Services Are Set for the Late, Great Kenny Sailors
Memorial services for the late Kenny Sailors will be Friday, Feb. 5, at 10:00 a.m. in the Arena-Auditorium on the University of Wyoming campus.
The service is open to the public, and there will be a special seating section designated. Parking lots immediately surrounding the Athletic Department will be open for free parking, and people are encouraged to use the Willett West Entrance to the Arena.
Montgomery-Stryker Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.
Sailors passed away last Friday night at the age of 95.
Here is the obituary provided by the family:
KENNETH LOYD SAILORS
Kenny Sailors, 95, died peacefully at 2:58 a.m. Saturday, January 30, 2016 of natural causes in his home at Spring Wind Assisted Living in Laramie. He had been in declining health since a heart attack the previous month. A deeply religious man, Kenny had looked forward to the day when he’d meet his Savior Jesus Christ in eternity.
Kenny lived primarily in Wyoming and called it his home, but he also lived 34 years in Alaska. Lean and durable with a taut body, he possessed what seemed unlimited stamina. Sporting a flat-top haircut in his later years, he prided himself on physical fitness and was in remarkable health almost his entire life. A star athlete, clean living, and a hearty outdoorsman, he was the epitome of the “All-American Boy.”
Kenny’s life was highly diverse and full of adventure. Each chapter could easily be the story of the entire life of an average person. He was a family man. He lived his Christian faith and walked the talk of his beliefs. His integrity and character were models. Except for politics, he excelled at everything to which he set his mind. He was undaunted when confronting a new challenge. “Surrender” was not in his vocabulary. He was a “man in motion.” It seemed his whole life was a “fast break.”
He had the kind of determination and iron will which would have served him well on the western frontier if he had been born 100 years earlier. He was blessed by a wonderful and influential mother and a wife of 59 years. Informally, he was known by his friends as a “Living Legend.” He left his mark on many people and on the sport of basketball. A modest man he gave all the glory of his accomplishments to God.
Kenny had the heart of a lion and a selfless capacity for love, compassion, and generosity to countless people throughout his life.
He was best known as a college All-American and All-Pro basketball player and pioneer of the modern one-handed jump shot. He was captain of the 1943 University of Wyoming national basketball champions. He was an avid outdoorsman, spending many more years of his life as a guide and outfitter than playing basketball. He was a U.S. Marine, politician, teacher, coach, and Boys State leader in Alaska and Wyoming. He volunteered for community service with youth wherever he lived. He loved working with kids.
When Kenny was 90 he was asked what would be the “final four” in his life. He replied, in order of importance: God, husband, father, U.S. Marine. Basketball didn’t make the list.
Kenny was born January 14, 1921 on a farm near Bushnell, Nebraska, the sixth and last child of Edward and Cora Houtz Sailors
When he was one year old, Kenny’s mother and father separated. She moved him and his brother Barton (Bud) to Falls City, Nebraska to take residence with her father, D. D. Houtz, who was a teacher and ran a general store there.
In 1929 Cora took the boys and moved back to Wyoming and stayed in Egbert with Kenny’s sister Gladys and her family for a few months.
In 1930 Cora purchased a farm south of Hillsdale where Bud and Kenny finished high school and grade school, respectively. There she raised the two boys and is where Kenny learned the value of hard work and coping during the Great Depression in a rural setting, often bartering farm products when cash was in short supply or completely absent. In 1935 she sold the farm and moved the family to Laramie so Bud could attend the University of Wyoming.
It was while living on the farm Kenny began using jump shots in order to compete with his much taller brother. It was also at the Hillsdale school Kenny learned how to dribble, using his speed playing “keep away” in games with other boys. Later on, as a collegian and professional basketball player, sportswriters and coaches probably said more about Kenny’s dribbling skills than his jump shot. It was said he could dribble faster than most men could run.
Kenny entered Laramie High School as a freshman in the fall of 1935 and graduated in 1939. It was at LHS Kenny’s athletic prowess became evident. He was all-State in football his senior year, in basketball his junior and senior years, and state champion in the mile run and broad jump his senior year.
Kenny enrolled at the University of Wyoming in the fall of 1939. He wanted to go out for multiple sports, but he was persuaded by varsity coach Everett Shelton to specialize in basketball. History shows that was good advice. Later, as sophomores, Kenny and teammate Jim Weir were approached by Utah’s coach to transfer there saying they’d get more playing time. But Kenny’ mother refused to let him go, and so both boys stayed at Wyoming. As a result, Cora Sailors played a critical role in securing the 1943 championship.
Kenny was the most honored basketball player in the history of the University of Wyoming. He was four times All-Big 7 Conference, two times a consensus college All-American (1943 and 1946) and two times AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) All-American (1943 and 1946) in an era when AAU basketball was the best in the country. In fact from 1935-1962 Kenny was the only first-team All-AAU player to be so named while still in college (1943). The same year he was a finalist, and only male basketball player nominated, for the prestigious James Sullivan award which went to the best amateur athlete in the United States.
