KENNETT SQUARE—Dave McKeon, owner of Lester Water, can’t wait to start his mornings again at Philter or Talula’s with a great cup of coffee, the paper—and good friends, old and new. The kind of isolation necessitated by the pandemic has been a challenge for this gregarious man with a winsome gift for storytelling inherited from his Irish ancestors.
But taking necessary precautions has been important for McKeon and his wife Pat, who became proud grandparents twice over in 2020. His face lights up when he talks about his children, their spouses, and their new grandson and granddaughter—and he’s already eagerly signing up for grandfatherly duties.
He particularly enjoyed Historic Kennett Square’s parklet last summer and fall.
“You could see people and talk with them safely, with your masks on,” he says. Outdoor dining on East State Street was another bright spot for the McKeons. “We’d sit outside Byrsa Bistro on a beautiful evening,” he says, “enjoying the music and watching the community come out to support these restaurants. That’s the unique thing about Kennett—there’s a shared feeling that we’re going to get through this together.”
McKeon has seen Kennett Square come back to life over the decades, and he credits Leon Spencer, Mayor Fetick, Historic Kennett Square, and many business owners, nonprofits, and concerned citizens with this revitalization.
McKeon’s early-morning uptown coffee-shop routine began many years ago at Harrington’s Coffee—which opened first in the spot which then became Sunrise Café and is now Byrsa Bistro, and later moved to South Broad Street, in the space where Holly Peters now is. “I was there most days at 6:30 to see people and talk,” he says. “And when they closed, Carla gave me my mug. It was a very friendly place.”
By that time, Talula’s had opened, and then Philter. When Philter opened in 2013, McKeon and Dennis Melton were some of the first customers. They told owner Chris Thompson which newspapers he needed—and then they paid for the first month of subscriptions.
McKeon says trading and talking about the different sections of the newspaper—between the tables at Philter or across the big farm table at Talula’s—is a great way to meet people and strike up conversations.
Water Is Life
After graduating with a criminal justice major, McKeon worked for several years as a counsellor—first in a rehab facility with teens and then in the Glen Mills schools. “I loved the kids,” he says. “Teens can read people well and can spot a phony a mile away.”
They knew when they interacted with McKeon that, as he says with a smile, “what you see is what you get.” He and Pat met in college and were married at The Stone Barn in 1980.
Pat’s grandfather started Lester Water in 1951, and in 1982 Pat’s father asked his son-in-law to help grow the business and buy in as a partner. The transition was smooth for McKeon. “I had to learn about water chemistry, but working with people came naturally. Business is all about relationships,” he says.
“People buy from those they know and trust. My customers know that we sell and service water treatment equipment to ensure that the water coming from their tap is the cleanest, healthiest water possible, and they know that I’m a man of my word and will back up anything, no questions asked.”
The quality of the water we drink and use in our homes—for everything from cooking to laundry and bathing—directly affects our quality of life.
High-quality water makes a big difference in the taste of food when cooking and making coffee and tea, for instance. Lester Water offers a full range of systems and services tailored to each customer’s concerns, regardless of their water source. These solutions include reverse osmosis (RO) systems that remove most dissolved ions, including sodium ions, hardness, metallic ions, and also most suspended materials and bacteria, as well as ultraviolet light systems to purify well water and a full range of filters, softeners, pressure tanks, and well pumps.
Symptoms like dingy clothes, leaks, and loss of efficiency in a water heater are all easy to treat, McKeon says.
While chlorine is often used as an effective agent to kill bacteria in municipal water, it changes the taste of the water. “Kennett Square water is hard,” McKeon says. “You can see the white scale that builds up.” One way to see this, he says, is to leave a clear cup of tea out overnight.
“There’s nothing worse than a great meal accompanied by a glass of chlorinated drinking water,” he says. “RO produces water that’s like bottled water at your fingertips. And bringing a Yeti filled with your own tap water is not only less expensive than bottled water—it eliminates the plastic and so it’s better for the environment, too.”
Sustaining Sponsorship Helps the KSQ Farmers Market to Thrive
“I love supporting the community and local businesses,” McKeon says. “You get out of your community what you give back to your community.” He speaks from first-hand experience, as he’s invested in the Kennett community for decades now.
He remembers Talula’s Table, Lily’s, and others opening and bringing new life to Kennett Square. “Historic Kennett Square has done a great job promoting Kennett Square as a destination,” McKeon says. “It’s like a smaller version of West Chester with a more community feel. I’ve loved being involved in the life of the community and seeing these transformations.”
