Art Keppel started Thanksgiving this year, and it went on for months.
When the Philadelphia lawyer retired from private practice in March 2020, the pandemic gave him, like many of us, time to reflect on his life. A year and a half later he went on the “Art Keppel Thank You Tour” and visited people and places that had changed his life.
Art left last August and he just got home keeping his promise to his “patient wife” to be back by Thanksgiving Day.
“That was Karen’s only condition,” he said.
Art has always had wanderlust, but it was on hold for several decades. After college, he enlisted in the Army and was posted to California. Then came the Peace Corps in Malaysia, four years of wandering in Asia and Europe, a kibbutz in Israel, and a degree in nursing and law in Delaware – all before he settled in a law firm, married, and had five children.
“As I looked back on all of these adventures, I realized that I wasn’t doing it all by myself, and I wanted to say thank you,” he said. “It was carefully unstructured and I didn’t want to be rushed on any day.”
So he went where his memories led him and arrived almost everywhere unannounced. He crossed America on two-lane roads, going back when a new memory surfaced, making new friends while looking for old friends.
Art found an old army buddy in Kentucky, an officer who led with a gentle soul.
“Over the years, when the stresses of life came over me, I was calmed down by his calm demeanor,” he said.
In the now closed Fort Ord in California, the boot camp where Art was stationed, he sat on the branches of the Old Coast Live Oaks in the nearby woods.
“The limbs glistened from the young soldiers who must have been sitting there as they were thinking about their mission in Vietnam,” he said. “I cried for them and thanked them.”
He went to Utah in search of a Mormon couple who were friends with the Peace Corps. They were nowhere to be found, but a local librarian helped locate them in Idaho. You were surprised by his visit because people “have no idea what impression they made on your life”.
He never found an old high school buddy who was a high jumper at the Olympics in Munich, but looking for him in Wyoming was worth it.
“His life lessons became mine long ago,” he said.
Art visited Mount Rushmore and spent Veterans Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he shed a few tears in both locations, grateful for America’s blessings.
And after unsuccessfully searching for retired judge Francis X. Caiazza in New Castle, Art found him in Pittsburgh. The judge was his first chief in law, and the caiazzas welcomed him as a family.
From Oregon to Washington, California, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Art stopped by friends and family to simply say, “Thank you.”
While Art’s trip may be the longest Thanksgiving ever, it carries a message for all of us. Thanksgiving is more than just one day of the year. As he says, “This trip was a punctuation mark in my life. I am blessed for my worth. “