Dwight Kepzig

Dwight Klepzig has certainly served his community well, piling up more than 160 years of community service.

News Report Staff

Arrive at the door of Dwight Klepzig’s home east of Shumway these days and you are greeted by a patrol of purring cats, mostly clear-eyed tigers or tabbies with their thin tails curling into question marks.

Apparently, the felines earn their keep.

“There are 27 of them. They probably thought you were here to feed them. They’re good to have around. We don’t have any rats or mice,” Klepzig said with a laugh.

Yes, Klepzig, a retired dairy farmer, is a man who can’t say no that easy. That might explain the cats and possibly that’s the reason why he racked up more than 160 years of work for local government, community service organizations and for his church the past 50-plus years.

The 74-year-old grandfather was recently honored by the Banner Township Board for his 24 years as a township trustee. He was mayor of Shumway for 12 years and on the Shumway Fall Festival committee for a dozen years. He served 12 years on the Beecher City Unit 20 School Board, mainly when Shumway had a grade school on the west side of town.

Then there were the 10 years he was on the Shumway Lutheran Church Council and a treasurer. He also served a decade on the St. John’s Lutheran Church board of trustees and for a time on the church building committee. There were seven years he was involved with the Lutheran Care Center Board.

And his work on the farm interested him with serving on the Soil Conservation Board for 10 years, and the University of Illinois Extension Council for four years. And he was a 4-H leader for six years.

If you pulled out your calculator or just jotted down the numbers so far, you’re probably saying that is not even 100 years.

Well, Klepzig is still on the Shumway Fire Protection District Board of Trustees. He’s been a trustee for a total of 32 years. He was also a Shumway volunteer firefighter for 40 years and retired as an active firefighter due to recent hip surgery.

Firefighting is how Klepzig got started in community service. He was only 19 at the time when he became a firefighter, but it wasn’t that glamorous.

“It was really comical. At Shumway back then, we had no trucks. We didn’t have any helmets, either. They gave me a placard for the helmet, but I couldn’t use it then. At one point, we picked up an Army surplus tanker truck from the air base at Rantoul. But the pump was broken. We finally got it fixed,” Klepzig said of those early days in his firefighting experience.

Shumway relied on firefighters in Beecher City for assistance. The community on the northwest corner of Effingham County was fortunate back then to have a reliable source of income — oil.

“Beecher City had money from the oil wells back then. They were our salvation many times. Now with all the houses around Lake Sara, Shumway is blessed with income,” Klepzig said.

When he started 40 years ago, volunteer firefighters were not racking up the bucks for responding to fires, Klepzig recalled.

“We’d get 75 cents per call,” he said.

He got involved in village politics through his family. Henry Klepzig, Dwight’s father, served as Shumway mayor for 12 years. When Henry died in 1970, Dwight was approached to run for mayor.

“I don’t know if you’d call it a dynasty,” Dwight said with a grin.

The town celebrated its centennial when he was in office. The main issues faced by the village board involved the quality of water and sewage. But Dwight did learn state government could crack down when local government meandered around the rules.

“You have the Motor Fuel Tax money coming from the state. They have control over it. We had some board members who wanted to use that money in different ways; not just on the roads. So the state froze our funds and we couldn’t spend money on fixing streets. We finally made amends with IDOT here so we could spend that MFT money again in Shumway,” Klepzig explained.

Tom Laue, who drove Klepzig and his wife, Kay, in the 1974 Centennial parade in an antique Ford, served for 16 years on the Banner Township Board. He remembers Klepzig as a dedicated board member and courteous man.

“He was so easy to get along with and always courteous. He never was out to make a name for himself. He always wanted to do the right thing,” Laue said.

Those qualities convinced some Beecher City school district residents to have Klepzig run for the school board. The district was experiencing some internal problems so Klepzig agreed to run and won in the election.

But he never went on the board to clean house. He worked to correct problems and not overplay his role as a board member.

“I once told the superintendent he was trained in administering the schools. I said I know how to milk cows and farm. I always believed the administration employees are there to run the school and I’m there to make sure they spend the tax money the right way. I’m not going to tell them how to do everything with the schools,” Klepzig said.

Linda Soltwedel, who has served for 20 years on the Banner Township Board, attested to Klepzig’s commitment to counting the dollars and cents for the taxpayers.

“He’s always been a very dedicated member of the board and very concerned about being fiscally responsible for the people in our area,” Soltwedel said.

Through all the meetings, fire calls and other obligations of his public service, Klepzig remained dedicated to his family and farming. The dairy herd is gone, but the Klepzig family still farms many acres and has cattle.

The Klepzig family ties to Shumway started with Dwight’s grandfather, J.C. Klepzig, opening a grocery store in the center of the village, just starting with a cigar box and serving some food.

“It’s amazing that he found the time to do all that when he was a dairy farmer. That’s a lot of work,” Laue said.

“It’s like being a Major League Baseball fan. It grows on you. I got used to working with people,” Klepzig said.

Now, his sons, Danny and Darren, are getting involved in public service. His daughter, Debbie, helps children with speech disabilities.

Klepzig offers the same advice to anyone thinking they don’t have the time for helping their community as he has probably instilled in his children through the years. There were some mentors that also encouraged him to get involved years ago.

“You need to be able to voice your opinion on something, but you can’t hold grudges. Move on to the next thing. And the surest way to convince someone to serve is to have somebody who knows that person talk them into doing it,” Klepzig said.

And the best advice of all is about patience. At times, community service is like herding cats, but over time you do accomplish some goals.

“Let people holler at you. If you do a little bit of good, it’s worth it,” he said.