Friday, September 20, 2013

A grand day in Logansport

On Oct. 30, 2009, Logansport honored Kenneth Harvey. It was his Day. (Ben Daily photo) 
   (Sixth in a series)
   Kenneth Harvey Day in Logansport, La., was Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 -- 45 years after he was paralyzed in a football-field accident.
    That day the early-1960s star athlete at Logansport High School was honored in a school assembly, a monument to him was unveiled and dedicated at the school football stadium, and he took part in the pregame activities at the football game that night.
    Which, naturally, brings up a question ... what took so long?
     "I don't know, really," answers John Russell (left, top photo), one of the organizers of the Day and vice-president/branch of a Logansport bank. "I think there was always a lot of guilt associated with what happened to Kenneth."
      But Russell (Logansport Class of '72), who was a 9-year-old in the stands on that night in 1964 when Harvey was injured, is clear on what the day meant.
       "It was a moving thing for all of us," he said. "Kenneth was always an absolute hero to us. ... What happened to him was so traumatic for our community."
Ben Freeman (Ben Daily photo)
        The idea originated with Ben Freeman, a Class of '60 Logansport graduate and current San Antonio, Texas, resident who was in the stands the night of the accident and had seen Kenneth in Logansport on visits through the years. After a chance meeting in 2008, the thought came to Freeman.
          "It was like it was in my mind and heart, and it wouldn't go away," Freeman told The Shreveport Times writer Vickie Welborn in 2009. "I heard it as clear as I'm talking to you: You've got to do something for Kenneth. I realized it was the Holy Spirit talking to me."
         He consulted with Kenneth's old coaches, who approved, and "when we talked to Kenneth and told him we wanted to do something for him, he had tears in his eyes and said he is not worthy. But he's been such asn inspiration to me and others."
      So a team of about two dozen people -- townspeople, former players and students, and the coaches of the early 1960s (head coach Johnny Haynes and assistants Bernard Waggoner and Doug McLaren) began meeting to find a way to honor Kenneth Harvey.
       With Russell and Mary Mac Thompson (second from left, top photo) as leaders of the effort in Logansport, the group decided on a Kenneth Harvey Day and to raise funds to have a monument placed at the stadium. The effort eventually netted some $20,000.
        And the "team" meetings brought a surprise, in Russell's view.
        "What we found was that there were a lot of guilty feelings by the coaches and his teammates," he recalls. "... Some of them felt like they had talked Kenneth into playing football that season, and [the meetings] showed how the guilt had preyed on these people.
       "I saw grown men squalling like babies when they talked about Kenneth."
       But after the months of planning and fund-raising, the arrangements for the artist's conception for the monument and the work itself, Mother Nature almost intervened.
       The night before the Day brought typhoon-like weather to Logansport and threatened to postpone the activities. Fortunately, it cleared up and the events went on as scheduled.
       A booklet commemorating the day's event, with dozens of photos, is a nice remembrance. The photographs were taken by Ben Daily, who also produced the booklet.
       Kenneth, in front of the monument which has him in Logansport uniform No. 45 -- gold jersey, purple pants -- in a passing pose, is the cover photo. There are dozens of photos of people either speaking or making presentations to him. 
The plaque that hangs in a Logansport High
School hallway (Ben Daily photo)
       One of the presentations was a collage of Kenneth photos and a duplicate of the monument inscription. It now hangs in a hallway at Logansport High. 
      The best photos are of the man himself speaking to the assembly, waving to the crowd, and that night -- wearing his Logansport letter jacket -- making the coin flip and holding up a football.  
       Especially poignant, in my view, are the photos of the unveiling of the monument at the stadium and the many people wearing gold No. 45 jerseys. That was a beautiful touch.
       Wish I had been there.
      "It's one of the biggest things that has happened in Logansport from the time I got there in 1957," said Doug McLaren, Logansport's offensive coordinator in the early 1960s (he was later superintendent of schools in DeSoto Parish) and still close to Harvey. "People -- former teachers and students and townspeople -- came back from everywhere to be with Kenneth."
Unveiling the monument with his coaches: from left,
Bernard Waggoner, Johnny Haynes and Doug
McLaren (Ben Daily photo)
       Doug Spears, part of the planning committee, says the occasion helped him become reacquainted with his old friend and teammate. He proudly notes that 27 of the 33 members of Logansport High's Class of 1965 returned for the day, as did most of the football team from the 1964 season.
      Said Russell:  "This was about a community healing. I think we all felt that we hadn't done enough for Kenneth."
       But not if you ask the honoree.
       "I told them then I didn't deserve anything like that, to have a statue put up," he told me when we met a couple of weeks ago. "
There were many people here who did a whole lot more than I ever did. They deserved it more than me."
        Of course, people in Logansport don't see it that way. To them, he's a hero for all time.
        And when I ask Kenneth how he reflects on the monument now, he drews out his one-word answer: "Honored."
        Then he added: "Like I told people, I might be 6-foot-3, but when all that happened, I felt like I was 26-3."
         (Next: Two old friends, one long bond) 


  1. From Tom Marshall: Nico, this series has been outstanding. I can't wait for each new installment. Mr. Kenneth is a great athlete and an even greater man. Thanks for sharing his story.

  2. From Jimmy Russell: This is good stuff. I never knew that he ever recovered. ... I am glad he recovered and can enjoy the honor. Like you said, why did they wait so long?

  3. From Cynthia Aillet Murry: Most interesting series. Have enjoyed learning about this man. I am so glad his town has honored him this way.