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Community supporter and friend to many, Kenny Knauer, passes away at age 80

Kenny Knauer sits on a bench bearing his family's name near where he will be buried one day.
Marti Knauer
Ed Rittenhouse on Facebook
Kenny Knauer sits on a bench bearing his family's name near where he will be buried one day.

Knauer served on several area boards and committees in Springfield and was a long time supporter and organizer of the Springfield St. Patrick's Day Parade. He also hosted Jazz Excursions on KSMU.

Kenny Knauer, long time host of KSMU’s Jazz Excursions, which used to air on Friday nights; avid community supporter; and a friend to many died over the Memorial Day Weekend. He was 80-years-old.

Kenny's younger brother, Kelly, shared a story from long ago that he said explains a lot of Kenny’s life and who he was.

“When Kenny was about four-years-old, he assembled his three older siblings and his mom and dad, and he said, 'I've got something important to tell you all.' He said, 'I know you think my name is Kenny Mike Knauer, and I've got news for all of you. That is not my name. And let me tell you my name. My name is Kenny Kanuk, and I arrived in Springfield, Missouri by riding on top of a boxcar on a freight train along with my best friend, Tommy the Turtle, and, in the future, could you please refer to me as Ke Kanuk?' And that was our first intimation that Kenny Mike was not going to be like most normal people,” said Kelly.

He described his brother as having a fanciful way about him and said that he had a "marvelous" way with words.

“He was capable of enrapturing people with his long soliloquies that got ever more unbelievable, yet ever more entertaining, the longer they went on," said Kelly. "And that was pretty much the essential Kenny. For most of his life, he was one of the greatest talkers who ever lived.”

Kelly said, in Kenny's later life, his brother began writing haiku poems, which are limited to 17 syllables. He believes that was Kenny's apology for being "so long-winded most of the time." But he became known for those haikus and his larger-than-life personality, especially at the Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield, Kansas, which he and his wife, Marti, attended every summer for many years. In fact, his brother said he was the self-proclaimed governor of the festival -- "governor" being a title given to Kenny when he attended Drury University.

Kenny was deeply involved in the Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade and helped organize the first events along with Dave Trippe. Mike Smith, host of Seldom Heard Music on KSMU, was a member of the parade committee for several years beginning in 2008.

“He was so enthusiastic and outgoing, and that guy would come back to our board meetings with most of the ads. We would sell ads in a booklet that we had for the parade and then, later, online," said Smith. "We would have a link to an online booklet for the parade. And we had a lot of great sponsors — just citizens and also organizations and companies around Springfield. And Kenny would return with the most ads sold than probably any person on the board. So he had a lot of great contacts and a lot of great friends that supported him and supported the parade, and he was a big reason why the parade kept going under our auspices for 40 plus years.”

Jenny Fillmer Edwards, public information administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, knew Kenny Knauer for 35 years. She remembered he was the head of the Independent Marching Band in the parade, and he liked to carry a banner while wearing a festive outfit "that included a graduation gown that was green, of course, and a staff that was topped with a shamrock. And he liked to brag that the shamrock was actually cut out and then decorated with split peas that were glued on there and then painted green.”

Smith remembered that, back when Missouri State University had newspaper stations around campus where anyone could grab a free USA Today, New York Times and Springfield News-Leader, Kenny would come into the radio station with all three papers tucked under his arm.

“But not only would he have those copies on that day," said Smith, "he might say something to the effect of 'well, did you hear about this?' And he would pull out newspaper clippings from maybe the previous day's issue or one from a week prior, a story that interested him. He'd have clippings in his pocket about it and share his thoughts and his knowledge about it. Such a well-read guy and a great sense of humor.”

Both Smith and Fillmer Edwards remember how kind Kenny was to everyone. Fillmer Edwards described him as quirky, unique and fun and said you couldn’t help but love him.

“He refused to let anybody be a stranger. He was your best friend as soon as you met him. And he had this grandiose, sweeping vision of what human life should be like, and it involved all of us helping each other and knowing each other and digging into each other and making a contribution," said Kelly Knauer. "The nice thing about Kenny was he never preached that to anybody. Kenny was not a preacher. He led by example, and that's why people loved him. You know, he was the life of the party, and you just let him ramble off. He would go and just entertain everybody, and he was quite a sight to behold when he was in full stride.”

Fillmer Edwards said Kenny Knauer had a huge impact on his community. For one, he was a huge supporter of Phelps Grove Park, which was near his home. Knauer, who loved music, was instrumental in organizing a concert series on the lawn of the Springfield Art Museum for a few summers called Phelps Helps. He was active with Tree City USA. And his brother, Kelly, said he was involved in other civic affairs, including helping to plan Jordan Valley Park. Being a good citizen, he said, was very important to Kenny.

Kenny Knauer had an impact on many, but especially on his family and his many friends who will undoubtedly miss him deeply.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.