A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

November 10, 2020

In Memoriam Violet Kempinski

Post Op-session dinner

The  Aquia Line has lost a key member yesterday.  Mom passed after a tough fight with respiratory and congestive heart failure. She took on this final challenge like she did most things in her life, giving it her all. 

Mom admiring Tony Koester's portable O Scale layout
Many of you knew mom from my operating sessions, which she frequently helped co-host, as well as attending numerous model railroad shows with me. She loved meeting new people and seeing new things. She was the perfect railfan companion as she didn't mind waiting trackside for hours with her knitting as long as we ate good food and stayed away from steep mountain roads. 

A loving mom, she lived for her children, husband and her mother. We feel God gifted mom with a long and productive life as she devoted nearly 20 years to caring for her mother. She gave her sick mother total attention, feeding, cleaning and dressing her for years, and she did so without complaint and total devotion. She showed the same love and loyalty to her husband, Robert, and her four children, Bernard and Robert (the twins), Marco and Marlana.

Mom saw an amazing series of events during her life, including the Depression, World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the onset of the Space Program, and the Information Age. Throughout she truly represented the greatest generation, learning and adapting to significant lifestyle changes. She even tried her hand at texting and Facebook while in her 90s. If we saw a text message with a bunch of emojis, it was from Mom, she enjoyed sending them.  

Mom in Cuba in lste 1940s 

She managed to get around visiting several continents. In the late 1940s she traveled to Cuba for a vacation – not a common thing for a single woman in those years. 

She visited me when I was stationed in Germany twice in the 1980s. She befriended my landlord, Frau Forster. The two of them took the train to Nürnberg while I was working. It must have been a hoot as mom didn't speak German and Frau Forster didn't speak English, but they managed just fine. She visited many sights in Germany including Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden where she hid her head under the bus seat during the precarious ride to the top of the mountain on a road built by Italian laborers provided by Mussolini. She accompanied me with a bus load of US Army combat engineers as we toured the Iron Curtain on the East German border. Never before were US soldiers on a road trip so well behaved. 

I took her to a German-American Military Ball at a candle-lit castle where she became the guest of honor. When the German Commanding Colonel introduced himself  he took mom's hands, clicked his heels while curtly bowing his head, I thought she would faint. She danced with all the German officers that night, ate smoked eel, and acted as a mother to the wives of the American officers in our group. It was a fairy tale of a night. 

Visiting the Iron Curtain along the East German border 
with a platoon of US Army Combat Engineers
She and I toured Italy twice in the 1980s. With Italian immigrants as parents, mom was bi-lingual.  I was amused when a little boy in Venice who was confused by her accent asked, "what part of Italy are you from?" "Brooklyn," I replied. An English couple we met in St Mark's Cathedral were charmed by her New York accent and said, "you sound just like the people in Taxi (a popular TV Show at the time)."  We visited her distant relatives in Rome and Naples and saw the graves of her ancestors. Her parents grew up on the eastern slopes of Mount Vesuvius. With our cousin we took a tour of Capri and drove the Almafi highway, albeit at 5 miles per hour as the road on the sheer cliff terrorized her.

I never forget her reaction to the rest rooms on the Autostrada where the facilities consisted of a hole in the ground with two foot prints. 

People seemed to like her right away. Once while we were admiring the dishes on display at a restaurant in Venice, the owner invited us to eat with his staff as he closed the door behind us. 

In 2002 mom and my brother traveled to Japan shortly after our Dad died and she had her second hip replaced. Despite some pain, she took on the challenge of walking quite a bit around Japan. They had the privilege of visiting the Japanese Imperial Palace bonsai collection. While standing inside of the palace, she said, with her typical wonder, “Never in my life did I ever think I’d be standing in the Japanese Imperial Palace.”  It must have been hard for WW2 survivor to take in but it illustrates the breadth of her life. In typical mom fashion, while on the trip she befriended an elderly Japanese industrialist who shocked her when he kissed her.

Anything Italian was great to her and my brothers and sister grew up with wonderful Italian cooking.  Sunday sauce, which took all day to simmer, filled our home with a great aroma. Grandpa’s Italian pastry recipes (Grandpa was a successful baker in New York city) led to a whole host of delicious confections – Italian wheat pie, cannoli, sfogliatella  and her favorite, cream puffs.   In her last hours we played her Pavarotti as his music brought her joy.

In addition to being a great cook, she had incredible skills as a seamstress. Whether it was shirts, dresses, pants, ski gaiters, or a fishing vest – she could make it. We remember her sewing prototype dresses for major NY fashion designers. When their pattern didn’t make sense she’d figure out how to accomplish the design. Supporting designers like that she had a tremendous work ethic and many times worked all night to meet the deadline. And she was so good the designers and factory managers let her work remotely from home so she could care for her mom, a pioneer in teleworking. She sewed all the skirts for my layout. She also helped make many of the wire trees. But mostly, she keep me and my crew well fed.

As the last of her generation in her family, she leaves a hole in our hearts, but her love and devotion lingers in the ones she left behind. And one thing is for sure, the food in Heaven is going to taste a lot better with her cooking.

Violet Maria Kempinski March 27, 1924 – November 9, 2020


  1. What a great tribute to your MOM, Bernie!! My deepest sympathy to you, your family, and your extended family. Sounds like she was a great lady, mom, and companion. She died on my birthday.

    Best regards, Amby

  2. Bernie, Sorry for your loss of your mother. She was a wonderful person. You have some greatmemories and photos.

  3. Hi Bernie, sorry for you loss. It is always hard when we lose a family member especially a mom. You have put together a great tribute to her. All the best and stay safe...George

  4. Bernie,

    God Bless You and your family and the memories you now cherish of a great woman. --Bill Decker

  5. My deepest condolences, Bernie. What a lovely tribute.

  6. Bernie,
    What a wonderful tribute!
    I meet her a couple of times - as our mutual friend Tom Pierpoint would say "she was a hoot!"
    You were lucky to have such a wonderful Mother. And you know what? She had a good son.

  7. Bernie, a wonderful tribute to a life well lived. We always loved seeing your mom - I still remember her visit to our house where she was pinned between two Basset Hounds - and she (and they!) loved every minute of it!

  8. Bernie,
    I am so sorry for your loss. Your mom has been on my mind since the pandemic has hit us. As your dinner photo shows, I DID enjoy her cooking, but even more, her company. She was always checking up on Raisin whenever I'd see her at one of your ops or work sessions. Your tribute adds depth to her background as she was always eliciting our stories while sharing her recipes. May we all have attitudes as positive as hers.

    John Barry

  9. My condolences Bernie on the passing of you mother. It sounds like hers was certainly a life well lived and you will always have those great memories.

  10. I'm sorry for your loss Bernie. I always enjoyed how "mom" was folded into your posts and she certainly had quite the backstory. Dealing with eldercare myself, it appears your mom's life was certainly well lived and loved until the end. RIP Violet. Though I never knew you, I felt like I did.

  11. My condolences, Bernie. It was a wonderful tribute that you wrote. Thank you for sharing.