Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From Neil Cockerill

I recently heard of your website honoring Ken and I was very touched by the memorial. And yes, saddened that it has been 20 years since a great friend has passed.

My name is Neil Cockerill, and I am proud to say that I knew Ken very well. I had the very unique pleasure of being Ken’s roommate for our freshman year at Swarthmore. Imagine what you learn about someone sharing a 15’x20’ space for nine months. He was my first friend at college, and we remained friends until his unfortunate and devastating departure.

Suffice it to say that our pairing as roommates was a blessing for me, and sometimes a curse for poor Ken. You see, Ken had been at school roughly two weeks prior to freshman orientation to attend pre-season football practices. I arrived at school for the first time in the early afternoon and unloaded my things before he returned from practice. By the time he came back, he was greeted with an entirely transformed room; that is, three guitars, and an entire Marshall Stack amplifier system (occupying nearly 25% of the room), and large posters plastering the walls honoring the great guitars players of the time (think Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, etc.). And a half-sized basketball hoop with break-away rim. You should have seen his face. Priceless.

But within a few minutes we were chatting it up, talking about music, sports, and where we came from. As it turns out, we grew up relatively close geographically, as I was from Chestertown, MD. I had been to Caesar Rodney many times as a competing wrestler. I could tell immediately that Ken was very intelligent and more mature than most his age. I knew I could learn a lot from him, and I did.

Music was one of the topics we discussed daily. Ken was the biggest Stones fan I ever met, and I have yet to meet anyone in my life that compares. To this day I think of Ken every time I hear the Stones. I could almost predict the tunes that would be blasting whenever I came back to the room. If it wasn’t “Gimme Shelter,” it was “Symphony for the Devil” or “Paint it Black.” Maybe even “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Most of the time he was belting out the lyrics without an ounce of self-consciousness. For the record, Ken was not a good vocalist. But he outweighed me by 75 pounds, so I let him sing to his heart’s content. Occasionally I’d come home to the Grateful Dead, though during his freshman year he wasn’t the Deadhead he was to become by his junior year. Meanwhile, he had to endure the likes of Rush and Metallica when I overtook the radio. But he never complained. In fact, I think we introduced each other to some new styles and learned to appreciate each other’s tastes. Ken was nothing if not open-minded.

Over that first year, we became good friends and had plenty of laughs. I distinctly remember a time when we were having one of our late night, slightly inebriated games of mini-basketball in the dorm room. In an effort to close out a tightly contested game of H-O-R-S-E, Ken ran across the room and propelled himself with a leap off the bed for what should have been an earth-shattering dunk. Instead, a slight miscalculation sent him well past the intended target, and culminated with a pseudo-swan-dive on his desk. Nothing survived impact and Ken’s head was left wedged between the desk, lamp and window sill. Post crash, I heard only his muffled, groaned concession……..“Game Over.” I laughed for a week. Ken laughed for two.

We had been placed on the 2nd floor of Willets dormitory, which quickly became the party hall of the entire campus. Call it luck (or at times unlucky if you were actually trying to get some work done). Several nights a week there were kegs in the hall, which brought a wide diversity of students from the campus population. What amazed me about Ken was that he could assimilate himself into any crowd, be it athletes, deadheads, nerds, etc. He was kind, funny and genuine. You always knew where you stood with Ken. While he was never one to dominate the conversation, when he spoke, he was insightful and witty beyond description.

I hope you and the rest of the Spengler family know how important Ken was to the friends’ lives he enriched. It is an honor to call him my friend, and I am a better person for having known him. This world was a much better place with him in it.

Take care and I will always remember Ken.

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