COLUMBIA — When Gary Kespohl decided to go to school for programming, technology was practically archaic compared to today. There were no laptops. People did their taxes by the ancient tradition of filling out paperwork.
As Kespohl was going through school, he always loved math. After he graduated from Hickman High School, he caught one of the earliest waves of computer technology. After two years at MU, he went to the Kansas City College of Automation.
His early career in computer programming can be summed up as follows: late nights, travel and programming.
2215 S. Country Club Drive
PERSONAL: 62. Married to Patty Kespohl for more than 42 years. They have two sons and six grandchildren, all residents of Columbia.
OCCUPATION: Owner and manager of Central Missouri Computer Center since it opened in 1982
EDUCATION: Finished school in 1968 with certification in computer installation at Kansas City College of Automation.
Kespohl, who is running for the Third Ward seat on the Columbia City Council, said he developed several programs for the city, such as the first electronic billing system for the Water and Light Department. He also said his job involved a lot of travel to install a variety of computer systems throughout the Midwest.
“I hated being alone at night in motel rooms,” Kespohl said. “I would stay up all night programming to get my work done, so I could go home rather than sleep at a motel and work all the next day.”
One of Kespohl’s first jobs was as a computer programmer for the Columbia Service Bureau.
“I was offered a job first with Hallmark in Kansas City, but someone gave me a big reason to stay in Columbia,” he said, jabbing a thumb in the direction where his wife was playing piano.
Kespohl met his wife Patty, in Marching Mizzou. He played percussion and she was on a baton-twirling team, then in 1966, became a Golden Girl. They’ve been married 42 years.
Later, Kespohl’s sons would take up percussion as well. Although most parents cringe at the thought of giving two boys a set of drums, Kespohl loved it.
“When the kids were in the basement playing drums, I knew exactly where they were,” he said, laughing.
In 1982, Kespohl opened Central Missouri Computer Center. He said he’s always taken a “you need to spend money to make money” approach to his career. He’s never been afraid to invest money in something he believes will work.
When he started his business 28 years ago, he began by hiring the best computer specialists he could find. Soon, he was competing with one of his former companies, IBM, and he expanded to writing software. He sold software all over the Midwest for nearly 22 years, before selling the company business to a firm in Minnesota.
Kespohl doesn’t think he’ll ever truly retire. His father retired but continued working different jobs until the day he died. Kespohl thinks he has the same trait.
“Part of the reason I don’t retire is I always like to have something to do,” Kespohl said.
One of the odd jobs his father took was maintaining the Little League fields where Kespohl’s sons played baseball. Little League has played a big part in the lives of at least four generations of the Kespohl family.
The Rev. Kenneth Gerike, Kespohl’s pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, sometimes keeps pitch counts for Little League games He’s known Kespohl for about 28 years.
“Gary’s love, next to the Lord and family, is youth baseball,” he said.
Kespohl remembers playing ball on vacant lots when he was a kid and starting Daniel Boone Little League when he was 12. He also remembers his father was a coach, and his grandfather was an avid fan of the sport.
Now his two sons both coach teams of their own, and his grandchildren have played in Columbia leagues. Kespohl is the district administrator for central Missouri and an adviser on the Little League Central Region Headquarters.
His son, Chris Kespohl, coaches his son’s Little League team of 7- and 8-year-olds. He said his dad has strong moral values and good common sense.
“When he finds something he feels passionately about, he puts everything he has into it,” Chris Kespohl said.
Chris Kespohl said his dad taught him values through Little League that applied to his adult life as well.
“I learned from him raising me that never, with the exception of family and faith, is one priority always more important than another.”
After organizing and managing so many Little League games for more than 33 years, taking a seat on the City Council might seem tame.
Kespohl said there was a game several years ago in which a coach punched a 17-year-old umpire in the face during a game in Higginsville. Kespohl was the district manager and, although he didn’t see the assault, he had to suspend the coach for a year.
Former First Ward Councilman Larry Schuster said that speaks to Kespohl’s demeanor.
“Gary has acted as an umpire, and if you can deal with little kids’ parents without them eating you alive, you’re doing OK.”
Aside from Little League, Kespohl and his wife are involved in Trinity Lutheran Church. Gerike has been the senior pastor for 28 years and has seen Kespohl serve in almost every aspect of congregational leadership.
Gerike also used to play basketball with Kespohl and said he saw a different side of Kespohl on the court.
“Well, he used to punch me in the stomach when I shot the ball,” Gerike said, “but I beat him on the left-handed hook shot over his head, so we won.”
Basketball aside, Gerike said he has received and witnessed Kespohl’s compassion, too. Gerike recalled that when he broke his leg 12 years ago, Kespohl stayed with his wife during the surgery.
“He has a competitive streak, but he has a good nature. He knows about service,” Gerike said.
Kespohl also has a deep interest in American history. He keeps a book on his coffee table at home called “Chronicles of America” he’s flipped through it so many times that each page is dog-eared. The book lists each year, beginning with 1606, and gives a brief description of major events that took place until 1989, the year it was published.
Kespohl’s mother also had a flair for history. She spent years tracing her family’s history. About 20 years ago, he flew his mother to the Salt Lake City Genealogy Center to spend a few days digging through microfilm and documents. When they found documents written in German, Kespohl hired an interpreter for a few hours to decipher them.
“She traced our ancestry back to the 1600s,” Kespohl said. His mother had always dreamed of making a family tree but died before she could get to it. “If I ever retire, I’ll finish the family tree she started,” he said.
Retirement doesn’t exactly run in the family. But if Kespohl decides to give it try, history has proven he won’t sit still for long.