Profile: Tom Lepley
A hobby of helpingThe Kenyon community knows Tom Lepley as a supremely skillful problem-solver, caretaker, and construction manager, who as head of maintenance and now clerk of the works has always kept an expert eye on the campus infrastructure, both present and future.
Now it's time for some revelations about the private life of Mr. Lepley. No, there aren't any skeletons in his closet. Instead-don't tell the children-there's a Santa suit.
Lepley has played Santa Claus since he was fifteen years old and his mother's extended family needed a Santa for a Christmas party. He didn't have the girth back then that he does now, but the role fit nicely-and grew. Today, he volunteers as Santa every year for the county health department, for rest homes, for the family gatherings of numerous friends, for the Kenyon security office Christmas dinner, for College President S. Georgia Nugent's holiday receptions, and, it seems, for anybody who wants him to drop in to administer a dose of Christmas magic.
"My feeling is that you should see Santa quick as a wink," says Lepley. "I carry some old jingle bells. I make some jokes, and I give Santa hugs to anyone who wants one. But I pass through very quickly. For one thing, with little kids, if you hang around, they'll begin to examine you closely. Also, it's extremely warm inside that suit.
"I like to make surprise entrances," he adds, grinning. "I love the expression on people's faces. The most satisfaction I get is from the little tykes. They just look up at you in awe."
Lepley came to Kenyon in 1970 as an apprentice electrician, after a stint at Cooper Energy Services in Mount Vernon and, before that, a job with an oil exploration company. (He worked as a "jug hustler" or "juggie," laying networks of geophones, or seismic sensors.) At the College, he steadily rose through the ranks, becoming superintendent of buildings and grounds in 1993 and then clerk of the works, responsible for overseeing major construction projects like the science complex and the new athletic center.
His success here reflects not only his gift for working with people but also his boundless fascination with the way things work and his love of craftsmanship. That fascination is evident in his off-campus life as well. He built his own house, with the help of his family-his wife of forty years, Shirley (a secretary in the College's maintenance department), and his three sons, Kevin, Kyle, and Kurt (a plumber at Kenyon). He also built a separate woodworking shop that even the most advanced home handyman would drool over.
Intrigued by the blacksmiths at craft fairs, Lepley got himself a small forge and some books, and now he fashions wrought-iron-and-oak towel bars and hooks as gifts for family and friends. He's an avid digital photographer, who lavishes pixels on his five grandchildren. For Christmas last year, Shirley bought him a metal-turning lathe.
Running through every hobby, it seems, is an impulse to help people. For the past four years, he has turned his woodworking shop into a production center for birdhouse kits, which he creates for the Cub Scouts. Each year, he comes up with a new design, consisting of seven pieces of carefully shaped wood that the youngsters can assemble themselves. Typically, he makes about four dozen kits.
The extended Kenyon community has benefited from Lepley's generosity as well. In the years before cable television came to Gambier, Lepley teamed up with Professor Emeritus of Physics Franklin Miller Jr. to provide TV antennas to young faculty families. Miller bought and donated the equipment, and Lepley donated his time and skill, erecting steel towers and installing the gear. The McIlvaine Apartments got their first decent TV reception that way.
The habit of helping continues. One Kenyon professor tells how last December, when the pre-Christmas ice storm left his house without electricity and heat for several days, he began to worry about frozen pipes but wasn't sure what to do. The person to call, he realized, was Tom Lepley.
Lepley was out, helping other people. But as soon as he got home, he called back. Santa doesn't let anybody down.