Historian Bill Kepler, a stickler for detail

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2010 - 9:18 PM

One of the founders of the Living History Society, the Postal Service worker was committed to accuracy.

From the fabric used to make attire worn by characters reenacting Civil War-era scenes down to the paper used to create facsimiles of old railroad bonds, Bill Kepler was a stickler for detail and accuracy.

Kepler was one of the founders of the Living History Society of Minnesota, an organization whose mission is to educate the public about the lifestyles of mid-19th century Americans through accurate portrayal of all walks of civilian life. Its members perform at programs across the state, including such venues as the Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River, the Gibbs Farm in Falcon Heights, Fort Snelling and Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. They also have appeared at the Pipestone Civil War Festival and participate in the annual Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and Fezziwig's Party Day program staged at Sandburg Middle School in Anoka.

"He loved history and the Civil War era," said Tom Pinkerton, another of the Living History Society's founding members. "He was a true history buff and liked historical accuracy."

Kepler, of Minneapolis, died Jan. 13 when he suffered a heart attack while driving home after dropping off a friend at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He was 60.

Teaching others about history dovetailed with his day job with the U.S. Postal Service. For 35 years, he provided computer support and trained managers on how to supervise their employees, those who knew him said.

Kepler retired from the Postal Service in 2001, but remained active with the Living History Society developing and refining programs that showcased events of civilian life, such as dances, tea times, fashion and nonmilitary aspects of war. He paid attention to every minute detail, too. In program highlighting the Minnesota & Pacific Railroad Company, Kepler designed an 1850s railroad bond and brought in a dozen samples of paper just to get the most accurate look and feel, said David Grabitske, who has been an society member for 12 years.

"He was a fanatic about being accurate in what we did." Grabitske said. "He felt it was important to engage the viewers so they understood and could participate in what was going on without having to don the clothing."

Kepler was a member of the St. Paul Masonic Lodge No. 3, where he was involved in a mentoring program for new members. He also was involved with the Scottish Rite of Minnesota, friends said.

Known for dispensing hugs and lots of laughter, Kepler was a committed member of Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, where he served as acolyte director and master of ceremonies, and was often seen leading most church processions carrying the incense, said friend Larry Reynolds. He also enjoyed gardening and collecting antiques, friends said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Gethsemane Episcopal Church, 905 4th Av. S., Minneapolis.

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