McKeon has not only witnessed these changes—he’s been part of making them happen as well. He’s been a Rotarian for 35 years and gives the example of how Longwood Rotary (of which he’s been a member for 24 years) gutted Bautista’s Upholstery on South Union Street and rehabbed it with heating, air conditioning, and bookcases so the transformed space could open as the Kennett Area Senior Center’s Kennett Resale Book Shoppe.
In addition to being a loyal Farmers Market sponsor, McKeon and Lester Water support the work of many other local organizations including the Senior Center, After-the-Bell, and KACS. In the early days of the Farmers Market, Abby Morgan Rex was looking for sponsorship to help grow this important community project.
“Dave was one of our very first sponsors,” she says. “His enthusiastic engagement and sincere appreciation of the farmers market has always stood out.”
McKeon knows that, like quality water, locally grown food not only tastes better but is also healthier, supports local growers and producers, and has important environmental benefits as well. He grew up in Scranton and first experienced farm-fresh food during one of his semesters at Mansfield State College when he and three friends spent a semester living on a dairy farm. “We had to help if the cows got out,” he says, laughing. “But I’d never had anything like that fresh milk before.”
When their daughter Erin decided to attend the University of Vermont, the McKeons were excited to discover the large, diverse, and thriving farmers market in Burlington. “We’d take bets on how long the warm cinnamon bread would stay in its wrapping once we got back in the car,” he says. Not long at all, as it turns out.
Then, when Erin did graduate work at Cornell, the McKeons fell in love with the even larger farmers market in Ithaca. “At the Kennett Square Farmers Market you’re buying from people who are part of the community,” McKeon says. “It’s the connection with people that’s important, to know the person who’s growing the food we eat.”
“The ongoing support of local businesses like Lester Water truly makes all the difference for our farmers market,” says KSQ Farmers Market Manager Ros Fenton. “This kind of sponsorship helps us cover operating costs, keep fees low for participating local farms and food producers, and expand the market’s reach. We’re so grateful to have committed sponsors like Dave investing in our community and the mission of the market.”
“Some people don’t realize that Historic Kennett Square is a 501c3 nonprofit, and that all of our programming—including the KSQ Farmers Market as well as Christmas in Kennett, the parklet, KSQ Restaurant Week, Third Thursdays, and our new Kennett Blooms initiative celebrating spring—is dependent on fundraising and sponsorship,” says HKS Executive Director Bo Wright. “At HKS we’re very intentional about making sure that every project we undertake helps to make Kennett a more beautiful and welcoming community where everyone can belong and prosper, and we’re looking forward to expanding the outreach of the Farmers Market in particular over the next few years. Generous sustaining sponsors like Dave McKeon and Lester Water enable us to do the work we do and to focus on expanding that work. We’re grateful for that regular annual model of sponsorship.”
Community Support Is Always in Season“We like them all,” McKeon says of the KSQ Farmers Market’s many talented and hardworking farmers and producers. He loves best the months when all of the locally grown fresh vegetables are at the market. “I really look forward to asparagus, sweet corn, tomatoes, and strawberries being in season,” he says. “I love a strawberry short cake!”
McKeon’s support of the Farmers Market and the community is a reflection of who he is, says Abby Morgan Rex. “Dave makes the world a brighter place wherever he goes. He’s a generous and kind-spirited person, and Kennett Square would not be the same without him. It’s a joy to see him interacting in public spaces and coffee shops, greeting people, asking about their lives, their family members. I’ve witnessed Dave paying for the cup of coffee or scone of the person in front of him or behind him in line at a coffee shop countless times—for friends and strangers alike! Oftentimes this creates a ripple effect of generosity, and others share his good will by paying it forward to the next person.”
And, of course, he always has great stories to share, too.
McKeon is proud of his Irish heritage and has loved exploring Ireland, finding the places where his forebears lived and, of course, meeting the people. It wasn’t until McKeon arrived with his family at Dublin airport several years ago, though, that he learned he’d been mispronouncing his name his entire life. The car rental agent told him he didn’t have a reservation for a Dave “McKē-än.” After a few anxious moments, he said that he did have a reservation for Dave “McKyōn.”
McKeon laughs as he tells this story. When you see him at the Farmers Market, or at Philter or Talula’s or on the parklet this spring, be sure to ask him how he got on with that car rental!