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Published: Monday, 6/9/2008

Ex-parks chief played against Globetrotters

John W. "Jack" Kennedy, 79, a former Toledo commissioner of parks and recreation who was also a prominent businessman and a star basketball player, died Saturday at his home in Sylvania.

The death followed a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, his son, Kevin Kennedy, said.

Mr. Kennedy served as recreation commissioner with the city from 1978 to 1992, working for a brief period as superintendent of cemeteries in the early 1980s when budget cuts temporarily eliminated the recreation commissioner post.

Prior to his initial promotion he was the city's recreation supervisor, a position that involved directing the public swimming pools and organizing citywide sports leagues.

Mary Dixon succeeded Mr. Kennedy as commissioner, and recalled how she got her start working as his secretary in the 1970s through the 1980s. She said that Mr. Kennedy was well-respected in the community and worked to bring numerous sports tournaments to Toledo.

He was crucial to the landmark 1985 deal that transferred management of Toledo's three public golf courses to a private operator. The deal helped to not only transform the quality of the grounds, but also turned them from money-losers to money-makers.

Mr. Kennedy was born in 1929 in Toledo to Winifred and Jack Kennedy, Sr. The elder Mr. Kennedy was a popular racketeer and bootlegger who was shot to death in 1933 in Point Place by Detroit gangster Thomas "Yonnie" Licavoli and several henchmen.

Young Kennedy was 4 years old at the time and was raised by his mother and grandparents. He went on to become a standout athlete at Woodward High School, lettering in five sports including his speciality, basketball.

After graduation in 1947, Mr. Kennedy played basketball at Bowling Green State University before transferring to the present day University of Toledo.

Two years later he joined the former professional basketball team, the Toledo Mercurys, and in 1953 joined the Washington Generals, an exhibition basketball team renowned for its staged losing streak against the Harlem Globetrotters.

While his professional basketball career was winding down by the late 1950s, Mr. Kennedy continued playing basketball for fitness throughout his life and into his 70s, his son said.

In later years he coached minor league basketball, took part in fast-pitch softball, and traveled the country playing basketball in the Senior Olympics.

"Athletics was a very big part of his life," his son said.

Mr. Kennedy was a Toledo fireman from 1956 to 1969. During the 1960s he also owned and operated the Toledo Swim Club along with various restaurants and night clubs, including The Pub, The Tip-In, The Dorm, and Westgate Lounge.

He was also well-known for hosting his annual "Chili Mac" dinners.

Last year he fulfilled a long-standing dream and opened Chili-Jack's restaurant on Centennial Road in Sylvania.

Surviving are his wife of 29 years, Barbara Kennedy; son, Kevin Kennedy; two step-children; five step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Walker Funeral Home, 5155 West Sylvania Ave.

Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Sylvania.

The Farnham Funeral Home in Temperance is handling arrangements.

The family suggests tributes to Odyssey Hospice in Maumee.



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