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Natalia Alexeevna Kempers (1923-2004)

Natalia Alexeevna Kempers.  Photo by Sheila McCarthy

As those of you who live in the Waterville area know, we all lost a dear friend and active member with the passing of Natalia Alexeeevna* Kempers on September 22. She passed away peacefully at the Lakewood Manor Nursing Home in Waterville.

She was born in Zemun, Yugoslavia, on October 7, 1923, the daughter of Alexei Borisevich and Lydia von Ranchner, White Russian émigrés. She married Frank Michael Reilly in 1946 in Regensburg, Germany, and they came to the United States the same year. They made their home in the Washington, D.C., are where they raised their four children. While in Washington, D.C., Natalia was a Russian language teacher for the federal government.

In 1973 she married John Kempers and moved to Waterville. She worked at the Colby library and was a wonderful friend and tutor to generations of students of her beloved Russian language.

Natalia was a founding member of the Kotlas Connection. It was largely a result of her research that Kotlas was chosen as a match for the Waterville Area Sister City Connection. It was she who addressed a post card to the office of the mayor of Kotlas. Ironically, it was the colorful stamps on the post card that caught the attention of someone in the mayor's office that resulted in a personal correspondence with Natalia.

Five years later, in 1989, Natalia was one of three Waterville area residents who visited Kotlas, until then a closed city. She would again visit Kotlas in 1991 and 1993, and for many years acted as translator for the many correspondences that arose through the connection. In 2001, the Kotlas Connection honored Natalia as its volunteer of the year at the REM Community Awards Ceremony for her role in forging the sister city relationship.

She is survived by her four children from her first marriage: Adrian, Vladimir, and Mark Reilly; and Erika Esche. She is also survived by three stepchildren and a twin sister Marina Alexeevna Tate of New York City.

Natalia was buried on September 24 in Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville. One of the family's favorite pictures of Natalia was that of her with children from the Kotlas Baby Orphanage. They therefore requested that donations be made in her name to that organization. They may be channeled through us at P.O. Box 1747, Waterville, ME 04903

The preceding article was adapted from Natalia's obituary. Below are condolences from three members of the Waterville Committee, all of whom are current or retired English teachers who have visited Waterville. We begin with Inna Tushina:

Unfortunately, we learned that Natalia Kempers had died, discussed that sad news and shared our reminiscences of this wonderful person, who had been at the roots of arranging friendly relations between our nations, setting sister-city connections between Kotlas and Waterville. It was Natalia Kempers who opened America for the Russians and Russia for the Americans. We present our condolences to her son Mark, her other relatives and [those] near her. We share this grief and sadness with you. Natalia Kempers will stay in our memory for good as a great optimist with a big loving heart, as an honest peace-maker. I thank my lucky stars to have met this wonderful lady and received her heartfelt letters.

And now, Zinaida Yegorova:

Yesterday we received the news of Natalia Alexeevna. So sad! We will always remember this . . . woman with her positive and creative personality and her kindness to all humans. I hope she really will be in paradise and pray for all of us as she said at her last meeting with you. And we shall pray for her.

Lyubov Zinovkina wrote:

I was saddened to hear of the death on Natalia Alexeevna. Please accept my deepest sympathy in this time of sorrow. She was a wonderful woman, and all members of our Committee (the Waterville Committee in Kotlas) and all of our citizens will miss her.