MATT C. KARPEN
(Oct. 3, 1886 – Dec. 22, 1972)
Matt Karpen was born the ninth child in a poor family of eleven children. His family’s poverty led him to frequently skipping school and at age 11 he was caught shoplifting food and sent to Red Wing Training School. That year of incarceration gave him a basic education and instilled in him a drive to succeed. He deliberately set out to strengthen his body which came in handy when he purchased a drayline business. This business was not much of a challenge so when he saw Peter Koppes chiseling a stone marker in a cemetery one day then later carving a cornerstone on a building, Matt knew he wanted to try that. He apprenticed with Koppes Marble and Granite Company, eventually buying it in 1919 and changed the name to Kapen Monument Works.
When he was young, Matt would skip school to be outdoors and he kept this love of the outdoors his whole life. He was introduced to big game hunting in 1908 and became so good at it he eventually organized his own hunting parties.
Matt married Katherine Schlirf in June of 1914. In 1917 they moved into a house on River Street on Swede Hill overlooking Lake Rebecca. This house, moved in 1857 into Hastings from Nininger, sat on almost a square block of land with a two-story house, barn and tool shed. This house, with its many windows, overlooked an area of natural beauty which Matt and his family, now including a daughter, deeply relished. Daughter Tecla continues to live in the house. Today, five acres of the property are in Dakota County Conservation Easements in perpetuity.
Between 1938-1958 Matt Karpen served Hastings as intermittent Police Chief for 13 years. At that time the position of Chief of Police was a political appointment made by the existing mayor with a very minimal budget. Matt’s commonsense attitudes and work ethic made him a good choice for a small town Police Chief.
Matt Karpen also served as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 148. This troop was organized by two priests to help unify the Catholics in the town and overcome the Old Irish Catholics versus German Catholics feud. These scouts went on to earn many merit badges and participate in a drill squad and a drum and bugle corps.
In August 1943 Chief Karpen participated in a search for a murder weapon. Dakota County and Ramsey County Sheriffs had searched for 3 days but had not found the weapon. Matt re-enacted the scene where the murderer had thrown the knife out his car window while driving 30 mph along the Mendota Road. Chief Karpen with his crew of Boy Scouts and street kids took less than half an hour to find the knife.
Another oft-remembered community contribution by Matt Karpen was his famous toboggan slide. The slide began behind the Karpen home and sloped steeply down to Lake Rebecca beach. Each year for 22 years Matt created an ice-coated shute that provided a thrilling ride for hundreds of sledders. Most of those enjoying the ride didn’t know of the physical hard work and careful planning for safety that the toboggan ride entailed. During the summer months, Matt allowed City residents the free use of the sand beach on Lake Rebecca that was part of his property.
In 1948 the Veterans and Legion organizations wanted to construct a more permanent monument to Hastings’ war veterans. Matt Karpen volunteered to help design and carve the names into stone for the cost of materials. He did this within a very short time frame so a dedication ceremony could be held on Memorial Day. He completed this job even though it was an arduous physical task for the then 62 year old man.
In his later years Karpen was named Hastings’ Eminent Citizen of the Year and Distinguished Citizen of the State of Minnesota. A testimonial dinner was given in his honor when he retired from the Police Department in 1958 and was attended by Minnesota’s Governor and Mrs. Luther Youngdahl.
Matt Karpen died on December 22, 1972 and is buried at St. Boniface Cemetery.