It is now time to rest’

Hundreds gather to honor, recall late Rep. John Kivela

MARQUETTE — “Many people know him as a leader of community, as a champion of the (Upper Peninsula),” began Shelby Kivela at her father’s funeral Saturday. “But to those closest to him, we knew that he was really just a goofball who made too many inappropriate jokes, was always covered in dog hair, and loved deeper than most humans are capable of.”

Addressing hundreds, Shelby Kivela remembered her father smelling of motor oil, pulling pranks and as an extraordinary father and husband.

The Great Lakes Rooms at Northern Michigan University were filled to capacity for the open-casket funeral of Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, following his suicide Tuesday.

Today would have marked Kivela’s 48th birthday.

Shelby and others didn’t shy away from the struggle with alcoholism that marked Kivela’s passing, but focused primarily on the life of a man who gave generously of himself in humor, dedication and genuine love and friendship.

Dozens of Kivela’s colleagues made the several-hour trek to attend the service.

His Lansing roommate, state Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, spoke of Kivela as singularly unselfish among most “ego-centric” legislators.

“It was never about him, it was never about his party. It was about doing what he was there to do. It was about bringing results back to the Upper Peninsula,” Knezek said.

The bipartisan “U.P. Delegation,” made up of lawmakers Kivela, Scott Dianda, Tom Casperson and Ed McBroom, “changed the game about how you work together to get results in Lansing,” he said.

“That unity and that no-nonsense way of getting things done will be one of the hallmarks of John’s legacy, not just for now, but for decades to come. He was a man that was loved and respected by Democrats and Republicans alike for his infinite abilities to cut through all the noise and simply get results.”

Knezek listed Kivela’s legislative accomplishments and praised his work ethic, talking also about the way Kivela expanded other legislators’ vocabulary and sense of geography.

“The entire legislation learned about Oswald’s Bear Farm, Ore Dock brewing, the Jacobetti Home for Veterans, Donckers’ and so much more,” Knezek said. “I felt like I had personally known (Marquette County Commissioner) Johnny DePetro for years.”

He said the last words he exchanged with Kivela, just hours before his death, were “I love you.” At that time, Kivela was making a plan to resign, return home and get help, he said.

No one can know why Kivela made the decision he did, Knezek continued, but any time spent in anger and regret is wasted time that could be spent recalling memories with him.

He thanked Kivela’s family and the Marquette community for sharing Kivela with Lansing.

“I’ve spoken to my colleagues the last few days, and so I can say with complete confidence, John Kivela was hands-down one of the most effective and successful legislators that the state of Michigan has ever had in our 180-year history,” Knezek said. “That is how we’re going to remember John in Lansing. We’re going to remember him as our friend, as a funny, kind and gentle person, someone that we will miss dearly, a man who changed all of us, and a man who changed Lansing forever.”

Shelby Kivela reflected on humorous and touching moments with her dad, to belly laughs and tears from the audience.

She said the biggest part of who John Kivela really was “was a prankster and he was a man who loved to laugh at others.”

He was also a man who spent every Sunday with his family cooking meals, reading the news, playing tug-of-war with the dog, and driving to neighborhoods and properties that would be affected by upcoming votes on the Marquette Board of Zoning Appeals or the Marquette City Commission.

She read a letter Kivela wrote to his wife that said in part, “As our life has become more fun and full of love over the years, I attribute it to you, my first and only ever true love.”

Shelby also described the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary, when he surprised Sandy Kivela with a re-creation of their wedding at the gazebo at Presque Isle Park.

“My mom took a gamble on a 19-year-old boy who drove a $500 car, and he spent the rest of his life making sure she knew that everything he did was for her,” Shelby said. “My brother and I spent our lives rolling our eyes as they kissed and danced in the kitchen, or as my dad would compliment my mother’s — assets — right in front of us. We kept up the charade that we hated it, but we really knew deep down that they were setting an example of how love should really look.”

She said many people must be wondering why — why would a man who remarried his wife three years ago and is adored by a community leave us now?

“He was claimed by the disease of addiction, a demon he could no longer handle,” Shelby said. “There is no shame in a problem that does not prejudice against age, race, gender, socio-economic status or social standing. There is no reason to hide. My father lived a rich life and gave so much to the world. … It’s now time for our community to give back by tackling these issues, and we can only do that by continuing to tell these stories.”

Rev. Leon Jarvis, who led the ceremony, honored Kivela’s spiritual life as one “focused on that love of other” — first and foremost with his wife, children and those “damn dogs,” he said, referring to the Kivelas’ three St. Bernards.

Noting “that John Kivela smile,” Jarvis recalled how much fun he was to be around and Kivela’s uncanny ability to make people feel comfortable and important.

“John’s experience of spirituality was lived in the moment, lived in the mystery, lived by the heart. We couldn’t have asked for more. He couldn’t have asked for more,” Jarvis said. “It was just him, the uniqueness of him, and in doing that, what he did so well, many people were touched. So, good and faithful servant, you have done well, it is now time to rest.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is