John 'Jerry' Albert Epple Jr. lived with curiosity for life and passion for family

Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 8:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — John "Jerry" A. Epple Jr. wanted to fly kites with his grandchildren. Instead of buying a kite, he borrowed his wife's sewing machine, researched kite-making, built a kite-making shop and designed his own kites. 

"When we went to the shores of Lake Michigan, he would always bring the kites with him and fly them with his grandchildren on the beach," his daughter, Constance Stella, said.

John Albert Epple, Jr. died Tuesday, May 1, 2012, in Kansas City. He was 85.

He was born on Dec. 25, 1926, in Fayette to John and Elizabeth Epple.

The family moved to Columbia a year later, where Mr. Epple attended Lee Elementary School, Hickman High School and MU.

When he was 18 he enlisted in the Army during World War II in a specialized unit stationed in Philadelphia, where he studied Japanese and worked on code detection and decoding.

He met Jeanne Vinyard, who would become his wife, after he returned to take classes at MU's College of Engineering.

Mr. Epple graduated in 1950 with a bachelors degree in engineering and became a civil engineer with the family company Epple Construction Co. He helped build some of the most notable buildings in Columbia, including the Missouri United Methodist Church, Boone Hospital Center and the Firestone Baars Chapel at Stephens College.

He also participated in the construction of many buildings at MU, such as the south wing of Memorial Union, a renovation of Jesse Hall and University Hospital.

After retiring from the construction business, Mr. Epple served as the Boone County Public Administrator.

He was active in the community, participating in the Missouri Housing Commission, the Columbia Board of Adjustment, the Missouri Republican State Committee and the Rotary Club.

Mr. Epple was also a member of MU's Jefferson Club, a donor recognition club for those who have contributed at least $25,000 to the university, and was a lifetime member of the MU Alumni Association.

"He was really proud of the university," Stella said. "He loved the University of Missouri and loved being a part of it."

However, his family was the most important thing to him, she said.

Often Mr. Epple would find out what members of his family were interested in and think of a way to get connected with them so that it was something they could share, Stella said.

One of his grandchildren liked to fish, so they went out fishing together; another liked scary movies, so Mr. Epple watched them with her.

He was an avid movie fan, Stella said. He would often record movies from television and catalog them into a library with more than 2,000 films, usually on topics that other family members enjoyed.

Mr. Epple loved music as well, especially jazz and rock 'n' roll from the '70s and '80s, and once went with his children to a Rolling Stones concert at Memorial Stadium. He loved it, Stella said.

"He didn't really fit into anyone else's mold," she said. "He was unique in who he was and very comfortable, the most comfortable in his own skin out of any person I've ever met."

Mr. Epple has written a number of articles and books, his wife said, and taught himself to play trumpet and paint with watercolors. He was also an amateur pilot and inventor. Among other things, he created a mechanism that would make sure you pulled your car up past the garage door, Stella said.

"He was a very unique person," Jeanne Epple, said. "He enjoyed many different kinds of activities and was creative and somewhat introspective about life and what he did."

Even in the last few years of his life, when his health was declining, he was cheerful and still curious and engaged and never complained, Stella said.

"Three weeks ago, he was still at home working at finishing up one of the books he's writing," she said.

Mr. Epple is survived by his wife, Jeanne Epple, of Kansas City; three daughters, Elizabeth Epple of Leawood, Kan., Margaret Gilk and her husband, Tobias, of Overland Park, Kan., and Constance Stella and her husband, Reid, of Kansas City; a son, John A. Epple III of St. Louis; eight grandchildren, John A. Epple IV, Zachary Epple, Benjamin Epple and Victoria Epple, all of St. Louis, Samuel Stella, Olivia Stella and Francesca Stella of Kansas City, and Helena Gilk of Overland Park, Kan.; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

His brothers, Lawrence K. Epple and Robert C. Epple, and a sister-in-law, Katherine Christman Epple, died earlier.

Visitation will precede services at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Wesley Chapel of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, 13720 Roe Ave in Leawood, Kan.

A service of remembrance will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in Memorial Chapel at Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. Interment and a reception will follow.

Donations can be made to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, 13720 Roe Ave., Leawood, KS 66224 or to Kansas City Hospice, 9221 Ward Pkwy., Kansas City, MO 64114.

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