The Obit For John McKenna

John M. McKenna Sr.

Published in the New Haven Register on May 27, 2011


Mr. John M. McKenna Sr., 89, of 40 Quarry Village Road, educator, coach, gentleman and Hillhouse High School baseball and basketball standout, died Wednesday, May 25 at the Elim Park Health Center following a long illness.

He was surrounded by his wife of 64 years, Ellen (Barber) McKenna, and their loving family at the time of his passing.

Mr. McKenna was born in New Haven on March 3, 1922, the son of Michael and Mary (Casey) McKenna, and played basketball and baseball at Hillhouse High School and basketball at Arnold College.

After graduating from Arnold in 1942 with a bachelor of science degree in physical education, he joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and served a three-year stint as a physical fitness instructor at naval bases in Key West, Fla., and Norfolk, Va.

He also played baseball for Navy teams, excelling as a left-handed pitcher who went by the nickname he earned growing up in New Haven, "Lefty." Mr. McKenna's most cherished accomplishment in sports was coaching Waterbury's Wilby High School to the Class A state basketball championship in 1952-53.

Mr. McKenna spent most of his 35-year career in the Waterbury school system at Wilby, where he taught physical education and later went into guidance. In addition to basketball, he coached football and baseball at Wilby.

Mr. McKenna played professional baseball in the Boston Braves system after being signed out of Hillhouse in 1939. Known for his curveball, he pitched for the Braves' Three-I League affiliate in Evansville, Ind., and for Glens Falls, N.Y., of the Northern League before World War II. Following the war, he pitched for Hartford of the Eastern League and for the Waterbury Timers of the Colonial League, ending his professional career in 1947, the year he married Ellen. He also played semi-pro ball for the West Haven Sailors.

Mr. McKenna was a high school basketball official and baseball umpire and a college basketball official for 28 years.

In addition to his devoted wife, Mr. McKenna is survived by three sons, Gary J. McKenna of Wolcott; Robert B. McKenna of Litchfield; and John M. McKenna Jr., of Morris; and a daughter, Patricia M. Adams of Cheshire; two brothers, Dr. James F. McKenna of Torrington and Lawrence T. McKenna of Hamden;16 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by a brother, Edward J. McKenna of Las Vegas.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at the Church of the Epiphany, Huckins Road, Cheshire, at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Burial will follow at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Watertown.

Calling hours are today from 5 to 8 p.m. at Murphy Funeral Home, 115 Willow St., Waterbury.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Mr. McKenna's memory can be made to the Petit Family Foundation, Box 310, Plainville, 06062-0310.