Thursday, July 10, 2008

Uncle Kenny

It's been a sad week for us here at Child of the Fort.

Monday evening, my mother-in-law, Judy, called to tell us that her brother Ken had died. Although death is always inevitable, this was one piece of news that took us completely by surprise.

Kenny (that's what we called him) was 70 years old. Honestly, I had no idea that he was 'that old'.

I say 'that old' because when I was a youngster, 70 to me and my sister meant a stereotype that went something like this:

* Can't hear unless spoken to in a very loud voice
* Eats with their dentures out
* Eats only smashed up foods
* Can only walk with a walker or cane
* Can't see much or glasses (lenses of glasses) are like coke bottles

Kenny must have been a "young" 70 because this man was an active, social, caring member of the Fort Wayne community. Never one to sit/stand still, he was all over the place - his fingers in all the parts and pieces of the pie.

After his mom and dad passed (the late Bernice Hobson Wiesenberg and Carl O. Wiesenberg), Kenny and his wife Robin, moved back to Fort Wayne to be closer to the rest of the family. Kenny, who had graduated from North Side High School in 1955, knew more about Fort Wayne than most folks. Ask him about people, places, or things - the man could tell you in minute details - that's how sharp his memory was.

Upon his return to the Fort, he immediately became involved in the community. Like his parents, Kenny was very attached to his German roots and he was an active member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and the Fort Wayne German Club.

But his involvement with the city he loved, didn't stop there. He was a member of the Mannerchor and Philharmonic Choirs, Foellinger Theatre Advisory Board, and on the Sister Cities Board of Directors.

My husband Mike, was very close to his Uncle Kenny. In fact, it used to be a running joke that his name was Kenny because at family gatherings, Grandma Wiesenberg would get Mike and Kenny mixed up all of the time. That's because they were both a strong presence in the room, they carried on these highly, intellectual conversations (think trivial pursuit meets Mensa) and they both had a ton in common (including gourmet cooking).

Kenny had such a full life.

He graduated from Michigan State University (something we forgave him for ;)) and he had a very long and distinguished advertising career as an executive with major retailers including Halle Bros., May Co., Woodward & Lothrop, and Macy's department stores.

Kenny was married to his wife Robin for 44 years. 44 years!!! It would have been longer however Robin passed away about four years ago after suffering from a long illness.

His daughter Gretchen and his son Greg - they worshipped their father. He was their rock. Their children - Ian, Christian, Drew, and Ally - they adored their Grandpa. And believe me, he could not be more proud of his family.

The last time we saw Kenny, he was just full of energy - babbling about this and that. We caught up on the "gossip" of the city...the "gossip" of the tabloids...and I quizzed him on some Fort Wayne-related historical stuff.

As I close my eyes and remember that last day with him, I can't help but smile.

Those two (Mike, Kenny) were doing their typical thing (i.e. trivial pursuit meets Mensa) and my son Ethan was joining in on the fun (boy - he is JUST like his father). Judy kept on trying to get us all to eat more (per her typical self - she always bought/prepared more than we could actually eat).

Telling my son about Uncle Kenny was hard for me. Being thirteen (which is hard for anyone!), he tried to remain stoic but finally, he broke down. "I'm gonna miss him. I never got to say goodbye. Now he won't know that I'll miss him." And that's all it took for my flood gates to open.

"Ethan, the really cool thing is, that Uncle Kenny knew how much we loved him and he'd never want us to say good-bye to him or our feelings for him."

I don't know where that came from - but it came.

We hugged. Ethan went off and occupied himself with some manly-man thing (video game) and I cried just a bit more because the older I get, the more it hits home for me that we have such little time here on earth - and you never know when the last look, touch, word, moment - is the last one for you or someone you love.


Joe said...

My thoughts are with you during this time of loss.

Carl H. said...

Wow Kristina, my eyes are watering while reeading this. Makes me miss not ever meeting him. I love hearing about good people, but its shame we only think to tell the world about these kind of people after they are gone!!

I will pray for your family!

Anonymous said...

This was forwarded to me by a friend. It is just beautiful and describes the Ken that I knew. I am in the German choir and came to know Ken at our rehearsals. We shared a love of cooking and photography. We shared so many recipes and I will really miss conferring with him as I prepare dishes for pot-luck! I am lucky enough to have his pasta salad recipe, along with a few others and many good cooking tips! For my birthday he gave me a cook book which I will always treasure. I know he had a collection of German cook books and German music. He would often email me of his latest finds. I will miss our email conversations as we solved the problems of the world. He was always so proud of his grandsons and shared their athletic progress with me.

Yes, he will be missed. My sympathy goes out to you and your entire family.

Sally Q.