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1:53 pm EDT 90°F (32°C) in Salisbury, NC
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Remembering Kenneth Charles ("Ken") Kelley, Jr.
b. November 16, 1930; Sharpsville, PA
d. July 21, 2005; Charlotte, NC
Freshly out of North Carolina's famous Duke University, Ken Kelley quickly learned the value of always seeing the humor in a situation. One of his early jobs as a writer covered the farm beat for a newspaper in Canton, OH; in a "memoirs" computer document he wrote many years later, he reminisced that he could reliably obtain quotes from different farmers, with one stating that not enough rain had slowed crop growth, and another one right down the road saying too much rain was to blame. He learned how to see the humor in apparent contradictions such as that.
Later in the 1950s, Ken and his children settled just outside Detroit, MI, where he would work for two Detroit newspapers (one of them now defunct) before deciding to become a freelance truck-industry journalist in 1971. By the time my personal recollection began in the mid-1980s, he had created a successful business for himself, with regular appearances in such widely-respected trucking publications as Heavy Duty Trucking. Of course, as a young child who couldn't resist pushing random buttons, I found his early word-processing machine fascinating on visits to my grandparents' house.
I remember a man who had the sharpest wit I have ever seen. I don't know if I can say I directly learned it from him, or necessarily tried to emulate it, but my preference for wry yet intelligent humor seems to have been passed down from him.
Until declining health stopped him, he loved to travel, particularly to Germany. He truly loved all things (at the time, West) German, and spoke the language with decent fluency. Additionally, he also traveled frequently to visit far-flung family members or to attend trucking-industry seminars, presentations, and shows.
In the mid-1980s, he developed a slight limp in his left leg that would be the first symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). He first relied on a cane, then for many years used a wheeled walker-like device that had its own padded seat. Eventually, as he started to lose the use of that leg and was more bound to an electric scooter, my grandparents decided to sell the Colonial-style house they owned and move to a ranch-style home in the place where they had attended college and first met — North Carolina. That way, he would have a much easier time getting around, with everything he needed all laid out on one floor. Finally, a couple of years ago, the scooter had to give way to a full-fledged powered wheelchair (the scooter was not designed to be used as a seat constantly, and wasn't terribly comfortable for long periods of sitting).
I had been able to make a handful of visits to their home near Charlotte since September 2003, and given the fact that he had written about trucks and I was now driving them, it always seemed to make his day (and toward the end, as dementia set in, helped him to be more lucid) to see or hear from me. In fact, just this past Tuesday evening, I had talked to both of my grandparents on their speaker-phone, and my grandmother told me yesterday when I visited that he was always curious as to where I was and where I was going to.
Finally, he was a passionate fan of Duke basketball, especially since the start of Mike Krzyzewski's brilliant coaching career. One of his most beloved winter-time activities, even through this past spring, was watching every Blue Devils game he could, and he loved nothing more than seeing Duke defeat the hated UNC Tar Heels. Although I don't believe he ever attended a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, at least not since graduating, Duke basketball has lost one of its more passionate fans.
Farewell and Godspeed, Ken Kelley.