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Museum co-founder Kempe dies
Joe Kempe — BRS Museum co-founder, magazine editor and all-around humorist — has died.

Kempe passed away Sept. 1 at Shelbyville Rehabilitation and Health Care. He was 94.

Kempe and Merle “Butter” Wright spearheaded the beginning of what was then known as the Bottomley-Ruffing Baseball Museum in 1981, starting with a window display in the old Round Table Café in Nokomis, where Demi’s Diner is located today. Ray Schalk’s name was added within the next two years to complete the current BRS moniker.

Always the optimist, Kempe kept the museum — and his Brave Little Impossible Publication (BLIP) — going, even during those first few, lean, uncertain years. Wright died less than two years after the museum was established.

During his earlier years, Kempe was a self-described "tramp printer", going from city to city working at various newspapers. He also worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kempe actually started the BLIP, which was the predecessor to this publication, back in 1958. The self-described “friendly monthly visit with a self-styled humorist” remained in print through the early 1990s.

Readers of the BLIP may recall its folksy style. The publication was typically 32-40 pages in length, featured plenty of quick-witted tales and truths, as well as Those Darned Limericks. Another popular feature from the Nokomis edition was the Jokaphone puzzle. Using some cryptic language and subtle clues, Kempe regularly stumped devoted readers when they tried to guess the United States city to which he was referring. The winner would receive $10, with a rollover jackpot if no winner was found the first time.

Kempe poured much time and effort into building the BRS Museum from the ground up. Under his tenure, the BRS welcomed a number of former standout baseball players, coaches, sportswriters and umpires, including several National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.

Whether it was through his Trivia Trove contests, word-of-mouth press or old fashioned hard work, Kempe constantly devised ways to grow the baseball museum from a small seed into the strong stand seen today. His last visit to the museum came in the fall of 2011, on the day of the most recent induction ceremony, when the BRS honoree list surpassed 100.

Kempe was also on hand in 2008, when the museum opened its latest building, which was constructed after a 2005 fire at an adjacent building forced a demolition of the prior structure.

After his days in Nokomis, Kempe worked and lived in the Gillespie area for a time. He also utilized a building in Litchfield to promote a small printing museum before living his final years at the Shelbyville Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

Joe married Oka Sands Wicker in December 1963 and she preceded him in death. He leaves sons Eugene (Betty) of Livingston, Texas and Joseph Kempe Jr. of Chandler, Ariz.; niece Kathy Smalling of Decatur, step daughter-in-law, Karen Clausen of Assumption, several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Joe was preceded in death by his step son, Charles Clausen; nephew, Jerry Smalling; sister, Mary Louise Cheatham; and brother Ernest Kempe.

Joe's body was donated to science at his request.

See the October edition of The Bullpen (the BLIP's successor publication) for more about Mr. Kempe.

 
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