Who becomes a charter member of the Key Peninsula Historical Society at the age of 14? Joins the Key Peninsula Civic Center board at 20 and goes on to serve as board president three times? Has the foresight to plant shade trees at Volunteer Park 30 years ago? Prunes a stressed tree in the middle of Key Center to bring it to Christmas-tree-ready glory, and then strings the lights? Hosts a historical tour bus ride to support fundraising for a local nonprofit?
That would be Tim Kezele, lifelong Key Peninsula resident and volunteer, who was honored Feb. 2 as a Rotary Star. The dinner celebration, now in its 12th year and hosted by the three local Rotary clubs, recognizes non-Rotarians who exemplify their motto of service above self.
Kezele was nominated by the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor North. The Morning Club nominated Rick Bennett and the Midday Club nominated Wallace and Cammie Watts. A $1,000 contribution will be made to the Rotary Foundation in each nominee’s name, making them Paul Harris Fellows. Money raised at the dinner will be divided among the nominees and donated to the charity of their choice. Kezele designated the Key Peninsula Civic Center Association.
“Community engagement has always been a part of it all,” Kezele said. “It’s a feel-good thing whether it’s the person next door or the larger community.”
Kezele grew up on the Key Peninsula. His father, a Tacoma policeman, closed the deal on their Filucy Bay house the day after he was born.
The family moved to Tacoma when he was 5 but first spent that summer in a travel trailer at the newly opened Penrose State Park. He and his brother played on the beach and in the woods.
“A family with five kids ran the concession stand,” he said. “It was great.”
He spent every weekend and summer at the family’s 7.5 acres on Joe's Bay. Kezele said he remembered the Sunday of the purchase. His dad had $14 in his pocket, paid $2 for the Narrows toll, made a $12 down payment with a promissory note written in pencil, and went to the bank the next day. When he was 14, the family returned to live there full-time.
Kezele started earning money doing yard work. He biked to and from Joe’s Bay to jobs on Filucy Bay, often stopping at the Lakebay Marina for a milkshake along the way.
He joined the fledgling Key Peninsula Historical Society after reading an announcement in the Peninsula Gateway. At 14 he was more than a generation younger than anyone else in the room.“I’m the last surviving charter member,” he said. Kezele bounced around a bit after graduating from Peninsula High School.
A note on the bulletin board at the Longbranch Marina led to a job as caretaker for the Faraway Estate on Filucy Bay, owned then by Bill Parker of Parker Pens. He was also the building custodian for the Longbranch Improvement Club. After attending a Pioneer Days event at the civic center his brother suggested he join the board. Kezele did just that, leading to his longstanding involvement, serving as president three times, working with the fledgling parks department — he served one term as a Key Peninsula Metropolitan Parks commissioner — and continuing as a member of its executive committee.
Kezele said the civic center was purchased from the Peninsula School District in 1956 with $9,600 raised at a spaghetti dinner. “And now look,” he said. “The Children’s Home Society used to be the boys’ locker room. The museum is there. The regular activities like skate night, the toddler indoor park, and yoga.”
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Kezele worked at the Tides Tavern and loved the sense of community there. “We had so much fun.”
Kezele went to Clover Park Technical College to study landscape management and horticulture. “That school I liked,” he said, contrasting it with his high school experience. He started his own landscaping business.
He married his first wife in 1984 and they moved to Jackson Lake — it was the cut-off for commuting distance to her job in Tacoma. He worked for the Rhododendron Species Foundation and many individuals. He spent 18 years at the University of Puget Sound and was head of grounds maintenance when he left in 2003.
He divorced, remarried, and returned to self-employment but focused on the pruning work that he loves. He and his wife PJ still live on Jackson Lake.
Kezele, who calls himself a member of the aches and pains club, semi-retired a few years ago, is the proud grandfather of two, and can’t quite turn down requests for pruning. He loves the “Get it done” spirit of the Key Peninsula. “In Gig Harbor, people rip out their checkbook,” he said. “Here people pitch in. People help each other.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS