Don Kappelmann might be retired, but his lifestyle certainly wouldn’t suggest that.
The New Haven native still is an active community member throughout Franklin County and surrounding areas.
“If I could suggest something to people who are thinking about retiring, it would be that it’s not good to retire to get out of something. You should retire to get into something,” Kappelmann said. “If I wake up in the morning and don’t have something planned, it’s not a good day.”
That usually isn’t a problem for Kappelmann, who seemingly always has something on his plate.
Kappelmann is best known for a number of things, most notably his active involvement with East Central College in coaching softball and as a member of the school’s board of trustees.
“There’s nothing that’s ever happened that’s been better for the people in our area than East Central College,” Kappelmann said. “Not only for younger people, but also for continued education. It’s been very good for Franklin County.”
Kappelmann coached the ECC softball program from 1983-2004 and was a member of the school’s inaugural athletic hall of fame class.
“I coached my daughters’ club teams and got to know a lot of people in the game that way,” Kappelmann said. “Dean Bittick, who was coaching the ECC team at the time, wanted to get out of coaching. He came to me and asked if I was interested in taking over. That’s how I got started.”
Under Kappelmann’s direction, the Lady Rebels won the Region 16 championship in 1994 and were runner-up three times.
“As coach at ECC, I tried to recruit as many local girls as possible to play softball,” Kappelmann said.
During his tenure as ECC coach, when funds in the athletic department were low, Kappelmann spent his own money to purchase a bus to transport the team to away games.
“I just bought an old bus, which we used for transportation to Florida during the spring and other road games we had,” Kappelmann said. “Other teams at the college used it from time to time as well.”
Kappelmann also contributed to building the current concession stand and restrooms at the softball and baseball complex on campus.
“When I think of our community and why it’s such a great place to live and work, I think of people like Don Kappelmann,” said ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer. “I don’t think you can overestimate Don’s contributions to East Central College. As a coach, on the Foundation, and as a trustee, Don has done everything he can to make sure East Central is there for the community.”
These days, Kappelmann still is on the ECC Board of Trustees.
“I’m on my second term as a trustee,” he said. “I’m also the treasurer of the ECC Foundation.”
Kappelmann, 73 years of age, still has plenty of opinions concerning ECC athletics.
“There should definitely be more sports teams at ECC, other than just softball, volleyball and men’s soccer,” he said. “There especially should be a baseball team. We have a wonderful baseball field that’s not being used. There is enough local talent in our area to have a very competitive team.”
Bauer said Kappelmann always has the best interests in mind for ECC and its students.
“I’ve known Don for a long time, and have worked with him in many capacities. One thing that becomes clear when you talk to him is that he wants to make sure there are opportunities for people in the area to go to college and become a part of the fabric of our community,” Bauer said. “Nothing gives him greater satisfaction than to see someone go to college at East Central and then continue to live and work right here. I think Don deeply appreciates the opportunities, support and friendship that he has received over the years, and wants to see others have that same experience.”
Involvement in ECC activities and programs is just the tip of the iceberg for Kappelmann.
He also was involved with the New Haven Jaycees and Lions Club, was a school board member of Franklin County R-II in Dissen and was a part of many church boards.
In addition to his duties these days as an ECC trustee, Kappelmann also is on the Mercy Foundation Hospital Board and the First State Community Bank Board in Washington.
“I’ve been involved in a number of different things in my lifetime, and still am today,” Kappelmann said. “The only reason for that is Pat. She never once complained.”
Don and Pat Kappelmann have been married for 52 years. They first met one another at church in the New Haven area during their childhood.
“We met at choir practice,” Kappelmann said. “I was 21 when we married. Pat was 19.”
Needless to say, things were much different in those days.
“Pat and I both have seen a lot of changes over the years. We both came from farmer’s families. There were no tractors, just horses,” Kappelmann said. “Neither one of us went to high school. Both of us went through eighth grade in one room with one teacher. I was in Campbellton and Pat was in Pleasant Hill. Following eighth grade, I worked on a farm for $1.50 a day. My first job was in a factory where I made $6 a day, which was pretty amazing.”
Living conditions were tough, compared to today.
“I was born in 1940. My family had no electricity at that time. I was 13 when we got our first TV. That was an awesome day. We had two channels. For the first 21 years of my life, I didn’t have a bathroom in my house. We didn’t get a bathroom until we finally got running water,” Kappelmann said. “Pat was 11 or 12 when her family got running water. Her mother made their clothes. There were no store-bought clothes.”
There wasn’t much to do in those days, other than working on the farm.
“We went to town (New Haven) once every two weeks to buy sugar and flour to bake bread,” Kappelmann said. “Other than baking bread, we grew and butchered the rest of our food. We didn’t always have the food we wanted, but we had enough.”
For approximately 30 years, Kappelmann sold feed. He also worked at the local lumber company, the hat factory and the New Haven Leader, where he sold advertising.
Kappelmann also had his hand in real estate. He developed Cardinal Meadows subdivision in Washington, with the help of the late Vic Parmentier.
“I bought a 135-acre farm and subdivided it into larger lots,” Kappelmann said. “There are so many things that go into developing a subdivision. I couldn’t have done it without Vic’s help.”
Pat worked as a beautician and then a stay-at-home mother to their two daughters, Brenda and Janice.
The couple have four grandchildren, Jeffrey and Jason Gradel and Ashleigh and Kristina Bailey.
“We are very proud of our two daughters and our four grand-children,” Kappelmann said.
Don and Pat have lived in the same house in New Haven, located directly off Highway 100 near the water tower, since 1990.
“We love New Haven. There’s not a better community to live in than New Haven and the Franklin County area,” Kappelmann said. “If there’s a need, people are going to help. That’s what makes small towns great. Everyone knows everyone.”
Family is important to the Kappelmanns.
“I had a cousin named Marvin Fetter, who had cerebral palsy. He lived with us for several years in Dissen. I promised his mom and dad that I would take care of him for as long as I could. He spent all of his time in his wheelchair or in bed. He died in my arms in the bathroom when he was in his 50s,” Kappelmann said. “He taught our family about life more than any other person could have done. He never complained or asked for any government assistance.”
Kappelmann tries to live by many different words and phrases.
“My father always told me if you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all,” he said. “I always told the teams I coached to live by the golden rule of treat people the way you want to be treated.
“Church and God are very important. I don’t say thank you near enough for what God has given me. I don’t deserve the things that I have any more than people who don’t have what I do. For all the changes in my life that I’ve experienced, only God has remained the same. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people over the years and have lived in an awesome period of time.”