Remembering A Past Life — And An Old Friend

Well before I started this job, the Northland Outdoors content plan already was firmly in place: Cover everything outdoors … that doesn’t include a ball.

Perfect. I had worked as a golf journalist much earlier in my career, but that was well behind me, the outdoors being my focus for many years now. And, unlike some, I would never clump golf and the outdoors together anyway. Two very different things.

But with some similarities, too — like the people. Both golf and the outdoors are blessed with an amazing number of great people, great characters. I am reminded of this in the outdoors most every day. And, in recent days, I was reminded that some of the best people I have ever known I met in the world of golf all those years ago.

One in particular.

Ken Carpenter would have been a great ambassador for the outdoors. Actually, he was great for about everything — and everybody — he touched.

Kenny, my old boss (but mostly a good friend) at Golfweek magazine in Florida in the 1990s, died Aug. 28 in Orlando, Fla., after an eight-month battle with cancer. He was only 59.

Kenny ended up leaving Golfweek a few years after me, becoming a college journalism professor in his adopted home of Orlando (he was from Ohio and remained a stout Cleveland sports fan). Still, tributes from the golf world and golf people continue to pour in. Just hours after Ken’s death, Jim Nantz of CBS Sports was telling the world of Kenny’s passing during the network’s golf coverage Sunday afternoon. And Jeff Babineau and Jeff Rude of Golfweek penned exceptional stories about Kenny’s legacy — both in golf and in this world. You can find them at www.golfweek.com/2016/08/29/former-golfweek-managing-editor-ken-carpenter/ and www.golfweek.com/2016/08/31/czar-golf-life-lived-passion/. Even if you’re not a golf fan, both are worth reading.

Comments from his former students continue flowing in, too. One told the story of how, because her financial aid fell through, she wouldn’t be able to take one of Kenny’s courses. He immediately told her he would pay the course fees and that she could pay him back whenever.

That was just one instance of the over-the-top kindness and selflessness described in both those golfweek.com pieces. And there were so many others that didn’t find their way into those stories.

And still, chances are, most of you have never heard of Ken Carpenter. Although he had a fairly high-profile job with Golfweek, was well-known in most golf and sports circles (and anywhere else he got involved, which was a good number of places) and was an outgoing, infectious personality, he and his equally-as-endearing wife, Debbie, lived an unassuming life in greater Orlando. They weren’t about attention.

And again, that’s what I see in the outdoors most every day here in the Northland. There’s Gary Roach, the famed Mr. Walleye, taking a disabled veteran out fishing in Minnesota, forging a lifelong friendship with a young soldier dearly in need of just that. Or Jim Onarheim, a Wisconsin outdoors treasure, helping to get kids — some with special needs and most all from the inner city — on the lake, learning about and fishing for muskies. And there’s a bunch more just like them, giving back, expecting (and wanting) nothing in return.

No, Kenny wasn’t a big outdoors guy. But if he were, Gary Roach and Jim Onarheim and all the others like them would have had as huge an ambassador of the outdoors as you can get.

And so, today, that group would be feeling what a lot of us who knew Kenny are feeling — a huge sense of loss.

But that I knew him, that he was a part of my life in that little cubicle that was my world way back when … I wouldn’t change that to avoid any pain I’m feeling today and likely will continue to feel tomorrow and well beyond.

Not one bit.

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