Sunday, September 15, 2013

'He is a joy to be around'

      (Second in a series)
      It is one of those familiar 100-degrees-in-the-shade days, and there is little shade this morning on the east side next to the Logansport, La., High School football stadium.
      But Kenneth Harvey, sitting in his wheelchair, has found that one shady spot under the roof of the ticket booth. He's been here a while; there was no set time for our meeting, but he didn't want to be late.
      And someone, thankfully, has provided him with a bottle of water. But Kenneth, waiting now with his old football coach, Johnny Haynes, who has just arrived, doesn't seem bothered that the visitor is just now driving up. We're soon joined Kenneth's old teammate, Doug Spears.
Coach Johnny Haynes and Kenneth Harvey
      His smile is wide as he extends his right hand for a handshake. His somewhat gnarled fingers are long, befitting his still-lanky frame, and his grip is surprisingly strong.
      "It's good to see you," I say. "It's been too long; I should have come to see you years ago. I'm glad you're here now."
      "Good to see you," he answers, his words somewhat slurred but understandable.
       First thing I notice -- his hair is still dark. Oh, there are some gray hairs and some gray in the neck area, but unlike the three guys with him -- two of them his age -- who are totally or mostly gray, his hair is about as dark as it was when he was 17.
       "How do you explain that," I say.
       "Just lucky, I guess," he says, grinning.
       I've been told that the white van he's driving -- it's parked nearby -- is about a year old; it's the fourth one he's had, and it is as much as symbol of his independence and the life he's been able to live as his place in the Logansport Seniors Apartments, where he's lived by himself for a decade.
       I notice his wheelchair looks new, too, and he tells me that he's also had it for about a year. And he likes it. 
       "It's a good fit," he says. "The one I had before, I kept sliding around in the seat, even when I used a seat belt."
       Later, I notice he has a black carrying bag tied to his midsection, and -- intrusive reporter that I am -- I inquire what's in there.
      "Billfold, checkbook, cellphone," he answers, grinning. He's organized. (But Coach Haynes laughs and spills a fact -- "he's not sure about the cellphone number.") 
      We've met here in this spot, at Coach's suggestion, because off to Kenneth's left no more than 15 yards away, is the monument the town built to honor him. Sitting just inside the main gate on the stadium's home side is a five-foot black polished granite stone and a bronze relief plaque with an artist's drawing of Kenneth -- wearing his gold No. 45 jersey and purple pants -- in his quarterback pose. There are two marble benches nearby.
      The monument was dedicated on Oct. 30, 2009 -- Kenneth Harvey Day in Logansport. It was a tribute long overdue.
      The inscription on the base of the monument reads:
      "In honor of
      For his courage and 'Tiger Spirit'
      His life serves as an inspiration to Logansport High School teammates, coaches, athletes, cheerleaders, band members, classmates, faculty and community supporters past, present, and future."
       When I see it, I have to swallow back the tears, pat Kenneth on the back and tell him how nice it is and how much he deserves it.
        What's evident after a couple of hours together is that not much bothers Kenneth Harvey.
       He is patient and polite, he listens to the conversation, doesn't interrupt, and he can be animated when he answers a question or offers a thought.
      Accompany him to a couple of places -- the new DeSoto Parish library branch and the restaurant across the street -- or make a visit to places he visits, and you see how pleased people are to see him or talk about him, how they gravitate toward him, and how cheerful he is in return.
      What you hear -- not once, or twice, but repeatedly -- is that "he never has a bad day" and "he's always happy" and, from most everyone, "he is a joy to be around."
      And he is as happy to be here today as he has been to roll around Logansport -- in his chair, or in his customized van -- for most of 49 years ... or since that night -- Nov. 13, 1964.
       That's when, in one instant, it all changed for Kenneth Harvey and for the people of Logansport.
       (Next: A two-sport star)


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