January 16, 1998
To paraphrase Will Rogers, I never met a man who didn't like Kenny Coldiron. He was probably the most trusted, respected and admired man in this community, and with good reason. Kenny was a friend to everyone who made his acquaintance, and you knew instinctively that he would support you in any way possible. In the, military, the ultimate compliment goes something like this: "He's the one I'd want beside me in combat." That's the way many thought of Kenny Coldiron.
The military was part of Kenny's background. He served in the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man, a non-commissioned officer of the upper grades, and later as a commissioned officer in Europe during World War II. After the war he became first sergeant -- the "topkick" -- in Perry's Infantry company, an element of the fabled 45th Regimental Combat Team at the time of the Korean conflict, although he did not go with the unit to Korea. Many of the men who served with him would testify that he was a soldier's soldier.
Kenny was the son of a pioneer country doctor, Dr. D. F. Coldiron, and his wife, Daisy Lemon Coldiron, a poet. He acquired good traits from both sides. Dr. Coldiron was one of the last of his kind, a soft-spoken and gentle man who was more concerned with healing impoverished families than collecting big fees. Daisy Coldiron was a literate lady of this prairie country with a lyrical gift that enabled her to capture the spirit of those frontier times in the Cherokee Strip. From his mother and father, Kenny learned the art of being a friend. He grew up listening to their tales of the early days and later, as an adult, he shared those stories to the endless fascination of his listeners. I was one of the beneficiaries of his wealth of history. There is, literally, no one left to take his place.
His biography could fill volumes. As a champion caliber prep wrestler at Perry High School, where he also was a substitute coach, he acquired a fascination with the ancient sport and later relived some of his own experiences through the athletic skills of his sons. During summers of his college-age years, he joined a troupe of Zouaves under Capt. Richard Swift and toured this country with the Miller Brothers' illustrious 101 Ranch Show. When the Great Depresssion claimed the show during a trip to the East, he rode a freight train to get back home, plucking a few vegetables from farm fields along the way to provide sustenance for the hungry and broke performers riding beside him.
During the 1930's, before the U.S. became a participant in World War II, he traveled with a company of auditors in the Northeast. After his wartime service ended in 1945, he returned to Perry and joined the staff of the Exchange Bank. There he rose to the office of president and chairman of the board, serving in the latter capacity until 1982 when he finally began full retirement. His civic responsibilities were numerous and he took each of them very seriously. At the Presbyterian church, he was a Sunday school teacher of both young people and adults, and through the years he became an elder, deacon and trustee. His longevity as treasurer of the Perry school district may be unmatched in the state. He was a stout member of the Perry Lions club. In 1986 he was named by the Chamber of Commerce as Perry's outstanding citizen.
Caring for a herd of cattle was more than just a hobby. He took that chore seriously, even on bitter cold days when the animals required not only daily rations of feed but also water, which sometimes meant chopping holes in ice-covered ponds. Hunting was a special joy, including trips to Colorado during elk season. Those adventures required weeks of rigorous physical conditioning beforehand but he worked at that until his body cried for help, and he had to give it up.
As a family man, he was a doting father and grandfather. With Mary Ellen, his faithful wife of many years, he took pride in every accomplishment of his offspring and rejoiced in every opportunity to help rear them and share time with them. Death, illness and adversity were no strangers. Each of them exacted a toll from him on occasion. A son, Carl Lee, died a few years ago. His only sister, Kara Lee, died just a few weeks ago.
For some time, Kenny has been seriously incapacitated because of failing health. He has been unable to communicate with visitors, and the familiar Coldiron. smile and sense of humor have been missing. Responses sometimes were limited to batting his eyes or wiggling a toe. It has been difficult to see him like that. I'll miss his stories and his friendship acutely, but I will always be thankful for the years I had the privilege of turning to him when help in any form was needed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they mourn his passing most of all.