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Virgil Kempenaar's Online Memorial Photo

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Memorial Biography

A note from Jill:  Thank you so much for coming.  Please check back frequently as I will be posting new information. There are several tabs that organize the site, so you may want to check on each of them.

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Virgil died accidentally the evening of Sunday, October 16th while working - as he loved to do - on an old vehicle. Visitation will be held on Saturday, October 22nd from 11am - 2pm, with service to follow.

Annex (Fellowship Hall) of the Hermitage United Methodist Church

4250 Andrew Jackson Parkway, Hermitage, TN 

(615) 883-3918

Everyone who knew him is invited to attend, and we would welcome photos or writings about Virgil at the visitation. These will be collected in an album as a comfort and remembrance for the family.  Donations in lieu of flowers for the benefit of his children are welcomed and may be made at remembervirgil@paypal.com or through the "Remember Virgil" account at all First Tennessee Bank locations.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Hermitage Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens, 535 Shute Lane, Old Hickory, TN 37138.  615-889-0361. His remains will rest there at a later date.

The family has been in the Nashville community since 1988 when Virgil's Dad took a job as a pilot with American Eagle, back in the heyday of the hub-and-spoke system, when there was a direct flight from Nashville to London.  Virgil graduated from McGavock High School.  Mom taught English and Latin at Overton High School full time from 1988 until spring 2011, and still teaches four sections of Latin.  Sister Lea started at McGavock High School and graduated from Overton High School, St. Thomas Aquinas, and David Lipscomb. Sister Jill graduated from Vanderbilt Law.  Mom and Dad have been regular attendees of the Hermitage United Methodist Church's Sunday School group for many years.  Jill was a member of West End United Methodist until moving to Washington DC and is still a member in good standing of the Tennessee bar.  Virgil's maternal grandparents have lived with Virgil's parents for several years.

Virgil was born in Portsmouth, VA while his father was in the Navy, and they later lived in England while on exchange with the Royal Navy.  In 1974 the family moved to a dairy farm in Wisconsin, then later to a suburb of Milwaukee, and finally to the Nashville area.  Virgil was widely recognized as very intelligent but after witnessing an accidental shooting that resulted in the death of one of his closest friends he struggled for a long period with a feeling of futility from the knowledge that life can be snatched away.  The bullet had missed him by an inch.  He struggled with survivor guilt and only in his 30s was finally able to come to terms with that terrible formative event. 

As a farm boy, Virgil enjoyed fixing up all kinds of things.  He was very mechanical and fascinated with the physical world, a joy he was sharing with his son Randall.  Virgil also was a tremendous artist with the ability to draw wonderful, engaging cartoons.  He could reproduce by hand a cartoon he saw in the paper, with no erasures, and it was virtually identical.  He took some classes at Nashville Tech, animation classes at Watkins Institute, and attended an intensive graphics course in Vancouver, but a career path through the visual arts just never seemed to work out.  Over the years he both drew and fixed up a wide range of cars and motorcycles, as well as difficult do-it-yourself projects.

After starting work in the kitchen at Pizza Hut, one of Virgil's first full times jobs was at the Harvey Machine Company.  Later Virgil became a cook, usually in steakhouses, and wherever he went, customers who appreciated his skills would follow.  We often prevailed upon him to cook steaks for special family gatherings too. He worked at Waffle House, O'Charleys, Logan's, LongHorn, and Applebee's among others.  He always struggled with the swing shifts, irregular hours, limited possibilities for advancement, difficult working environments, and he often followed his colleagues to new locations; others followed him as well. At Applebee's he had another brush with death in 1993 when it was held up after hours.  The robbers took him outside, stood him against the wall and attempted to execute him.  The gun jammed. 

Virgil transitioned into cooking for hotels and became sous chef for the Holiday Inn Select, then later at the Sheraton Music City Hotel. For a time he was called upon to make elaborate gingerbread house displays for Christmas, amazing decorative food displays, and to carve ice sculptures for banquet centerpieces. By that time he was in his 30s and needed a more regular schedule, so he transitioned into hotel maintenance staff.  That led to working in the Engineering team of the DoubleTree in downtown Nashville.  Upon the advice of a friend he studied for and earned a professional certification in HVAC systems.  This allowed him to apply for a position with Cassidy Turley, a large property management company.  It seemed at last he had found solid employment and foundation as a parent. 

On Sunday Virgil was working on the engine of an old and beloved pickup truck. Virgil often loved oddball and cast off things. He once bought the piranha from a bankrupt pet store because he felt sorry for them. Both of the truck's front wheels were up on ramps, and it was supported by a professional jack. He was last seen by a neighbor about 6:30 pm. It is believed, though we will never know for certain, the jack supporting the truck failed, causing the front wheels to roll backward down their ramps and over the blocks. When this happened, he was under the vehicle on a rolling creeper. He was found with the axle across his heart and chest. The cause of death was asphyxiation.

Virgil did not appear at work Monday morning at his new job, where he was very happy.  His coworkers and friends knew this was unlike him, and after multiple calls were not answered, they asked his friend Daryl to check on him.  Although his death certificate lists the date of death on the 17th, when he was found and pronounced dead, we believe he actually passed on the evening of Sunday the 16th. 

We are thankful he was found by a friend rather than by a child.  We are thankful to the neighbors who declined to feed the news media with sound bites.  We are thankful to the Hermitage United Methodist church, whose members were already praying for the family of an unknown man even before we ourselves learned of the tragedy.  And we are also thankful for Dad's many years as a pilot for American Eagle, which allowed both of Virgil's parents and sisters to fly from Washington DC back to Nashville as soon as we could reach the airport together.

Virgil is survived by his parents, Virgil and Sandy Kempenaar of Hermitage, TN; his grandparents Milton and Shirley Jensen; his sister Lea Kempenaar Beuchler, her husband Jason and daughters Madison and Charlie of Midlothian, VA; his sister Jill of Washington DC; son Randall Kempenaar; daughter Makayla Eischmann; and Tina Eischmann. He is also survived by his Aunt Pam, Aunt Ruby, Uncle Randy, Aunt Margo, and Uncle Blaine, as well as cousins Abby, Elizabeth, Terry, Todd, Dionne, Jason, Devon, Chad, Diana, Joe, and even more numerous second cousins. He was preceded in death by his friend Mike Schultheiss; cousin Scott Douma; uncle Darvin Kempenaar; paternal grandparents Ruth Williams Kempenaar and Dewey Kempenaar; and great Aunt Annie Kempenaar Tissing who at several difficult points came and lived with us to help out.