Last in a four-part series
By M.E. Jones
DEVENS -- During a recent interview, former Nashoba Publishing sports editor Ken Blanchette talked about his quarter century on the job and how a series of strokes 15 months ago stopped him in his tracks. He's still recovering.
Life is different in the Blanchette household these days. Ken and his wife Kathy have moved from a condo in Shirley that they couldn't afford to keep to a more modest home in an over-55 mobile home park in town, the same small town where Ken grew up.
Kathy is retired now and their son Derek has a place of his own. Sketching a typical day, the two said they might watch baseball on TV between trips to Ken's therapy sessions and doctor's appointments and take occasional strolls through the local Target store.
And they have a cat, three-month old Coco. Kathy said he sleeps on their bed, likes to snuggle and also runs around the house like a whirlwind, knocking things over.
When the high-school sports season starts, they want to attend local games, which was once Ken's job. He misses the rapport he'd established with athletic directors and coaches in the schools he covered then, Ken said, and he'd love to hear from them now. Emails would be welcomed, he said, just to chat, maybe keep up with what's up and who's who in the world of high-school sports.
Preparing for the interview, which wound through past and present over a couple of hours, Ken made a list of important points he wanted to talk about.
Items such as the benefit held for him at Moore's Billiards Hall in Ayer last June, a month after his stroke. The place was packed with people who came to wish him well and donate to the cause, including coaches, friends from town, folks he's known and/or worked with over the years.
"I haven't thanked everyone for doing that," he said, searching for words and reaching for a tissue. Should he try to mention them all? Clearly it would be a long, long list and he wouldn't want to leave anyone out.
Kathy came to his aid. There were too many to name them all, she said. But it was great.
She also said it's key to say that Ken doesn't think he's "all that," like another sportswriter he once met. "This guy had an ego you could step on," Kathy said, translating.
"It's not about the writer, it's about the kids," Ken said, summing up the driving philosophy behind Sports Night, the annual event he founded and fostered for nine years.
"Another biggie is Kathy," Ken continued. "She's been there ... has to do everything," he said. "I'm useless."
Back in 2008, his wife had serious medical issues of her own and he had to be there for her. "I was in a coma," she confirmed.
Kathy laughed, acknowledging shared shortcomings and gaps they fill for each other. "I have memory issues and he has speech problems."
She writes things down on a calendar, appointment dates, people's names, phone numbers, e-mails. Sometimes, Ken catches something she's forgotten. "I don't know how she did it ... because of me," he now says of his wife. "She's been amazing!"
Surprised, Kathy said her husband isn't one to compliment her much. "So that's how he tells me ..." she said.
And there he goes, reaching for a tissue again.
Kathy acknowledged she's shaky herself at times, while he jokingly paints them both with the same brush. "I don't think we have a brain between us," Ken said.
The sunny side
The Blanchettes said some good things have come out of their respective bouts with illness, though. For example, their son Derek has become more attentive to his parents, they said. And Kathy said she treasures her family more than ever, including her daughter from a former marriage, Vikki Costa, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Wrapping the interview, Ken mused about the next 10 years. He doesn't hold out much hope that he'll return to work at Nashoba Publishing, peppering the sports pages with wit and wisdom and shuttling back and forth to as many high school games as he could cover in the newspaper's six-town coverage area. "It won't matter that I (don't) write the stories anymore," he said. "But I want to let the kids know I haven't abandoned them."
He means the student athletes he wrote about, observed on the playing field, talked about with athletic directors, coaches and teachers and often got to know during their high school sports careers.
"Not that he likes them all, or likes them all equally, but he always managed to say something nice" when their names were mentioned in one of his articles, Kathy said. "That thrilled their families,"
Ken picked up the thread. "This is important," he said. "I never let a strikeout or an error be the story." He admitted that he might sometimes have "gone overboard" in that way, extolling someone's virtues versus their statistics, for example, sparking occasional struggles with editor Kate Walsh King over some of his stories. But he doesn't regret it. "I believe in what I did," he said.
He wants to thank everyone, Ken said, from those who threw him a fundraising party soon after his stroke and many others who attended to folks he's worked with -- and for -- over the years. And he's grateful to the community newspapers for the opportunity to cover school sports for over 25 years. "Thanks for letting me do this," he said.