In addition, while at Wyoming, Kenny was the most outstanding player in the NCAA postseason in 1943 as the Cowboys won the tournament and then went on to defeat the NIT champions, St. John’s, for the mythical, overall national title. In the four seasons he played at Wyoming, including one after World War II, the Cowboys won 82 games and lost only 17, including a remarkable 51-15 record on the road. While at Wyoming, Kenny played five times in Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the Cowboys won every game. His jump shot and dribbling skills got rave reviews from the New York media and helped put Kenny and Wyoming on the college basketball map.
While at the University of Wyoming, Kenny met Marilynne Corbin of Casper. They were married 59 years until her death in 2002. Kenny was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, President of his junior class, and voted the most popular man on campus for three straight years – 1941-43. He majored in education. He found time to participate in track and field, specializing in the broad jump.
Ten days after Wyoming won the national championship in April 1943 Kenny entered on active duty with the U.S. Marines. He finished OCS at Quantico, Virginia and returned in July to marry Marilynne. She insisted on joining him at the San Diego Marine Base. They lived for several months in the private home of the Bahus. The couple were Christians from Palestine, and it was with them that Kenny and Marilynne were first seriously influenced to become Christians.
From the summer of 1943 until early 1944 Kenny was stationed in San Diego. It was there he teamed with eventual Hall of Famer, Joe Fulks, and former Cowboy teammates Floyd Volker and Jimmy Collins to establish one of the most powerful Armed Services basketball teams in the country. During that span the San Diego Marines won 35 consecutive games, including against college and AAU teams.
In 1944 Kenny shipped out to the Pacific theater on the USS Robert E. Callan – a new troop and hospital ship which carried up to 4,000 men into war. He was a 1st Lieutenant in charge of 40 Marines assigned to security. For over a year the Callan delivered troops onto and off of Pacific islands. During a stop in Guam, Kenny was fortunate to avoid death from a Japanese hand grenade. On one of its final voyages during World War II the Callan sailed around the world, transporting B-29 pilots frin Calcutta, India westward via the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea to Norfolk, Virginia. Kenny finished his last few months on active duty at a Navy base in Farrgut, Idaho before returning to Laramie in late December 1945.
Kenny re-enrolled at the University of Wyoming in time to play in 20 games for the Cowboys in the 1945-46 season. Like some of his teammates, the Big 7 Conference granted many returning veterans an extra year of eligibility. The Cowboys won the Big 7 title but the NCAA denied them an opportunity to compete for another national championship because they had too many “graduate” students. Nevertheless, Kenny was chosen to play on the West team in the College All-Star game in New York in which he tied for high scoring honors. He was, again, a consensus college and AAU All-American that season.
At this point, Kenny had to make a choice about playing basketball. He could play AAU on company teams or professional basketball which had been given new life after the War. In order to keep his home in Wyoming and to make better money, Kenny chose professional basketball – even though this would mean he would lose his amateur status and eligibility for the U.S. Olympic team. He signed his first professional contract for $7,000.
Kenny played five seasons of professional basketball – the first three in the old Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the last two in the newly-formed National Basketball Association (NBA). He belonged to the Cleveland Rebels, Chicago Stags, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, and the Baltimore Bullets, in that order. Due to trades, and that three of these teams went out of business, Kenny was a member of seven teams from 1946-1951. He was All-Pro in 1949 and finished with a career scoring average of 12.6 points and 2.8 assists per game. In 276 games he finished in the top ten, statistically, in one or more categories of performance several times.
After retiring from the NBA in 1951, Kenny returned to live permanently in Wyoming and to develop his dude ranching, guiding and outfitting business in Jackson Hole. He had a ranch near Moran and named it the “Heart 6.”
In the early 1950s Kenny formed a barnstorming basketball team of former college mates and some other players he had known as professionals. He also became the recreation director for the City of Cheyenne and was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1954. He conducted basketball clinics around the state and was a leader in Wyoming Boys State starting in the 1940s for 20 years.
In 1960 Kenny unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Wyoming’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Likewise in 1962 and 1964 he unsuccessfully vied for the Republican nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Disillusioned with the culture of politics and wanting to fulfill a long-time dream, Kenny and Marilynne moved to Alaska in the summer of 1965 and sold the Heart 6 to his brother Bud. They stayed in Alaska for 34 years.
Kenny went to Alaska to resume his guiding and outfitting business but had to wait until he could qualify for a license. In the meantime, he and Marilynne acquired the rights from a local indian chief to a homestead of 80 acres near the small town of Gakona, 200 miles NE of Anchorage. They built a log house and made that their permanent residence.
Kenny never intended to resume a life in basketball. However, no sooner had he arrived than word leaked out he had played for the Boston Celtics. The local high school principal asked if he’d start a team for the girls in the nearby town of Glennallen. Because they couldn’t pay him Kenny volunteered and started the first girls basketball team in the Alaska public school system. He established rules for the girls game the same as for the boys, and he issued them the same style of uniforms. He volunteered to coach the boys high school team, as well.
