehicle for enjoying the peace and beauty of the river.” He and his wife also enjoyed the ultimate water sport, scuba diving, and they would periodically travel to Aruba or the Cayman Islands — classic, diving destinations.

Kenneth Kumpel also enjoyed woodworking, making stained glass, and constructing a beautiful home for his family. “A craftsman with the skill and attention to detail of a pro, Mr. Kumpel renovated his family’s former home in West Brighton, and he built their home in Cornwall. A perfectionist, he took satisfaction in the ‘extra details and finishing touches,’ said his wife.”

Because firefighters can have a few days off between shifts, Firefighter Kumpel, a steady, warm presence, had time for his sons. He cooked, cleaned, coached, volunteered and endlessly fixed up their house in Cornwall, N.Y., perfecting his stained-glass windows, tiling and floors.

Food, clothing and shelter are commonly referred to as “the necessities of life.” Kenneth Kumpel took at least two of these three and turned them into “a passion of life.” This is a passion for living.

Kenneth was a family man. He and his wife Nancy, whom he married in 1982, have two sons, Gregory and Carl. Kenneth would take them boating, play sports, and was a coach in their recreational soccer and baseball leagues. “The family enjoyed vacations together at Lake George, N.Y., and recently vacationed in Florida, where they alternated between the excitement of a theme park and the calm of hanging out, swimming, and barbecuing at the condo.”

Kenneth never lost the youthful qualities of play and humor. Firefighting is a deadly serious business, and Kenneth Kumpel was a professional. However, he didn’t let that fact change his lighthearted, happy outlook on life. In the firehouse, “he also developed quite a reputation as a practical joker, once switching the hinges and handles on a refrigerator so it opened from the opposite side, and placing beds on soda cans, for a surprising effect when someone sat down.” He was also known to smear peanut butter on the phone receiver. Not any man can handle the risk and pressure of being a firefighter, but a man who loves his life and enjoys it every minute can handle it. Kenneth Kumpel was that man.

Kenneth loved his work as a firefighter, the art of cooking, the craftsman art of woodworking and stained glass, enjoying recreation such as boating and scuba diving, coaching (and playing with) his two sons at soccer and baseball, making music, playing practical jokes, and much more. This is living at its best. These are the active creations of an artist who loves his craft, and no amount of money can instill this in a person who doesn’t possess it. If you want to know the secret to happiness in this world, look at the life of Kenneth Kumpel and the passion he had for living.

Personal Note

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Dale Challener Roe for organizing “the 2,996 project” because it has given me the opportunity to discover and honor this great man and American hero, Kenneth Kumpel. “Kenny” feels like a brother to me, and I think there is some higher power that destined me to learn about this man and honor him with my tribute.

From cooking to diving, to playing sports with his kids, to playing musical instruments, this is a man after my own heart.

To his wife Nancy, sons Gregory and Carl, and mother Lois: your husband, father and son is a great man. My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family, and I’m so sorry for your terrible loss. Kenneth, you are a hero of the finest kind. You willingly gave your life so that others may live, but it comforts me to know that you didn’t waste the time given to you on this earth. You, sir, truly have a passion for living.

I think a fitting way to close this tribute is with a poem by Jacob Katz, a fourth grader (at the time of writing) in the Yavneh Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Kenneth Kumpel, “fix-it” man
Husband & father of two sons
Was first a policeman,then a fireman
He only thought of others lives
To lose this hero is unberable.

Sincerely, Jacob Katz
4th grade, Yavneh Day School

Research and Notes

silive.com entry on Kenneth Kumpel

A quiet person who was happier doing things than talking about them, Firefighter Kenneth Kumpel’s presence was manifested in his beautiful craftsmanship — and the pranks he played.

The 42-year-old family man lived in Cornwall-on-Hudson, an upstate town to which he and his wife were drawn because of its location on the river. A sleek black boat, named “Batboat” in honor of their sons’ favorite superhero, was the family’s vehicle for enjoying the peace and beauty of the river.

He always had time for his sons, Gregory and Carl, whether it was boating, a game of kickball or coaching organized sports of soccer or baseball. The family enjoyed vacations together at Lake George, N.Y., and recently vacationed in Florida, where they alternated between the excitement of a theme park and the calm of hanging out, swimming, and barbecuing at the condo.

Mr. and Mrs. Kumpel periodically took off as a couple to Aruba or the Cayman Islands, where they enjoyed scuba diving.

Mr. Kumpel also indulged in the firefighter’s vocation of cooking. He was the chef in the family, according to his wife, with a finely developed palate that told him just the right ingredients to add. She might bake a chicken, but he would prepare shrimp scampi.

Newsday article on Kenneth Kumpel:

Kenneth Kumpel was a New York City police officer for four years before changing careers. He was assigned to a precinct that covered Chinatown and, later, Manhattan’s infamous “Alphabet City,” said his wife, Nancy Kumpel.

