With a grim medical prognosis in November 1995, Jim Kiel’s final wish was to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding the following July.
He fulfilled that wish and died 11 days later at the age of 53.
The book “A Dad’s Final Duty,” written by Jim’s widow, Judy Kiel McKain, was released last month and tells the story of her late husband’s journey through cancer (melanoma) and his determination to fulfill his fatherly duty.
“It has been 25 years since Jim passed away, and I didn’t start writing things down until about four or five years later, but then it would get so hard emotionally,” Judy said. “Liz’s wedding was July 6, 1996, and he passed on July 17, so two weeks apart, we were in that beautiful St. Peter’s Lutheran Church for a wedding and a funeral.”
Jim served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1961 to 1965 as a machine gunner. When he received orders to go to Vietnam, he sent Judy a wedding ring. He was in transit when his orders were changed and other units were sent instead.
Jim and Judy were married Oct. 20, 1963, and moved from Bartholomew to Jackson County, halfway between Columbus and Seymour. They would go on to raise three daughters.
The family attended St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus for 25 years, and their daughters attended school in Columbus and graduated from Columbus North High School. They all lived a fairly normal life until Jim’s prognosis, Judy said.
“The first mole was removed in 1991, and the surgery to remove it appeared to get it all,” she said. “It came back in 1995, and that’s where my story starts.”
Jim and Judy met with the doctor, who told Jim he had months or maybe a year or so to live, but Jim decided to carry on with business as usual and continued working at Culligan in Seymour as a sales representative until he grew too weak from his condition.
Judy said he kept holding onto the goal he had set for himself, to walk their daughter, Liz, down the aisle, which was the last thing Jim was really able to do.
Liz Kiel married Joe Tuecke and they live in Garnavillo, Iowa, where she is a reading specialist teacher and Joe is an electrical engineer. They have three kids — two are engineers and one is serving in the Marine Corps.
“About the book title, originally, the book was going to be called ‘Jim’s Journey,’ but I looked it up and there was already another book by that name,” Judy said. “I really want the book to be an encouragement of faith, family, strength and determination.”
She also felt the need to write the book for her grandchildren, who would never know their grandpa. She wanted them to know how his faith was instilled in their family through him and wanted that to carry on through generations.
Judy has received positive feedback about her book on the Amazon website.
Cheryl J. Cox said, “I couldn’t lay this book down. What a wonderful tribute of love through trying times. This couple’s love of God shined through every step of the way. One tip … have tissues close by.”
Elaine Mittleman said, “Judy Kiel McKain is a member of our family. We were honored to be able to attend the moving and beautiful wedding of Judy and Jim’s daughter, Liz. I treasure this book and the memories of the Kiel family. Thanks to Judy for writing such a meaningful book with a message of love and determination.”
Elizabeth K. Roberts gave the book five out of five stars.
“I especially liked how the author made the reader feel he or she was experiencing it all, too,” she said. “The author’s attention to detail is amazing. Poignant story, but one to which we can all relate. You’ll need Kleenex.”
Judy said she is really excited about the feedback.
“Jackson County natives Patty Baker and Brenda Darlage, both widowed in 2021, have both said it helped them so much, just remembering the difficult days and reflecting on their experiences,” she said.
Judy said her faith has grown through every difficulty she has faced, and she is blessed to be a blessing to others and feels that writing and storytelling has been her calling here on Earth.
She lives near Freetown with her current husband, Dan McKain. They got married in 2002.
“Dan’s wife, Pat, was 53 when she passed away, the same age as Jim when he passed,” Judy said. “When Dan and I first started seeing each other, Dan said we can’t know each other unless we know Pat and Jim, so he would bring over a baggie of pictures from their prom and their kids when they were little. It was just precious.”
She said their marriage had to be a God thing because it couldn’t be this good without him.
As for future books, Judy said she might write more children’s books or short stories of life happenings. Pen It! Publications LLC is her publisher.
“A Dad’s Final Duty” may be purchased on amazon.com or penitpublications.com. In the near future, the Jackson County Visitor Center, 100 N. Broadway St., Seymour, plans to carry the book.