The world lost a great friend yesterday.
Dennis Kleppe wasn’t just my friend, he was a friend to everyone he met. That’s just the way he was. A quiet man by nature, he was uncomfortable in any social setting and often retreated to the comfort of his own home, where he was content to just be.
He once confided in me that he hated the way his anxiety controlled him but nothing seemed to help. Doctors tried to treat him with medicine but that didn’t always work.
Yes, Dennis would rather hide away in his sanctuary, but he was always the first to come to the aid of a friend, which he considered most people to be.
Dennis was 48 when the cancer finally overtook him, taking his life away a little at a time, playing games with his sanity.
He once said that if there is one thing he learned, it’s that life’s not fair. “That’s just the way it is,” he said. “You gotta roll with the punches and not let it consume you.”
Dennis dealt with life the way he dealt with his anxiety. He didn’t let it consume him; he knew he had to accept life on life’s terms. He said that was the only way he made it through some days.
He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2006. They took half of a lung and one of his kidneys, and told him that though there was a chance the cancer would return, he still had a fighting chance.
Dennis didn’t let his cancer stop him from pursuing his dream, a dream he shared with his brother, Lenny. They had worked for years for other people in the pawn and loan business and finally decided to go into business for themselves.
Kleppe Family Jewelry opened on Sixth Street SW without much inventory but a lot of hope and faith. Things went well for Dennis and Lenny and built their clientele little by little. Unfortunately, the Flood of 2008 damaged their building, and their stock. “Everything but the guns,” Dennis told me one day after it happened. “That’s because they were in the safe.”
But the flood didn’t stop the Kleppe Brothers, either.
Dennis said they didn’t know how they were going to do it, but they were going to try.
“We owe it to the community to rebuild,” he said, looking around at the damaged neighborhood. “We have to show them the way back.”
And they did. They reopened on Black Friday in 2008, again without much inventory, but a lot of spirit.
Dennis received the bad news that his cancer had returned last year on a routine doctor visit.
“Stage 4,” he said. “Terminal.”
While he patiently explained to me what that was, I couldn’t help but notice how calm he was.
“How are you really?” I asked.
Maybe I asked because I didn’t really know what to say, how to respond, something, anything that would somehow make this not be real. Maybe I asked because I really wanted to know how he felt about the whole idea of dying.
“Well,” he said, the way he always did when he was especially reflective on a subject. “It sucks. I’m not ready, but I’ve made peace with God. There’s no hope of ever getting better. But my niece Nicole told me, ‘There’s always hope.’ But I don’t think so. It’s Stage 4. That’s all there is.”
He said he didn’t want to do the chemo. He heard about others who had done it and they died anyway. “They said it would prolong my life up to a year.” After he thought about it a minute, he said, “But, I guess I will…for them.”
And he did, for them, for us, for everyone who loved him. Because that’s just the way he was. He never thought about himself, always about others and how it would affect them.
He really was everyone’s friend. And he will be greatly missed.
I went to see him a few days ago and I was sad because he didn’t even know I was there. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me and to everyone. But after thinking about it, I realized that he already knew.
His girlfriend Tracy, his family and all of his friends showed their love for him right to the end, and he left this world knowing how very much he was loved. What a way to go…
Most people should be so lucky.
Those who surrounded Dennis and were there when he needed them most are just a reflection of what Dennis had done for so many others during his lifetime. His life had come full circle.
My friendship with Dennis has taught me more about what it’s like to have a good friend. He also reminded me that life is way too short. We need to enjoy the people we love while we have them and never let a day go by without telling them how we feel.
Thanks, Dennis, for being my friend. Thanks for being there when I really needed someone to talk to, to confide in, and a shoulder to cry on. Thanks for listening to my sometimes-nonsensical gibberish and telling me that I need to suck it up and move on. Because that’s what real friends do. They don’t tell you what you want to hear, they tell you what you need to hear.
Your broad smile and quiet presence will always remain in our hearts, and your many words of wisdom will never be forgotten.