Orphy Klempa, Ex-Lawmaker, Local Labor Leader, Dies at 70
WHEELING — Friends are describing longtime community servant and politician Orphy Klempa as “a gentleman” and family man who was kind to all and cared for his community.
Klempa, 70, a former state legislator and Ohio County commissioner, passed away early Monday at Wheeling Hospital.
Those closest to him remembered him as a family man who was committed to the community. He spent much of his life championing labor, and seeking fair treatment for all people.
He leaves behind his wife, Mary Jo, and a large family.
Klempa began his work career as a coal miner, and later became a union carpenter.
He worked his way up through the ranks to become business representative for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters in 1995, and this position would lead to him also being co-chairman of Project BEST.
Klempa next embarked on a career in politics, first being elected to a 3rd District West Virginia House of Delegates seat in 2006. In 2010, voters elected him to represent the 1st District in the State Senate.
In 2012, Klempa was appointed to the Ohio County Commission seat being vacated by now Circuit Judge David Sims. He would be elected to the commission seat in November of that year, and go on to serve a full six-year term through the end of 2018.
After being elected commissioner, Klempa resigned his Senate seat and retired from his position with the carpenter’s union.
Attorney Rocky Fitzsimmons succeeded Klempa in the State Senate, and he called Klempa a mentor.
“Often when I faced a difficult situation, I would ask myself, ‘What would Orphy do?'” Fitzsimmons said. “I found you couldn’t go wrong with that answer.”
He said he was saddened Monday to learn of Klempa’s death.
“He was a close personal friend of mine, a model for me for many things,” Fitzsimmons said. “He was a great father, a great citizen of our community, and a great senator and commissioner.
“When I think of Orphy, kindness comes to mind. He was a class act. In a day when we seem to have lost all civility, he was a role model in how to treat people.”
Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton served with Klempa during his term as commissioner.
“He was a gentleman,” Wharton said of Klempa. “He was easy to work with, and very knowledgeable. He was a friend for many years.”
Wharton, Klempa, and former Commissioner Tim McCormick were the three county commissioners during Klempa’s tenure.
“He was a gentleman in every sense of the word,” McCormick said. “His heart was for taking care of people and getting things done for them.
“My heart goes out to his family — especially Mary Jo. They were very close.”
John Saunders, staff representative for the United Steelworkers Union, and Klempa often fought side-by-side on labor issues over the years.
“I will miss him,” he said. “(Klempa) wore many hats. In the labor movement. What he and (former Project Best co-chairman) Tom Cerra did with Project Best really put credibility in the trades.
“And during his time in the political process he was a true gentleman. He was a public servant for the right reasons, and he did it with class.”
Klempa also sought to find the middle ground with those whose ideas differed from his, and he had few to no enemies, according to Saunders.
“Those in labor and politics are blessed to have been around him, and the state and this area lost a good man,” he said. “We should all try to do the things Orphy did to make the world better.”
Ohio County Magistrate George Fahey previously served alongside Klempa as co-chairman of the Ohio County Democratic Party.
“He had the county at heart,” Fahey said. “He was a good, generous person. It’s a shame he had to pass away at such a young age.
“I hope for the best for Mary Jo and his family.”
Former state senator and now U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld had close dealings with Klempa over the years.
“He was a very dedicated public servant for many years and always had the best interest of constituents in mind,” Ihlenfeld said. “I was sad when he was no longer holding public office, and certainly sad when I heard he passed away. It’s a big loss.”
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, succeeded Klempa in the House of Delegates. She said she always worked well with Klempa and saw him as someone always willing to reach across the party aisle in Charleston.
“He was a great friend and mentor to me,” she said. “He also was one of my bosses at the chamber on the executive committee, and he provided support to me as president.
“This truly leaves a hole in the community. My heart breaks for his family. His smile that could light up a room will be missed,” Storch said.
Family and friends will be received from noon to 8 p.m. Friday at Altmeyer Funeral Home, 154 Kruger St., Elm Grove. Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, with interment at Mt. Calvary Cemetery.