MORRIS – John Kleinfeldt may be the only person in Morris who knows the original colors of the 120-year-old Marshall B. Wilson heritage home on the corner of Jackson and Calhoun Streets.
“It was painted sage green, mustard yellow and had a deep red accent – it was really beautiful,” Kleinfeldt said. “People at the historical society may argue that it was always white, but I know. I stripped all of the paint and found the colors.”
Kleinfeldt was the first painter to bring color back to the iconic Victorian home, now painted blue and white.
The life-long Morris resident has owned a painting and wallpaper business in Morris for nearly 45 years, but as of Tuesday, the well-known and respected painter has retired.
“I have officially hung up the brush,” he joked.
Kleinfeldt’s paint brush may not have covered every home in Morris, but it has covered quite a few, including several downtown businesses. He specialized in faux finishes and artistic murals for residential homes, but also painted several building exteriors.
“I always remember him wearing white,” said Kleinfeldt’s daughter, Sarah Fisher.
He said his most memorable job was repainting the exterior of the Wilson heritage home several years ago.
“It was always just white, and, in my opinion, boring,” Kleinfeldt said. “A Queen Victoria home has to be more than just white.”
After weeks of trying, he finally convinced the owner to paint the home a peach color with pumpkin orange accents. Since then, the home has been painted blue.
“I was so tired of white,” Kleinfeldt said. “People want to make things simple, but I want to make them beautiful.”
Every job Kleinfeldt has worked since childhood has required him to paint in some capacity. When he worked as a lifeguard for the Morris pool, they asked him to repaint the pools. In the Navy, his first assignment was painting a docked ship for seven months.
“I resisted it for a while, but it seemed like no matter what I tried, I would always end up painting,” he said. “Actually, the first book my parents ever bought me was called ‘900 Buckets of Paint,’ and it was about a painter. I guess maybe it was meant to be.”
After working a painting and plastering apprenticeship with a local union, Kleinfeldt began his own business in Morris.
He put an ad in the paper, but said he went four weeks without a single phone call. In the meantime, his family struggled to make ends meet.
“It was really hard in the beginning,” he said. “We had two young kids and we actually had to go on food stamps for a while.”
When he finally worked his first major job, word spread throughout Morris and Kleinfeldt had more work than he could handle.
“I had to take my ad out because I had more work than I could keep up with,” Kleinfeldt said. “I didn’t need to put another ad in the paper for 14 years.”
Aside from painting, Kleinfeldt can do carpentry and plaster work.
“He’s more than a painter, he’s a great carpenter, too,” said Rich Hexdall, owner of Fruland Funeral Home in Morris. “It was nice because I didn’t have to get delayed with the carpenter. I could just call John and he’d take care of it.”
Kleinfeldt said he has worked on Fruland Funeral Home for almost 40 years.
“John’s really great. It’s like they say, one in a million,” Hexdall said. “It’s just a shame that he has to quit.”
Kleinfeldt said after dealing with several knee problems, he is ready for retirement, although he admitted that retirement will be busy for him.
After his wife passed away, Kleinfeldt bought a smaller house he is in the process of remodeling. He also builds boats as a hobby, and goes on a missions trip with his church every summer where he teaches children painting and carpentry and helps build houses.
He said he also looks forward to spending time with his two children and grandchildren who live about three blocks away.
“Now that I’m actually retired, I don’t know how I ever had the time for work,” Kleinfeldt said. “I have so much going on.”