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Quad-Citizen of the Month: John Kessler
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QUAD-CITIZEN OF YEAR FINALIST: JOHN KESSLER

Quad-Citizen of the Month: John Kessler

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Whether it's computers, construction, bookkeeping or his gift for organizing, John Kessler is using his broad skill set to help others in need around the globe as well as in his own corner of the world.

Retired 20 years ago from Deere & Co., the Quad-City native is re-discovering his community — from its people and their needs to its many quiet volunteer efforts. 

"I don't know if other communities this size are as generous, but I know this community is," said Kessler, 76, now of Bettendorf.

As a driving force with organizations such as Kids Against Hunger Your Quad-Cities to Habitat for Humanity, the Davenport Noon and Bettendorf Optimist clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and many more, Kessler has been selected as a finalist for the Quad-Citizen of the Year Award.

The award was created by the Quad-City Times and IHMVCU to recognize those creating positive change in the Quad-City region. Kessler was nominated separately by two of his friends, Mark Nagan and Dave Phillips, both of whom have worked alongside him on many community projects.

Nagan has collaborated and volunteered with Kessler to build homes, wheelchair ramps and storage sheds for Habitat families as well as built and donated more than 20 Little Libraries to area schools and early learning centers. He describes Kessler as "a compassionate and generous man who is dedicated to serving others."

"John is a man who leaves people and organizations better than when he met them," Nagan wrote in a nomination letter.

Phillips, who met Kessler through the Bettendorf Optimist Club, has seen the impact his good friend has had on numerous Quad-City organizations including the Bettendorf Optimist and Davenport Noon Optimists clubs. "If you need something done, he just does it," Phillips said.

He said Kessler has devoted hours to installing receptacles to hold American flags and placing flags as part of the Optimists' Avenue of Flags program.

When Phillips was working to re-charter the then disbanded Bettendorf Optimist Club, Kessler offered his support and built a website to keep members apprised. He also became the webmaster for the Iowa Optimist District when Phillips was District Governor and has been asked to return to the role.

For area non-profits, he volunteers his time and talents — building web sites, keeping their books and organizing fundraisers and events. With Habitat for Humanity Quad-Cities, he was a construction supervisor on many of its homes. He also was among the original members of the "Merry Band," a group of dozens of retired volunteers who decided to expand the tradition two Habitat workdays by offering their time throughout the week. 

He and his carpentry skills traveled five or six times to Biloxi, Mississippi, to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Recalling the devastation, he said, "You wondered how they ever would re-build, but they did."

He also traveled with Habitat International to India, Nagan recalling, adding "One of the requirements was they have steel-toed shoes. So my shoes got to go over there (with him), not me."

Kessler is slowing down but is still helping Habitat build the storage sheds now included with every Quad-City house. "The most enjoyable part is working with the partner families. Getting to know them, that makes all the difference," he said.

Right after retiring in 1999, Kessler's first volunteer role was to become a "Big" with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Quad-Cities, an organization that he later would serve as its interim director.

"I'm thankful I'm healthy enough to do (volunteering) and I'm thankful I have some business skills to help," he said.

While others are busy traveling in retirement, he said he and Gail traveled extensively when he was working. "Plus, I don't have anything on my bucket list, we did it all."

But that is not to say they are not interested in the world around them. 

"I used to watch PBS programs about world hunger and clean water (shortages) and thought the most you can do to help is send a check," Kessler said.

Then he met a Moline woman, Pat Herath, at a Quad-City Prayer Breakfast who had founded Wells4Wellness. The organization, which he assists in many ways, has drilled about 20-25 wells in Niger, Africa. 

"His heart is to serve people of any kind," Herath, the organization's president, said in a nomination letter. "If he sees a need, he tries to meet it as soon as he can."

The same was true when the Kesslers' established a local affiliate of Kids Against Hunger - Your Quad-Cities, which since 2009 has packaged millions of meals mostly for third-world countries.

Kessler recalled watching a program on Kids Against Hunger and saying to Gail "I should send a check to Kids Against Hunger." "She had been searching for it on the website and said 'Let's start one,'" he added.

Kessler since has handed over the leadership to Pam Gettert, who now serves as president.  He remains an active volunteer.

His latest project was a "Hoops For Hope" exhibition basketball game held Saturday that put local athletes against the Flight Squad, a premier team of former professional athletes and Division 1 players who help the organization raise money. The event was a fundraiser for Heart of Hope Outreach, Rock Island, and Hope at the BRICK House, Davenport.

"I don't know how he connected with us," Heart of Hope President Lynda Sargent wrote in Nagan's nomination. "I just remember him visiting our Outreach Center one day and bringing the meals packaged by Kids Against Hunger. He then began helping with various other needs that I mentioned to him."

Nagan said that is exactly who Kessler is. "He's just somebody who wakes up in the morning and wonders what he can be doing for someone," he said.

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