The phone rang Tuesday night while I was sitting in my living room chair watching TV. The unrecognizable number flashed on the television screen. I was content to simply let it go to voice mail, but wife Terri thought otherwise and answered it.
“Hello,” I heard her say. “Yeah, sure, he’s right here, hold on.”
She then handed me the phone with this “I-don’t-know-but-they-asked-for-you” look on her face.
I cringed as I grabbed the phone.
“Hello,” I said.
“KRAUT you old root!,” the voice on the other end belted out.
“B! How the hell are you?”
“B” is Bob Kearney. We go back a long ways, back to our high school and college days. Although Bob was a couple of years ahead of me in school, our paths crossed many times because of sports — especially baseball where he was a player and then a coach of the Connie Mack League Olathe Rebels. Bob, while attending Olathe High School and the University of Kansas, also was the sports editor at The Olathe Daily News.
He made quite a name for himself, taking a job with the Miami Herald and then was the public relations director for the Miami Dolphins during their glory years with coach Don Shula. Following a stint as assistant athletic director at LSU, he went back to the Miami Herald and now resides in the mountains of North Carolina.
I haven’t seen B in quite awhile.
“I’ve got some sad news, Kraut,” he said. “Ken died on Aug. 8.”
For many years, Ken Love’s name was synonymous with The Olathe Daily News first as sports editor and then managing editor. He also was the founder and manager of the Olathe Rebels baseball team and a key figure in the start of the Connie Mack League in the Kansas City area. For more than 40 years he served as the assistant and eventually the head of the stat crew for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the Associated Press representative for Kansas during three summer Olympics.
Ken was actively involved in the community, too, serving a term as president of the Olathe Chamber. He was instrumental in starting and organizing Olathe Day at the Royals, which for many years involved thousands of Olathe fans and 40 to 50 school buses to transport them to the game. He initiated and organized Olathe’s first sister city, Chur, Switzerland, and led an Olathe delegation to present officials there a large photo album of Olathe.
Ken certainly was a friend to youth, starting the Rebels in the mid-1960s for those unable to make the, then-powerful, American Legion team. By 1967, the Rebels had become the team to play for traveling to different parts of the United States to play baseball games, competing for league and state titles and twice coming within one out of qualifying for the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, NM.
After playing a year with the American Legion, I switched teams and played two seasons for Ken and Bob on the Rebels. What fun. What memories. In 1967 we toured and played baseball in the south and had a great time in New Orleans. We had a caravan of about 5 cars flying rebel flags and with rebel tags on the front bumpers and our route took us past a Civil Rights march in Mississippi. We stopped to take in this piece of history and the FBI, with guns showing, told us to stay put.
Ken explained that we were simply a baseball on our way to New Orleans to play some games. Turned out that the FBI had been following us because they thought we were planning to confront the marchers. We made the national news with Walter Cronkite.
In 1968, we flew to California where we played on some of the best groomed fields, and where we enjoyed Disneyland and some of our players got caught in an undertow while at the beach and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.
And everyone had nicknames. I was Kraut, because Kurtz is a German name; B was for Bob; Dennis Mayes was Gomer; Jack Mallet was Hammer; Mike Newson was Frog; and even Dan Bowerman, our batboy then, was called Flea. And Ken, well, he enjoyed a television show starring Jack Lord called Stoney Burke about a rodeo cowboy. So we started calling him Stoney, which eventually was shortened to just “Stone.”
Ken also gave me my first job in journalism: writing articles for local Little League Baseball games and Pop Warner football games. I was a junior at Olathe High School. About three months into my “career” the newspaper’s photographer quit. Ken handed me the camera and told me I was now the newspaper’s photographer, a job I did until doing a two-stint in the Army.
When I returned, I went back to the newspaper where Ken was still managing editor to see if there were any job openings. There were none, but as he and I talked the paper’s photographer came in and quit. Ken looked at me. I looked at Ken. I got the job and was with the newspaper through all kinds of changes for the next 33 years.
Stone was a lot of fun to work for even though at times he could be temperamental. He once fired me because we disagreed over a photo I had taken. I came back to work the next day just like he knew I would. He would conduct late-night trivia contests with the night crew after the paper was on the press.
It was probably three years ago the last time I saw Stone. Terri and I had just finished eating dinner at one of the casino restaurants and were walking out the door as Ken came in.
“Stone! How are you?” I asked and waved.
Ken smiled, nodded and said hi, but he had this “I-know-I-know-you-but-I-can’t-think-of-who-you-are” look in his eyes, and he kept walking. Then last year I heard that he was ill and moved back to his hometown of Fulton, Mo., where his sister helped care for him until his death.
“I’m really sorry to hear that,” I told B on the phone. “You know, it’s strange, but for the last week I’ve been thinking a lot about him, about the Rebels, and about how The Daily News used to be important to Olathe back in the day.”
There’s going to be a memorial for Ken this Sunday in Fulton. You can read about it as well as his obituary by clicking here. He suffered from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was 74.
B and I reminisced for more than an hour. We had some solemn moments, but we also shared a lot of laughs, too.
Thanks for the good memories, Stone.
Filed under: Chuck's Feature Columns Tagged: | American Legion, Associated Press, Bob, Bob Kearney, Chuck Kurtz, Johnson County KS news, Ken, Ken Love, Miami Herald, Olathe, olathe daily news, Olathe KS news, United States