Duluth couple proves choices can shape future

By Ethan Walker

“Miracles come in moments, be ready and willing.”-Wayne Dyer, American author.

It is around 4 o’clock on a breezy Monday afternoon and Dunn Brothers coffee house is buzzing.  There is not an empty seat in the house, let alone three.  I nervously wait as a middle-aged woman packs up a novel with the infamous “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker on the front and decides it is time to leave. I dash over to the ideal spot for my interview. A corner table with four chairs, able to seat three comfortably as well as being out of ear shot from the nearest student bent over her laptop.  I am now seated, recorder and notepad out, waiting for my guests to arrive. I have my 8 x 11 piece of paper full of questions that have either been rewritten or crossed out. I am ready.  My anxiety builds.  “Where are they?  What if they don’t see me?   What if I don’t see them?” But before I can over-think myself to death I am introducing myself to Cameron and Pearl Kaspari. I have just met the sweetest couple on Earth.

There are brief moments in our lives that can affect us forever.  Some of these moments are subtle, others staring us in the face.  We meet someone in a class in junior high; years later they are the best man at our wedding.  We accidentally make a wrong turn on our way to a friend’s house; three blocks later you notice a sign for a job opening.  In the blink of an eye our whole life can change.  In the book “Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell discusses how little events in our lives can turn into huge ideas and change our entire way of thinking.  The following is my story about “tipping points” on a smaller scale, tipping points in the lives of the formerly mentioned, Cameron and Pearl Kaspari.

Cameron and Pearl are devout Evangelical Christians.  They have four children: Susan, 64 years old; Timothy, 62; Daniel 60; and Claudia 57.  They both grew up in Duluth; Pearl, age 84, attended Hermantown High School, and Cameron, 85, went to Denfield.  However, Pearl and Cameron could not have started out in more opposite places.  Pearl grew up in a very Christian-oriented house with a father who was heavily involved in their church, whereas Cameron grew up in a household that never stepped foot in a church.  “I had never been to church in my life, never,” Cameron said.  “My parents had never gone to church.”  So, how did this former bartender end up with a sweet little Lutheran girl?  To find the answer we need to travel back 60 years.

During the early ‘40s Cameron Kaspari had two jobs here in Duluth.  During the week he worked down in the shipyard and on the weekends he bartended at Green Gables Tavern.  “I lived in a hotel; it was eat, drink and be merry,”  Cameron recalls.  “In the shipyards you could make all kinds of money.  And for the fellow who was serious about acquiring money, that’s the place to be.  I didn’t care about saving money, but I cared about earning enough money to have a good time.  It was kind of a reckless era.”  However, all that recklessness was about to change when a group of bridesmaids decided to come to the bar for a little late night music.

It was a regular Saturday night at Green Gables Tavern: a live band and plenty of dancing, nothing too out of the ordinary until a group of bridesmaids joined the party. “It was getting near wind-down time, one o’clock in the morning, and the girls all decided they wanted to kiss the young bartender.”  Cameron said with a laugh.  “And I willingly obliged, you know we’ll do anything to please the customer.”  And please the customer he did.  After all the girls lined up, Pearl lining up last, they all had their turn smooching the bartender.  Well, as the saying goes, they save the best for last and Pearl was definitely the best.  “She was the first girl I ever met that didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink, she didn’t swear,” says Cameron.  “I wanted to be associated with someone like that.”  They set up a date a week later and in 1945, after going steady for about a year, Pearl and Cameron were ready to be married.  “The rest,” adds Pearl, “is history.”

As we reach our first tipping point we notice how one decision, to spend the late evening at Green Gables Tavern, changed both Cameron and Pearl’s lives forever.  However, just going to the bar wasn’t enough.  What if Pearl had decided not to get in line and kiss Cameron?  What if Cameron had taken the night off?  What if the bridesmaids never showed up at Green Gables?  Would Cameron and Pearl have met some other time, at another place? The likeliness of this is slim.  Let’s look ahead now and find out how a simple mistake can propel a relationship onto a completely different path.

Nowadays, Cameron can quote Bible verses with the best of them; however, that story may have had a different tune if not for another fateful Saturday night that took place 60 years ago.  That night Cameron and Pearl had planned on meeting some friends at around 10 o’clock down at the marine club in Duluth.  They had organized for a babysitter to come at around 9:30 to take care of their newborn baby, Susan.  Well the sitter had other plans.  “She showed up at 7:30!” said Cameron.  “And we thought, as long as you’re here, stay here and we’ll jump in the car and do something.”  After they hopped in the car, they realized they didn’t really have any idea where to go.  Then Pearl suggested they go to a Youth for Christ meeting at Denfield.  “My first thought was Church?” said Cameron.  “I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do on a Saturday night.”  He then realized that it would be nice to go back to see Denfield, not to mention their appearance would please Pearl’s father.  What Cameron experienced in the auditorium that night transformed him forever.  “It was the first time I heard the gospel preached in my life,” said Cameron.  “I had a new wife, but I didn’t have a new life.  I needed to make a change.”  Cameron is now an ordained minister and both he and Pearl have devoted their lives to Christ.

As we look back at tipping point number two we notice, again, how one decision can change an entire life.  This snap decision to go to church could have been lost if not for an erroneous babysitter that showed up two hours early.  Was it sheer coincidence that made the sitter come early?  Was it a stroke of luck that the Youth for Christ event was held that night at Denfield, Cameron’s old high school, or was it something greater?  Either way, Cameron and Pearl took full advantage of the opportunity that was presented to them.  Our story now travels 30 years ahead, to 1971, where tipping point number three is about to take place.

The Kaspari’s lives were moving along very well, they had parented four children; they were living a Christian life and were part owner of a successful business.  However, their lives were about to take an unexpected twist that year. In July, Cameron and Pearl were on their way back from the annual Fourth of July rodeo in Spooner, Wisconsin; riding their newly bought Honda 500 motorcycles, when Pearl took a bad spill.  “Just couldn’t stay on the road,” Pearl recalls with a slight laugh.  Pearl ended up breaking both her shoulders in the accident and was out of work for six months.  After a few harsh Minnesota winters, arthritis had set in on Pearl’s shoulders.  “We knew we had to do something,” says Cameron.  “We had tried taking everything for the pain.”  Upon the request of their doctor to move to a warmer climate, which would help ease the pain in her shoulders, Cameron and Pearl decided to move out to California.  However, they didn’t go at it alone.  Every one of their kids, fully grown adults, decided to follow mom and dad out to Palm Springs.  “We are a real closely knit family,” says Pearl.  When Cameron and Pearl arrived in California, they opened a cleaning business called, “General Cleaning Corporation.”  They handled cleaning local buildings like banks and courthouses.  After 30 years of enjoying the medicinal California heat Cameron and Pearl decided it was time to come home.  “We’re going to go to glory right from here,” says Cameron with a smile.  “No more moves.”

One group of bridesmaids, an early babysitter and a motorcycle accident made all of this possible. Without these three seemingly inconsequential events, Cameron and Pearl Kaspari may have lived a whole other life.  All three of these events lead to a major shift in each of their lives.  The first to a 65 year marriage; the second to a life long devotion to Christ and the third to an entire family moving out to California.  If we all try and look back at the decisions we have made, our own personal tipping points, we may see moments where our lives have steered away in a direction we could not have predicted.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  -Maya Angelou

I was lucky enough to meet this wonderful couple whose lives were filled with positive tipping points and I will never forget the way they made me feel.  I hope one day I can look back and find all of my tipping points; hopefully with a smile spread across my face.

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