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FOSTORIA — Stephanie Drew is still torn right down the middle. Half of her is grief-stricken, dazed, and in shock over the recent unexpected death of her husband, a popular bait shop owner.
The other half finds comfort in smiling or sometimes even shedding a celebratory tear over how the man she loved made his exit, essentially on his terms.
Ken Drew spent his last day on earth treating 70-some kids in this economically depressed town to a free fishing derby. Then he played with his grandchildren and took them fishing.
That evening he laid down on the coach to watch his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes and dozed off.
The 54-year-old Drew died in his sleep.
“I know none of us gets to choose, but if Ken could have planned out how he wanted to spend his last day here, that’s exactly the way he would have done it,” Stephanie Drew said about her husband. “His day was filled with fishing, with family and then watching the Buckeyes. Those things all mattered to him.”
Last year, Drew opened Fostoria Bait and Tackle in his garage, just a few doors down West Fremont St. from city reservoir No. 2, Lake Mottram. A lifelong fisherman, he was upset that it was tough to find good, live bait, so he went into the business.
His wife said Drew was the pied piper of young fishermen, or at times their surrogate grandpa. He fixed tangled lines, gave away bait to kids who couldn’t afford to buy it, and just encouraged them to enjoy fishing. Worried that his kids and others were spending too much time on the computer and video games, Drew told his wife he wanted to sponsor a free day of fishing and give out a lot of prizes.
“Not every kid has the equipment or has a dad to take them fishing, so Ken wanted to introduce as many of them as he could to the sport,” Drew’s wife said. “He loved fishing so much from when he was a kid, and he was afraid that this whole generation was missing out on it.”
About six months ago, Drew pitched his fishing derby proposal to Fostoria mayor John Davoli, who helped promote the event through flyers distributed with city water bills. They used the pavilion at the city park adjacent to the reservoir to organize and stage the event.
“I loved Ken’s passion and his desire to give kids an opportunity to go fishing, but I just wasn’t sure what kind of turnout we would get, since it was something new,” Davoli said. “I thought maybe a dozen kids would show up.”
There were 70, maybe 80 kids when the “Fishing for the Future” derby got under way, plus parents and grandparents and uncles, the county game warden, and professional fisherman and Fostoria firefighter Jason Root.
“Ken was a guy who saw too many kids headed in the wrong direction ... and he wanted to do something about it,” Root said. “There are so many negative influences out there, so he engaged every kid he came in contact with. He was a character, but he took it upon himself to try and make a difference in kids’ lives.”
Drew, who had been laid off a couple years ago after working all his life in the manufacturing industry, distributed bait to everyone, donated fishing equipment, and scrambled around the bank of the reservoir freeing snagged lines, removing fish, and baiting hooks.
“He looked like he was having a ball, just trying to take care of everyone,” said Stacey Rowe, who brought her two children to the fishing derby. “He took the time to talk with all the kids, show them how to cast, and help them with the bait. He was so patient with everyone.”
When Rowe’s daughter Pheryn caught the first fish of the day, Drew was right there to assist. “He seemed as thrilled as she was about it,” Mrs. Rowe said.
After the derby ended, the prizes donated by local merchants were awarded and the cleanup was completed, Drew learned that his grandkids had not been too successful fishing that morning, so he took them back to the reservoir for a couple more hours.
“After that, we just relaxed and talked about how we planned to make next year’s derby so much bigger and better,” Stephanie Drew said. “I went to bed to read and he was watching the game. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. The doctor said his heart just stopped.”
Drew had a history of heart problems, suffering a heart attack nearly 20 years ago. His wife said he carried nitroglycerin tablets with him, but never had occasion to use them.
The city plans to continue the fishing derby in Drew’s honor and place a bench along the shore of the reservoir at Drew’s favorite fishing spot.
“A lot of people live in Fostoria, but Ken was part of Fostoria,” Davoli said. “He died doing what he loved doing. He really had a passion for teaching kids to fish.”
Drew’s wife said the outpouring of support she has received from the community has confirmed something she had observed for many years about her husband, who was buried wearing his Ohio State jersey and hat.
“I always knew he was a great guy,” Stephanie Drew said.
“Now everybody else knows that too.”
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.