But “he was always a firefighter at heart,” she said.

Bill Kaufman (Newsday)

Kenneth Kumpel, a firefighter with the New York Fire Department, was a prankster and a craftsman. He built the family’s home in Cornwall after renovating their former home in West Brighton. As a practical joke, he once switched the handles and hinges on a firehouse refrigerator so it opened from the opposite side. At a memorial Mass, an FDNY marine unit fireboat sprayed plumes of water, making rainbows in the air. The display honored Kumpel’s love of the Hudson River and the family’s boat, which was christened the Batboat.

–The Associated Press

New York Times

Raised by his mother and grandmother, Kenneth Kumpel, 42, spent much of his adulthood filling in the gaps left by an absentee father. He was a self- taught handyman and craftsman around the house; an endlessly patient, delighted father of Gregory, 11, and Carl, 9; a buddy who sought, through work, the camaraderie of other guys, first as a New York City police officer and then, more happily, as a firefighter.

Because firefighters can have a few days off between shifts, Firefighter Kumpel, a steady, warm presence, had time for his sons. He cooked, cleaned, coached, volunteered and endlessly fixed up their house in Cornwall, N.Y., perfecting his stained-glass windows, tiling and floors.

That was his castle, his home. But the firehouse ”Ladder Company 25 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was Firefighter Kumpel’s home away from home. He would fix up the firehouse, too. Oh boy, would he.

Why is that bed slowly sinking to the floor when a firefighter flops on it? Someone propped it on empty soda cans! Who switched the handles and hinges on the refrigerator door? Smeared peanut butter on the phone receiver? The Fire Department definitely helped complete him, said Nancy Kumpel, his wife of 18 years.

Firefighter Kenneth Kumpel, Ladder 25 (bravestmemorial.com tribute):

Kenneth Kumpel returned to the river he loved so dearly earlier this month. The Hudson River meant so much to the Schenectady-born firefighter who lived along its mighty shores with his wife, Nancy, and two sons, Gregory and Carl. Ashes collected from Ground Zero were tossed over the side of the family’s boat not too long ago as a symbol of his sacrifice. Kumpel was a volunteer with the Highland Engine Company and the New Hyde Park Fire Department in Long Island. He was a giver and loved firefighting. He was 42. (62 Days Article)

Guest Book for Kenneth Kumpel (legacy.com tribute):

I remember your husband and children’s father as such a great down to earth guy who was always making your sons laugh and always brought a smile to the community. My family is good friends with yours and I used to baby sit the boys when they were little and I just wanted to let you know your family is always in my prayers and tonight at my school Oneonta State College we are holding a memorial service where his name will be put on a banner so that we will never forget
— Kristin Kukkonen (Cornwall, NY)

My name is Jim Gorman and I am the Brother-in-Law of Kenny. I am also a NYC Fireman. I would like to take this time to thank all of you who have done something for Kenny and all of our brothers (NYC Firemen), as well as all of the people who were lost in the attacks on America. There’s not a day that my sister and her sons, my parents or anyone in my family doesn’t think of Kenny. We all miss and will never forget him. He was a GREAT man! God bless you and America.
— James Gorman (Staten Island, NY)

*** UPDATES: Post-tribute information ***

September 11, 2001 Victims — a memorial site dedicated to the victims of September 11, 2001. Here are the posts for Kenneth Kumpel.

Post from Charla M. Billings:

I was so excited to see that a memorial quilt is being made for the 9-11 victims. I searched the list for a firefighter who did not yet have someone working on a quilt square……there was one left: Mr. Kumpel. I feel his name was left for me for several reasons. I have a son his age and my youngest son is a firefighter/paramedic here in Texas. The similarities in Mr. Kumpel and my firefighter son are amazing: the love of working with wood and being a perfectionist at it, the love of being “the” cook; the volunteering at local firestations during “off” time; the love of diving (my son is a certified swift water rescuer. My son is also on the state rescue team and would have loved to have been called to New York to help in the rescue. It would be wonderful to correspond with Mr. Kumpel’s family. My heart goes out to them and I will now be able to focus on a real person in my prayers for 9-11 victims. Thank you.

Post from Gary Biggerstaff LBFD:

In the months that followed 9-11-2001 I visited ground zero and was overcome with the site of the wreckage and all the personal notes left for the missing. Among them I found hand written notes from Ken Kumpel’s young boys attached to a dozen photos of them together. The photos showed happier times with his wife and son’s on vacation. One note from Kens 9 year old son read as follows. ” Dad- you will always be my hero, I love you and miss you very much. I hope I get to see you in heaven some day. I hope you don’t forget me. I will never forget you.” Being a fireman in California myself and a father of two young boys I was deeply touched by this 9 year olds sentiments. I returned home and created 343 personalized white crosses that I display at my home each September 11th to honor those who gave so much. Ken is not only a hero to his son’s, he is a hero to me. These crosses can be seen by visiting remember911ride.com.

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