David Kemper,

David Kemper,

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 13 1998 3:30 AM

David Kemper,

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       Easter dawned blue and brilliant, so I went for a jog through my leafy suburban neighborhood. The most interesting site on my running course is a 30,000 square foot, faux French château rising from the dust of a tear-down on a street of '60s brick colonial ranch houses. A 9,000 Dow and the realities of urban sprawl have unleashed the "tear-down and build big" phenomenon in St. Louis; a couple of other houses on the château street are already fated for the same untimely demise. I suppose as a banker I should encourage such overconsuming behavior, but it does lead to some--er--uneven architectural results. Some latter-day Schliemann will no doubt carefully excavate Chateau Nouveau a century hence, sifting debris in a vain attempt to try to explain Richard Gephardt's childhood.
       I returned for a quick and competitive Easter egg hunt--the youngest of our four children is 9 and, strange as it may seem, may possibly still believe in the Easter bunny. We then set out for church with the specific strategy of getting there early enough to get seats--a problem last year--and also a good parking place, so we could then zoom out for brunch afterward. Billy, the 9-year-old, had a little trouble finding his Easter finest shoes and then complained about foot pain as he hobbled up the steps to the church. Once we settled into the pew, we discovered his shoes were indeed from two years ago, and thus two and a half sizes too small. To give up our parking place would not be heads-up play--and we figured he would only have to make it down the aisle to receive Communion--a round trip of no more than 200 feet. He made it to the altar and back, no problem. Our very thoughtful priest, Father Krawinkel, delivered an appropriate sermon, ending by quoting Malcolm Muggeridge in his Chronicles of Wasted Time, lamenting the loss of the years he'd wasted before finding faith. This closing was particularly stinging to me because not only was I unsure I had yet found any faith, but also I have had Chronicles of Wasted Time sitting on my bedroom bookshelf for about five years, waiting to be read.
       The rest of the day was classic peaceful Sunday afternoon in the 'burbs--a little gardening here, a little baseball there with Billy, and the occasional unheeded lecture on the sun and skin cancer to my two teen-age daughters. The highlight of the day, however, may have been trying to retrieve my car from Easter brunch at the--yes--country club. Against my better instincts, I had to use valet parking because of the hordes of upper-middle-class merrymakers. Naturally, I didn't have a bill less than a 10 to tip the crack team of car retrievers, but I figured they must have some change, since they'd been shagging cars for a couple of hours. As one parker sprinted to find my car, I approached the remaining two to see if they could break a 10. The more mentally challenged asked, "How much change do you want?" While I was thinking about my reply, the cannier of the two pointed out to his partner the fairly straightforward arithmetic; after all, he observed, I wasn't tipping them. Seeking to join in the parking banter, and drawing on my professional training, I then alluded to the old Saturday Night Live fake commercials for the bank that just made change ("We make change"). As my audience of two actually seemed to show some interest, I closed with the punch line: "And you know what they said when asked how they make a profit: 'Simple, we make it up on volume.' " No response from half my audience, but luckily my car appeared; 10 seconds and two dollars later, we escaped.

David Kemper is chairman, president, and CEO of Commerce Bancshares, Inc., in St. Louis.