Sunday, September 22, 2013

A special dedication

      (Eighth in a series)
      Considering what happened, his star athlete status and his popularity, a full-page "Special Dedication" to Kenneth Harvey in the 1965 Logansport High School yearbook, the Fidelis, was a given.
      The love in Logansport has never subsided for Kenneth in the 49 years since he was paralyzed after his headgear slammed into an opposing runner's leg.
      "Everyone in Logansport, Louisiana, loves Kenneth Harvey," says Doug McLaren, who was Kenneth's backfield coach in the early 1960s and later superintendent of DeSoto Parish schools. "He's always happy. Everyone knows him, and he knows everyone. ,,, The people in Logansport have a tremendous relationship with him. They'd do anything for him."
      McLaren, 81, retired and living in Natchitoches, La., remains close to Harvey, calls him often and comes to Logansport (70 miles away) to have lunch with him occasionally.
      "Kenneth talks for an hour," he says, "and then we eat for 30 minutes."
      Johnny Haynes was the head football coach at Logansport for 22 seasons (1954-75) and the 1964 team that Harvey quarterbacked was one of his best teams. Even without its star QB, it won a playoff game (against Sicily Island) and made the Class B semifinals, closing a 9-3 season with a fog-marred loss at Kinder.
      He was popular with his players, an even-keeled influence on the kids he coached, a fundamental Xs and Os teacher -- he taught math in the classroom -- and a disciplinarian when he needed to be. He worked his team hard and he had rules that when broken, kids would pay a price. His teams won consistently through the years.
      Still the solidly built man who once played end at Springhill High and linebacker, end and even tackle at Northwestern State and sometimes dressed out in pads at Logansport to demonstrate technique, Haynes remains physically active -- despite the pains that crop up at age 82 -- and is a DeSoto Parish School Board member.
      For Haynes, the Harvey injury was the most traumatic event of his coaching career. His gravely voice softens when he talks about Kenneth; his affection is obvious.
      "With determination, he's been able to lead a productive life," he told The Shreveport Times writer Vickie Welborn in 2009. "I'm just amazed, really. In my opinion, the only reason he has been able to live the way he has is because of his determination to work at it every day."
      Logansport, I believe, is the only Louisiana town directly located on the Texas border. Which is why at one time, about 1840, it was an international border spot ... between the United States and the Republic of Texas.
      You can check one of the town's landmarks -- the International Border Marker, right by the Sabine River that separates what is now the two states.
        Another landmark is the Bucking Horse in downtown, in front of what used to be Pace Hardware. Hard to miss because, well, downtown just isn't that big.
        Nor is it that busy. Oh, maybe when it's time for annual sand bass fishing tournament -- this is billed as the "Sand Bass Capitol" of the world, and the area is great for fishing -- or the Mardi Gras festivities or the various festivals.
        But mostly, this is a quiet, friendly place where everyone knows most everyone. The population (2010 census) is 1,555 -- 703 males, 852 females, 57.4 percent white, 41.2 percent black. It is 3.4 square miles within the town borders.
      It is just an old Louisiana place, 50 miles south and slightly west of Shreveport, is in southwest DeSoto Parish. Cross the Sabine River bridge going west on U.S. Highway 84 and you are in Texas, in Joaquin in a couple of minutes.

     Personally, we came here a couple of times around 1960 when some Dutch farmers worked at one of the area's many dairy farms of that time. How my parents found these guys, who knows? After that, Logansport -- for me -- became a going-through place on the drive to Houston.
      The best route from Shreveport south is Louisiana state highway 5, once you take the sharp right turn off U.S. 171 at Kickapoo.
      A history on the Town of Logansport web site says it "was founded in 1830 by Dr. Logan, who practiced medicine in Louisiana and Texas. He established a ferry on the Sabine River which was known as Logan’s Ferry." The town name became official when a post office opened in 1848.
      When the railroad arrived -- replacing steamboats operating on the Sabine -- it was ripe for the cotton and timber businesses for years and years, then cattle and dairy/poultry farms, and the oil and gas industry was as influential there as in many parts of East Texas and North Louisiana.
      The plywood plant operated by Georgia Pacific was the town's largest employer, and it was an economic blow when it closed in 2007. However, that was offset a couple of years later by the revenues from the Haynesville Shale formation.
      "We're like a lot of towns this size," says John Russell, the branch manager/vice-president of Community Bank, "we're fighting a battle every day economically to keep things going."
      But his bank is undergoing renovation -- about the liveliest action in downtown right now -- and funding is in place for the long-awaited replacement of the U.S. 84 bridge and eventually there will be two two-lane, one-way roads in downtown.
      Logansport going big-time.
      Although it wasn't as lucrative in Logansport as in other parts of DeSoto Parish, and the money has slowed considerably, the Haynesville Shale helped pay -- in full, without debt -- for the Dennis Freeman Memorial River Park, the riverfront site everyone is proud of; the new $2.3 million parish library branch (opened in 2011); buildings at 11 of the parish's 12 schools; and artificial-turf fields at the three high school stadiums, including Logansport. That last item, though, was the source of much debate.
      That stadium isn't the one where Kenneth Harvey played, but when the time came for a monument to honor him, it was the right location.
     The talk is that the most traumatic events in Logansport over our lifetime were the G-P plant closing, the burning of the old Logansport High School in 1991 (arson was suspected, and everything burned down except the gymnasium), and the Kenneth Harvey injury of Nov. 13, 1964.
      The past couple of generations of kids at Logansport High -- the new building on Highway 5 opened in 1992; the stadium came later -- might not know who Kenneth Harvey is, but they can walk over to the stadium and see the monument.
      And sometimes, they might even see the man himself in his wheelchair. He still gets around.
      Dale Morvan, who coached football at Logansport High for 22 years (the last 20 as head coach) and whose 1995 team delivered the program's only state championship, arrived in town long after Harvey's injury, but he grew to know him as Kenneth attended games and practices over the years.
      "Kenneth is always an inspiration to everyone," said Morvan, a current city council member. "He is a very humble type person. He doesn't have any hard feelings, which is remarkable after this very tragic, unfortunate incident.

      "The people in Logansport really love him, and care about him. It's a joy to know him."
Bernard Waggoner, with one of his favorite players and
friends at Kenneth Harvey Day, 2009 (Ben Daily photo)
      Of his three coaches, Kenneth perhaps was closest to Bernard "Tussie" Waggoner, the football assistant/head basketball coach. Waggoner, who taught and coached at Logansport High for three decades -- and, like Haynes, also wound up as the school principal, was 85 when he died Feb. 5.
      His son, Wayne Waggoner, a standout basketball player at Logansport and then at Centenary College and Northwestern State, recalled that Kenneth and his dad -- who were fishing buddies -- inspired each other.
      "Kenneth will tell you he was inspired by my dad," Wayne Waggoner said, "but I know my dad used Kenneth's strength as motivation when he was battling cancer."
      John Russell agrees.
      "I remember (Bernard) telling me that there were days that he was feeling sorry for himself," Russell recalled, "and that he then thought about Kenneth and what he'd been through all those years. And he said, 'I can handle this.' "
       (Next, and last: Faith, inspiration define Kenneth Harvey)

1 comment:

  1. From Julie Vidler Morris: We're all continuing to enjoy these post, Nico. Bless and thank you.