JOPLIN, Mo. - Eddie Kenneth (Kenny) La Near passed away at his home on April 24, 2017. He was born on May 10, 1925, to James Arthur (Arty) La Near and Elsie Waterman La Near.
During the Depression, his father could not find a job (one of many) and was too proud to accept any welfare because he did not like Roosevelt. His mother, Elsie (affectionately known as Rushie) went to work at Roy's Barbeque and worked 360 days a year for $1.00 a day. Kenny went to work at Roy's as a car hop at 10 years of age to help buy clothing as he attended West Central Elementary, North Junior, and Joplin High School.
He was preceded in death by two half- brothers, Rink and Herb Cooley; and one half-sister, Georgia Cooley Handy. He had an older sister named June La Near Duvall who looked after him, was very talkative, and Kenny nicknamed her "Blab". She passed away in 2008.
It might be noted that Kenny and his half-brother, Rink, were two of Joplin's best sports boosters, as they attended almost every football game that J.H.S. and Joplin Juco played at Junge stadium, and had ringside seats at The Joplin Globe sponsored Golden Gloves tournaments.
After high school graduation in 1942, Kenny enlisted in the Army Air Corps, earned his "wings" and became a waist gunner on a B-17 where he flew many missions out of their air base in Italy.
Upon returning home from World War II, he married his first love, Betty Jean Hickam. They had a son, Richard, and two daughters, Beckie and Linda. He supported his family by using his "gift of gab" and becoming a salesman, or, as he liked to say, "I was just a simple peddler".
While raising his family, he continued to attend and support the First Christian Church that his beloved sister, June, enrolled him in as an infant. He served as Sunday school teacher, superintendent, usher, deacon, and church elder for many years. As he stated in a Globe story on his church attendance, "The only way I will stop going to church here is if they close the doors."
The church also served as a backdrop and sponsor of church league softball teams and independent league basketball teams, which he coached and his son played on. He also helped coach Beckie's daughters in fast pitch softball. His children took joy in riding and later driving a restored, vintage, World War II Willy's jeep that Linda nicknamed Nellie Belle, after the Roy Rogers TV show jeep.
Kenny married Lois Courtney in 1979, and they enjoyed traveling the country in a motor home, fishing, square dancing and raising her daughter, Paula. Their home was destroyed in the Joplin tornado while they huddled in a closet. Their love and faith helped them through.
Without the benefit of a formal education, Kenny maintained an avid love of history, especially the Civil War. Over a period of about 10 years, he and his son traveled to Shiloh, Vicksburg, Antietam, Harper's Ferry, and Gettysburg. No wives or shopping were allowed . . .only history!
Perhaps the one activity that he would most like to be remembered for was his love and service to veterans in his capacity as vice commander of the Joplin American Legion post. It has been estimated that he was associated with approximately 2000 military funerals, where full military honor guards folded flags for the deceased loved ones, gave a rifle salute, and played "Taps". He did this until he could no longer stand. He was God-centered and patriotic his entire life and his blood ran drenched in the concept of duty, honor and country. He also saw to it that on every Memorial Day a Veteran's Day parade was organized, aided by numerous area bands, especially Joplin High School. For this he was always grateful. On this same occasion, he made sure that countless flags were placed upon every veteran's grave. Never has so much been given to so many veterans by so few (Ken and his Legion buddies). His favorite expression was borrowed from Will Rogers, "I never met a man I didn't like."
This loving father, dedicated husband, church leader and fervent Christian, coach, waist gunner, zealous lover of country and veterans, has slipped the "surly bonds of this earth" and been re-deployed with his Father in Heaven. He has flown his last mission and will be greatly missed.
Ken is survived by his loving wife, Lois; his son, Dr. Richard La Near (Ellen) and their daughters, Maria Nance (Scott), Chelsea and Tara; his daughter, Beckie Wallace (Ron) and her daughters, Kim Lane (Steve) and Kelly Cook; his daughter, Linda McCurry La Near and her sons, Chad and Travis McCurry; his step-daughter Paula Hendrix (Dale) and step-grandchildren Mandy, Alex and Bill Freer and Steven, Bradley and Megan Hendrix; and numerous great grandchildren.
Services will be held Monday, May 1, at 10 a.m. at Mason Woodard Mortuary with visitation at 9 a.m. Military Honor Guard will follow the service at Ozark Memorial Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Ken's name to First Christian Church, of Joplin.
Arrangements have been entrusted to the Mason-Woodard Mortuary, of Joplin.
Published on April 30, 2017