From 1965-1974 Glennallen’s girls team won three state championships and finished second in a fourth year. Along the way they had a winning streak of 68 games. In one season his boys finished second in Class C at state.
In 1987 the Sailors moved south to the small native village of Angoon (near Juneau) at the request of the district school superintendent to resurrect a girls basketball team at the high school. Kenny continued to work his magic in Angoon. His teams had a winning season each year and a three-year record of 53-15. In 1990 his team won their district championship. One of his players became a member of Stanford’s 1992 national champions. In 1991 he reached mandatory retirement age in the Alaska school system and never coached basketball again.
In Glennallen and Angoon Kenny also taught American government, history, and coached wrestling - in addition to basketball. After retirement, Kenny and Marilynne returned to their home in Glennallen until they left Alaska permanently in 1999. Throughout most of their years in Alaska Kenny and Marilynne managed a successful guiding and outfitting business, and Kenny went around the state conducting basketball clinics for kids. With the support of the American Legion he started a Boys State program in Alaska modeled along the lines of his work in Wyoming.
Kenny left his mark in Alaska, especially in girls’ basketball. Among other things, he started the first state-wide basketball tournament for high school girls. He introduced his jump shot – first mastered by one of his Glennallen players. His reputation in Alaska as a kind and influential coach, teacher, and friend endures. As in Wyoming he’s remembered in Alaska as a “treasure.”
In 1999 Kenny and Marilynne returned to Wyoming due to her failing health. After a year in Casper, they moved to Gooding, Idaho to be with their daughter, Linda Money. They stayed there until his wife’s death in 2002.
Kenny returned to Laramie in 2003, fully intending to live out his life in peace and quiet and attend as many Cowboy and Cowgirl contests as he could and to see old friends.
However, just as when he arrived in Alaska, anonymity was not to be the outcome.
In the succeeding years Kenny was re-discovered – locally, regionally, and nationally. In fact, he may have become better known across the country than he ever was in the 1940s. He was featured in several periodicals, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, and by sports networks ESPN and CBS. In 2013, Wyoming PBS and Geoff O’Gara made a documentary film about his life, “Leap of Faith.” Another by a private party, Kim Komenich, was made about him and the 1943 Cowboy national champions. Two books on his jump shot and life in Alaska were written by an old friend, Lew Freedman.
Another documentary and longer film on his entire life produced by Jake Hamilton is in the works, as is a jump shot book – which includes Kenny - “Rise and Fire” by Shawn Fury. Both are due out in 2016. He had to set up a website to handle the many inquiries about his life which brought him even more attention, including internationally. People found his life story fascinating on several fronts.
In 1990 Kenny returned from Alaska to Denver to be honored at the Final Four. He was named NCAA tournament player of the 1940s. The players named as “players of the decade” for the other 40 years are all in the Hall of Fame.
In 2012 Kenny was selected as one of the best 75 NCAA tournament players of all time, and he was inducted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City the same year. Currently, his election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts is pending.
Locally, Kenny received more honors. He was named by the University of Wyoming to the inaugural class of its Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2005 he was selected to the University’s All-Century basketball team. In 2008 Kenny received the prestigious University of Wyoming Medallion Service Award. A replica of his No. 4 jersey was raised in the Arena Auditorium. A statue of Kenny shooting his famous jump shot is being commissioned and scheduled to be unveiled in the Arena-Auditorium in 2017.
Into his 90s Kenny continued to receive visitors, work with kids, sign autographs, and do interviews and public speaking. One of his favorite relationships was with the basketball program at Guernsey-Sunrise High School in eastern Wyoming.
Kenny was preceded in death by his parents, Edward and Cora, his wife Marilynne, two daughters Linda Money and Carrie, the latter who died at age three, his sister Gladys Sailors-Smith, triplet sisters who died as infants, and his brother Barton (Bud). He’s survived by his son, Dan (wife Jean) of Aniak, Alaska, 8 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, one great great grandchild, and numerous nephews and nieces, including Bud’s son, Dale Sailors of Laramie.
Kenny’s professional and personal archives, including 25 hours of oral histories, are permanently housed at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. These are available to the public. There is also a website at www.kennysailorsjumpshot.com.
Kenny Sailors, the “Wyoming Kid,” left his impact on many as spouse, father, teacher, coach, athlete, leader, outdoorsman, patriot, and friend. His strongest traits were his Christian faith, his integrity, and consistency in his viewpoints, behaviors, and decisions.
This is only a summary of Kenny Sailors’ accomplishments and adventures. The number of fascinating and heart-warming stories from his life are too numerous to mention here, and the last one will probably never be told. They would make a good book about a unique individual. His memory and standards for living will endure.
So . . .
“Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23 - KJV)
Celebration of Life and Services
Arrangements are pending and are under the direction of Montgomery-Stryker Funeral Home in Laramie. Pastor Thomas Lund will officiate at the funeral.
Written by: Bill Schrage, with editorial assistance from Danny Nelson