The Obit For Ken Waite

Waite always “top shelf,” says family

By Callie White - The Daily World
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 10:56 AM PST

Whenever anyone asked Ken Waite how he was doing, he always responded the same way, “Top shelf,” whether he was working in the classroom, on the ballfield or even in a hospital bed during his battle with cancer.

Now, say the people who loved him, Waite is on the top shelf looking down. He died Tuesday morning at the University of Washington Medical Center at the age of 55.

A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday in Sam Benn Gymnasium at Aberdeen High School.

According to his family, Waite, a beloved educator in the Aberdeen School District and accomplished basketball referee, went to the hospital the day after Christmas because he was having shortness of breath. Family members said they’ll never know exactly what it was that caused the breathing problem; it was his lymphoma that ultimately ended his life.

In December, he was hospitalized with pneumonia and his family and friends braced for the worst. Against all odds, Waite fought off the infection and made it home for Christmas.

“He was a fighter,” said Waite’s daughter Kristi, 27. She added that his last holiday with his family was a gift.

“Across the street is a Christmas light show, and he was able to sit at night in the living room and listen to Christmas music and watch the lights,” Kristi Waite recalled. “He loved Christmas, and he definitely made his last Christmas his very best.”

Jill Waite said she wished she had more years to spend with her husband, but felt enormously blessed for the ones they had together.

“It was totally awesome and crazy. There was never a dull moment,” Jill Waite said.

Waite also leaves behind a son, Marc, 25.

Arlene Torgerson, vice president of student services at Grays Harbor College, said that after his rally in December, it was especially tough to learn that Waite had died.

Torgerson hired Waite as the college’s athletic director.

“He was so devoted,” Torgerson said. “He cared very deeply about our students. ... He really had an impact on people.”

Waite, a Seattle native, first came to the Harbor in the 1970s, dividing his time between teaching and playing minor league baseball with the Northwest League’s Grays Harbor Loggers.

He really made his mark here as a teacher and coach. He started teaching math at Miller Junior High in 1975, and he began a 12-year stint coaching baseball at Aberdeen High School. He eventually ended up teaching math at the High School as well. His teaching career spanned 33 years before he retired to devote full-time to the GHC athletic director’s job.

Kristi Waite said once her father came to the Harbor, he fell in love with it, and hard.

“He loved the Harbor, he loved the young people and everything the community stands for,” she recalled.

His students loved him back. Bo Chapin, a senior at AHS, said it was easy to feel comfortable with Mr. Waite.

“He’s one of the nicest people I know,” Chapin said. “There was not one day I’d talk to him that he wasn’t as cheerful as he was before.”

Jeff Snell, an Aberdeen School Board member who worked with Waite for years, said Waite was a skillful teacher with a heart.

“He’s taught at least a generation of Aberdeen kids,” Snell said. “He’s probably taught a second generation, too.”

“He was the kind of teacher who always had time for a kid,” recalled AHS Principal Rocky Rocquin. “He just enjoyed the whole process (of teaching). When you talk about a kid-oriented person, that was Kenny.”

Waite was one of the state’s top-ranked basketball officials. Phil Papac, a Montesano businessman and referee, said Waite spent a lot of time in his 30 years refereeing developing local high school game officials.

“His dedication to local basketball officials will be missed,” Papc said.

Waite retired as a head coach in 1993, but kept busy in coaching and officiating other sports (including Division I women’s college basketball) in other seasons and during the summer for the Aberdeen Parks and Rec Department.

“His greatest joy was riding the lawnmower for the Parks Department,” said Derek Cook, assistant principal and athletic director at AHS, praising Waite’s work ethic. “He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. He loved his job, he was always laughing.”

At the Parks & Rec Department, Waite worked for Wes Peterson, who is retired as the Parks Director and now heads the Grays Harbor College Foundation.

“He never saw the world in terms of problems,” Peterson recalled. “Someone would tell him they had a problem, Kenny would say there was always a solution. He was always positive.”

Peterson said he felt extremely fortunate to have known Waite so long, and felt his influence in his life.

“It’s tough to lose people in a community like (Waite),” Peterson said. “He made everybody’s life better.”