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Concord resident died while kayaking on Turkey Pond, ‘his favorite place’

Last modified: 12/12/2015 12:46:21 AM
On Thursday afternoon, just five hours after learning John Stapler’s body had been retrieved from Turkey Pond, his wife and two grown children spoke freely about his ties to both the military and his community.

Stapler, a retired lieutenant colonel, left his home on Hopkinton Road on Wednesday morning at 10, his family said. He cut through his backyard to kayak on the pond near St. Paul’s School, as he had done countless times before.

He never returned, though, prompting friends and state officials to search until after dark Wednesday night. Stapler’s children, Sean Stapler and Meg Turner, flew in from Virginia after midnight and continued looking for their father through the wee hours and past sunrise.

State Police Marine Patrol divers resumed their search and found Stapler about 10:30 Thursday morning in 12 feet of water, 30 yards from shore, his family said. Sean Stapler and Turner, still on the scene, walked back to their home, less than a mile away, and told their mother the news.

Stapler was 68.

Officials hadn’t confirmed a cause of death by late afternoon Thursday. Stapler’s wife and children, sitting in their living room, wondered aloud if he’d fallen in the pond and suffered hypothermia.

“He always picked up trash out of the water, and we found four or five pieces of trash in the kayak,” Sean said. “It’s just a theory, but maybe he reached out and overextended himself.”

Turner said her father’s kayak might have tipped over after moving on to ice, which she said was visible from the shore. Stapler wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

“He was stubborn,” Turner said.

Stapler, who grew up in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, joined the Army and was leaving for Vietnam in 1970 when he met his future wife, Carol, at a party at Ohio University, which they both attended.

“He had just gotten out of ranger school,” said Carol, who works part-time at the State House. “He didn’t have a lot of hair. He looked tough.”

The two corresponded until Stapler came home from the war in 1971. He had planned to become a lawyer but thought service to his country was more important.

“He felt needed and he had a great heart for soldiers,” Carol said.

“He was good at taking care of soldiers and keeping their lives on track,” Sean added.

After they married, the young couple bounced around the world as Stapler’s Army career and education pushed his resume to two pages.

He was stationed in Germany, Italy, Latin America, the Pacific Rim, Oklahoma, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Kentucky, before settling in Concord 30 years ago, when his two children were still in school.

Stapler served in military leadership roles in recruiting, training, ROTC teaching, policymaking and operation planning. He earned a master’s degrees in business management and international relations, and he influenced his children as well.

Sean, in fact, is a major in the Army and has served for 11 years. Turner is a former Army captain who now home schools her three children. Her husband is a lieutenant colonel.

Stapler taught his children at a young age how to paddle, in both kayaks and canoes. He also coached Sean in youth baseball.

“He was the spirit of the team,” emailed former Monitor editor Mike Pride, who coached with Stapler in little league. “He gave the boys nicknames – Goose, Gizzie, Sean-Dog – and was always so positive with them, a joy to be around. He made baseball fun, even in Concord in April.”

Stapler, Pride wrote, strung bones and feathers on a strap for a talisman and hung it in the dugout. “When one of our kids got a hit or made a good play, we rattled the bones,” Pride wrote. “Some of the other coaches didn’t like it, but of course our kids loved it.”

Added Turner, “He was a little kid when little kids were around.”

With adults, though, he was cerebral and sharp, according to family members, who said they couldn’t beat him in chess.

“He had a strategic mind,” Turner said. “He could see the pattern forming in front of him.”

With all his interests, though, paddling his four kayaks and canoe stood out as perhaps his favorite activity. His dog, Gunner, could sometimes be seen jumping out of the canoe and into the water.

Stapler and his wife, Carol, often went to Turkey Pond together, with Stapler speeding away toward Clinton Street, leaving Carol behind.

This week, Stapler went alone. He had a doctor’s appointment Wednesday at 1 p.m., but never came home. Before his children had flown here from their homes in Virginia, friends and New Hampshire National Guardsmen – Joshua Roberts, Cory Dix, Kyle McCrum, Dave Weeten and Mike Miller – had joined the search.

They regrouped at the Stapler house at 2 a.m., shortly after Sean and Turner had driven in from the airport, then went back out until the sun rose.

His body was found thereafter.

“He died at one of his favorite places,” Turner said.

“It was his favorite place,” said Sean.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.
com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)


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