Gary Kespohl makes no qualms about being a political newcomer. He has never served on a city board or commission. He has never campaigned or run for office.
But Kespohl doesn’t see why his inexperience should hinder him from serving on the Columbia City Council. After all, he’s lived in the city for more than 50 years and owns a downtown computer business.
Kespohl and his wife, Patty, have raised two sons in Columbia, where today the young men are raising families of their own. He’s been an active member of his church, a dedicated Kiwanis and a longtime administrator for Little League Baseball in mid-Missouri.
“I love Columbia,” Kespohl said. “I don’t have an agenda. I’m pro-Columbia. I just want to see Columbia continue to be a great place to live.”
Kespohl, 59, is running for the 3rd Ward seat that will be vacated in April by outgoing Councilman Bob Hutton, who announced in November he would not seek another three-year term. Karl Skala, a veteran at local government service, also is running for the seat.
Kespohl said he’s always had an interest in city government but never had the time to act on his passion. Now that his children are grown and his business is scaled back, Kespohl is ready to test the waters. First, he talked over the idea with friend and outgoing 4th Ward Councilman Jim Loveless.
“He and I talked for a while, and from there it just mushroomed,” Kespohl said. “Next I know, I’m talking to my wife about it. We stayed up until 2 in the morning talking about the pros and cons of it.
“Eventually, she said, ‘I’m not behind you; I’m beside you,’ and that’s where I want her to be,” he added. “So, I decided to make the effort.”
Kespohl was born in Quincy, Ill., and moved with his family to Columbia when he was 5. After graduating from Hickman High School in 1965, Kespohl attended the University of Missouri for about 18 months. But MU didn’t offer enough computer classes, so he eventually transferred to a computer trade school in Kansas City.
By the late 1960s, he was heading up the computer department for Columbia Insurance Group. While there, he developed software to computerize the business and eventually sold the software to 80 mutual insurance companies in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.
In 1982, Kespohl broke out on his own and opened Central Missouri Computer Center, which he still operates at 1103 E. Walnut St. Today, he oversees a staff of two, but at its peek, the business employed 16 people and assembled computers as well as repairing and servicing them.
Kespohl, who also owns 30 rental properties in Columbia, said he would bring a wealth of experience to the council as a local businessman and landlord.
“There needs to be someone on the council with some knowledge of running a business,” he said. “I think there needs to be fiscal responsibility.”
Bob Wagner, president and CEO of Columbia Insurance Group, has known Kespohl for 30 years and thinks his business savvy would be invaluable to the council.
“Gary wouldn’t come to the council with an agenda. He would be open-minded and willing to hear both sides of an issue. He would have a very realistic and down-to-earth approach to issues.”
Wagner said Kespohl is an effective manager who knows how to motivate people.
“Gary is very sincere about this,” Wagner said. “I think he would be a terrific councilman because he has the time to dedicate to it, but still he is young enough to bring energy to the table.”
Though Kespohl doesn’t have a list of priorities for the ward, he worries about traffic congestion on Clark Lane and suggested an overpass to help relieve it. He also thinks there are areas of the ward that could use some renovation, mentioning a row of houses along Walnut Street between William Street and College Avenue.
“Either tear them down or fix them up,” he said.
Kespohl said common sense must be applied when balancing development with environment concerns and aesthetics. Developers, environmentalists and the council should sit down and talk about what they want from a project and reach a consensus, he said.
“I don’t agree with a developer just going and stripping the land,” Kespohl said. “I think what has to happen is the developer needs to come with a plan, and if it doesn’t suit the council, they can table it. That’s what needs to happen until an agreement can be reached. That takes time, but it needs to be done.”
Kespohl said he supports reasonable development restrictions, such as the newly approved stream ordinance, which are designed to protect the environment without inhibiting growth.
“I’m not pro-development or anti-development,” he said. “I don’t have an ax to grind with anyone.”
Kespohl said he would have supported the extension of LeMone Industrial Boulevard because voters approved a road tax that he says included the project. He believes the project can be completed without damaging the sensitive watershed in the area.
Kenneth Gerike met Kespohl 25 years ago when he arrived in Columbia to become pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church. Kespohl was serving on the church’s board of elders, and Gerike quickly learned the gregarious businessman was a reliable source for answers about insurance, budget and building expansion projects involving the 700-member congregation.
“He has been very helpful in terms of a visionary process for the congregation,” Gerike said. “He is compassionate and caring and always looking out for the well-being and needs of other people. When there is an individual in the congregation who has had a tragedy, Gary has always been one to step up and offer to help.”
Over the years, Kespohl has served in a number of leadership positions in the church, including several stints as chairman of the congregation and treasurer. Gerike wasn’t surprised to learn that Kespohl was interested in serving the city.
“It’s a new avenue and a new direction for him to use his serving heart in a way he has not before,” he said. v
2215 S. Country Club Drive
Kespohl, 59, is married to Patty Kespohl; they have two sons and five
grandchildren. He has owned Central Missouri Computer Center, 1103 E. Walnut St., since 1982, and has been in the computer business since 1967.
Graduated from Hickman High School in 1965; enrolled at the University of Missouri but never graduated. He later completed training at a computer trade school in Kansas City. Over the years, he has completed hundreds of hours of computer technical training.
Member and past chairman of the Little Dixie Kiwanis Club, from which he received the Hixon Award; member of Trinity Lutheran Church, where he has served on the board of elders and as chairman and treasurer of the congregation; and administrator of Little League Baseball for 20 years.