As a former 10th Mountain Infantryman, Kenny Cantrell clearly heard the mantra: “Climb to Glory” on Tuesday, November 21, 2019. He died peacefully at home at the age of 98.
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Ken was born in the home October 23, 1921 in Duncan, Missouri to Pearl (Cantrell) and Ruben Cantrell. He and his two brothers grew up doing all the things that three ornery boys will do. And yes….we all heard the stories of how they walked (with their sister) to their one-room schoolhouse in all kinds of weather.
As a young man he and his family moved to Springfield where he attended school through the 9th grade. He loved school but when the creases on his only pair of pants split from wear, he was too embarrassed to attend any longer. His family knew the reality of being poor. He shared the story of only having grapefruit to eat for days on end because they could get them for free.
He learned his hard work ethic very early in life. His first job was milking cows at Gibson Dairy on East Division Street. He would ride his bicycle several miles to the dairy in the dark early hours of the morning, milk the cows, ride back into town to attend school, and then ride all the way back out to the dairy for the afternoon milking. After the dairy job, he started pumping gas at the Freshour Gas Station on North Glenstone. But probably his favorite job as a young man was caddying at the Municipal Golf course that was located where Evangel University now stands. He earned 25 cents a day to caddy but the money wasn’t the attraction to Ken. It was GOLF! He would develop a love and passion for the game that followed him the rest of his life.
In his latter teen years he was captivated by, and courted a young lady by the name of Agatha (Gay). Complications quickly arose during their early dating days when Ken became aware that he was also dating Gay’s best friend. Needless to say, the lesser love interest went by the wayside and after two years of dating, Ken and Gay secretly married at a minister’s home in Buffalo. The longevity of their marriage was unsurpassed by most as they celebrated their 79th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
Shortly after their daughter Linda Kay was born, Ken received the call from the United States Army to report for duty. After basic training he was temporarily stationed in California awaiting his orders to be shipped overseas. He was a trained Rifleman assigned to the 10th Mountain Infantry, Company K, 87th Regiment.
Gay and Linda traveled to California (using her father’s gas rations) to be near him. He had told her that if she saw the mules, that meant they were shipping out. Sure enough, a few short days later she saw the pack mules were being loaded on the trains…..ears punctured so they would not hear the sounds of battle and be frightened, and vocal cords cut so that they could not bray and give away their location to the enemy.
Kenneth was shipped to the European Theater to fight. Most of his adult life he did not talk about what he had seen or what he had done. It haunted him. While in Europe Ken was field commissioned to Sergeant when his commanding officer was killed near Madonna di Rodiano, Italy. Ken assumed command of his squad and led them in the difficult task of outflanking a deadly machine gun nest. His brave actions resulted in him receiving a Citation for his bravery. It was also during that engagement that he himself was wounded as he provided cover for his squad. One by one they exited a fox hole to safety. Ken was the last one to leave and was injured. His honorable discharge paper only reveals a glimpse of his legacy in wartime…. A recipient of the Purple Heart, Two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, the American Theater Campaign Ribbon, European African Mid-Eastern Theatre Campaign Ribbon, Overseas Service Bar and Victory Ribbon. After Germany surrendered he returned to California to await deployment to the Pacific Theater. While waiting for his orders word came that Japan had surrendered….the Atomic bomb had brought the war to an end. He could hardly wait to go home!
Once back in Springfield, Ken spent several years driving a Springfield City Bus. He was a people-person and always enjoyed interacting with his riders. He knew their names, their children’s names and where their stops were. He would often delay his strict departure times waiting for someone running to his bus. The friendships he developed with his riders were always more important than keeping a schedule.
While still driving his bus, he began to dabble in the real estate business. This occupation eventually became his primary focus. He built and sold homes as well as developed property all over the Springfield area. Amidst his growing business, his son Randy was born and he and Gay’s family was complete.
Upon retirement he decided to run for Greene County Commissioner. He was elected and served for five consecutive terms (a total of 10 years). He enjoyed the job immensely and up until his death had retained many friendships from his service to this community. When he retired for the second time he was able to devote most of his time to his hobby of golf. If the course was open, he was there. If there was a tournament within driving distance, he’d sign up! His favorite place to play was in Marshfield. Many life-long friendships were developed and many hours of laughter and ribbing competition were to be had until he was no longer physically able to play.
There were decisions made by Ken over his lifetime, but the most important one steered his life and the lives of his family for three generations to follow. It was his decision to accept Christ as his Savior. On the battlefield he had promised God that if He got him through the war, he would dedicate his life to Him. A few short years after his return home, he himself surrendered……to the Lord. He and Gay were faithful and active members of High Street Baptist Church for over 60 years until their failing health prevented them from attending. They entertained college students, pastors, and missionaries from all over the world in their home. They spent untold hours in the church kitchen cooking for activities. Ken served as a Deacon and loved to especially greet the children that would come through “his door” on Sunday mornings. They all knew he had a “high five” waiting for them.
On a rainy night last August the Lord took Gay home to heaven. Having her in the chair right next to him was nearly all he ever knew…they had shared that relationship for 79 years.…..and he has been lost these past three months without her. With a broken and lonely heart, failing eyesight and the diminishing ability to hear, he was ready to join her. So… on a rainy Thursday night last week, they were reunited for all eternity.
Kenneth was preceded in death by his parents (Pearl and Reuben), two brothers (Bill and Dean), two sisters (Emma and Bonnie), wife (Agatha), daughter (Linda Kay), and grandson (Clinton)
He leaves a legacy contained in his son Randy (wife Linda), six grandchildren (Ryan Cantrell, Lori Hackworth (Josh), Kirk Evans (Cindy), Susan Connolly (Stan), and Scott Evans (Penny). Fourteen great-grandchildren, three great-great grandchildren, three step-grandchildren (Sarah, Seth, and Stephany), seven step-great-grandchildren, extended family and friends.
The family would like to express our gratitude to the three excellent caregivers that enabled us to keep Ken in his home (Stephanie, Deanna, and Cheri), and to Cox Health at Home who provided Hospice support, kindness, and dignity for Ken in his final weeks.
A few years ago Ken told us “I lay here at night and can’t sleep sometimes. I fight that war to this day.” Well, there is no more war to fight Daddo Ken. Death is the final enemy and it has been defeated by the God of the Universe who you served! We are celebrating that victory with you today!
Services for Ken will be at 11:00 am Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at Greenlawn Funeral Home East. Interment with full military honors will follow at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens. Visitation will be from 10:00 to 11:00 am prior to the service.