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Published: Thursday, 5/1/2008

Friends turn tables on ailing ex-athlete

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Friends describe Jack Kennedy as a man who has spent his life helping others.

Now Mr. Kennedy, 79, a former Toledo firefighter and city parks and recreation commissioner, is getting some help from his friends.

Mr. Kennedy has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Patients with this progressive neurodegenerative disease lose the ability to control their muscle movement as the disease progresses.

He was diagnosed with the disease in September, 2007.

Mary Dixon, who worked with Mr. Kennedy for 20 years in the parks and recreation department, recalled how he was always helping the young people who had summer jobs there - with everything from letters of recommendation to lending them a few dollars until the next payday.

"I liken him to George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life," Mrs. Dixon said. "Everyone likes Jack. He would walk into a room and he knows everyone."

Mr. Kennedy, who now experiences difficulty moving because of the disease, is renowned in local sports circles for his athletic accomplishments, friend Mike Cicak said.

"Jack is probably one of the premier athletes from the city of Toledo," he said, noting Mr. Kennedy played football and softball, but was especially skilled at basketball.

He played at the collegiate level at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo, then on a traveling team that competed against the Harlem Globetrotters.

"Every athlete in town knows him well," Mr. Cicak said. "He just [doesn't] have any enemies. Anybody that played either with him or against him only has good things to say."

In addition to his athletic prowess, Mr. Kennedy is also known for his famous bootlegger father, Jack Kennedy, Sr., who was gunned down by mobsters in 1933 during Prohibition-era gang warfare. Mr. Kennedy was only 4 at the time.

After his basketball career, Mr. Kennedy worked as a firefighter, and when those days ended because of an auto accident, he went to work for the city's parks and recreation department. He retired as the department's commissioner in 1992.

Mr. Kennedy used to organize annual "chili mac" dinners - a dish with chili served over spaghetti - and invited various athletes and friends. He donated the proceeds to charities, Mr. Cicak said.

Now, his friends are organizing such a dinner for him as a benefit to help with expenses.

The fund-raiser for Mr. Kennedy is tonight from 5 to 8 p.m. at The Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle, Arrowhead Park, Maumee. The cost is $25 per person in advance and $29 at the door.

"We want him to see all the appreciation everybody has for him," said Mark Thees, owner of The Pinnacle banquet facility, which is hosting the event.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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