R.I.P. Uncle Mike

My dad's Uncle Mike passed away yesterday ... He got front page coverage in St. Augustine.

Rotagilla drummer dies

By ANNE C. HEYMEN Posted: Friday, February 22, 2008 ; Updated: 8:56 AM on Friday, February 22, 2008

Michael David "Mike" Kemper, drummer of the popular St. Augustine-based Rotagilla Band, a group that traveled throughout the country during the 1970s and at one point appeared on the Johnny Carson Show, died Wednesday at Baptist South Medical Center, following a long battle with cancer. He was 57.

At the time of his death he was part of the Rotagezers, a group which grew out of the Rotagilla Band and which also includes Bill Sabo, Jim Carpenter and Scott Sweet. "We played mostly at Creekside," Sabo explained Thursday morning after sharing news of Kemper's death.

"Mike was always my favorite," Fran Moore, a longtime fan of Rotagilla that's alligator spelled backwards said upon learning of Kemper's death. "He was such a nice guy, so friendly."

"This is one group that (the late) Toni Leonard got them going from the Tradewinds," Moore recalled of the popular St. Augustine bar which Leonard owned. Moore also remembered Rotagilla's appearance on Johnny Carson. "They had quite a career," but family and other commitments were reasons they didn't go farther, she suggested.

Kemper joined the band in 1977, Sabo said. "We peaked and went on the road. Mike was really our first full-time drummer."

In their heyday, Rotagilla traveled all over the United States and Canada performing at some 200 colleges with big names including Steve Martin, Mel Tillis, Little River Band and the Bellamy Brothers, to name a few.

"I never missed a Rotagilla concert," Jo Ellen Coleman said on learning of Kemper's death. "I had a Rotagilla T-shirt! They were absolutely unique. I followed them from the beginning because I moved here in 1975."

St. Augustine resident Randy Brunson learned of Rotagilla when he was living in Atlanta. "My friends would ask me to come to hear Rotagilla. I would end up buying 50 tickets from my friend Jimmy Dean. All my friends would make that a big event.

"Rodagezers isn't bad either," he added.

Their music, explained another fan Fred Whitley was "a little bit of folk and a lot of humor." They shared "music folk tales touched with humor. I loved them. They would pack them in" at concerts.

Rotagilla's most recent appearance was at the Rhythm and Ribs Festival here in 2006, Sabo said.

Born in Ashland, Ky., Mike Kemper had resided in St. Augustine since 1962. He was a mechanical engineer for Powell and Hinkle Engineering, and he owned and operated Kemper Design Services. He was a former employee of The St. Augustine Record, serving many years ago in the press/camera departments.

He was of the Baptist church.

Memorial services will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Craig Funeral Home chapel. A gathering will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday at Craig chapel.

Live plants are gratefully accepted, or donations may be made in his memory to the American Cancer Society.

Survivors include his wife, Leslie Kemper, a son, Michael Damian Kemper, both of St. Augustine; two sisters, Patricia Worthington, St. Augustine, and Sharon Stout, Atlanta, Ga.; and two grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his parents, Marion and Grace Kemper.

Craig Funeral Home Crematory Memorial Park is in charge of arrangements.


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