Remembering Kenneth ‘Chuck’ Conner:

Posted December 23, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Chuck Conner.psd

The Legend Lives On

By David Cross

He always loved to play to the crowd.

Whether it was on a basketball court, a ball diamond, a wrestling ring, or perhaps in some non-sporting venue such as a church or court room, he always did better if he had an audience.

Kenneth Conner, known to many as “Chuck”, the name he used for years as a wrestling star, may have been the best athlete to walk the halls of Clinton County High School. He was a Clinton County and regional legend. But he was also a person, and people die. “Big Red”, as he was known to many, died last week at age 76. Funeral; services were private. He was buried near his home on ground that he owned in the Aaron community, on what is now appropriately known as Conner Ridge.

Ken Conner was the son of Ewell and Rosa Conner. Ms. Rosa ran stores for many years at Aaron and Fairland, and lived to within five months of her 100th birthday. She fed her large family out of the store, and obviously fed them well, particularly the boys: Keith, Kenneth, A.V., and Junior, known to all as Bear. They were all big ol’ boys.

Kenneth was the most athletic of the bunch, and of course the most incorrigible. It is said that when he left Fairland and came to high school to start his freshman year, he stayed one day and then went home and cut wood all year. (That’s part of the legend).

When he came back the next year he had transformed into the strong, well-developed athlete that you see in old high school annuals.

You could always spot Kenneth Conner, even if you didn’t see his face, because his chest was so over-developed.

As a sophomore, in 1960, he was a key part of the only Clinton County High School basketball team to reach the State Tournament, with Bill Perdue, Jack Latham, Wilkie Skipworth and other notables, many of which are now gone. The 1961 team missed the presence of Skipworth, Latham and Perdue but younger players such as Jack Sewell and Sherman York were coming along and Coach Lindle Castle had his best team in 1962, being ranked in the Top Ten in the state for much of the year.

However, that team fell to another great team, Coach Jimmy Bazzell’s Allen County Patriots, when Clinton County squandered a lead after Kenneth fouled out on a mysterious call late in the game.

As the Park City Daily News stated the next day, people in Clinton County are still wondering what happened. And those still with us who were present 57 years ago still are wondering.

He ended his high school basketball career as the all-time leading scorer for the Bulldogs, with 1,887 points. That record stood for 53 years until Keifer Dalton surpassed him in the 2014-15 season.

Kenneth made All-State in ‘62 and was heavily recruited, turning down an offer from Ed Diddle at Western Kentucky to accept a scholarship offer from Middle Tennessee, which played in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Ken played there his Freshman year and averaged over 14 points per game, but he said his average would have been a lot higher except the coach had games where he played him only a few minutes.

Kenneth left school after his Freshman season. It had something to do with class attendance. He later made stops at Lindsey Wilson and Campbellsville College, and stayed long enough to get to know people at each stopover.

One of the students he got know at Lindsey Wilson was a short little fellow from Liberty whose parents ran a store there. His name was Wallace Wilkinson.

Wallace became rich in business and in 1986 announced as a candidate for Governor of Kentucky. Most scoffed at the possibility of Wilkinson winning, but when you had Chuck Conner out campaigning on your behalf, you had to be a winner.

After Wallace’s election, (it was always “Wallace” to Kenneth) Kenneth actually worked on the state payroll for a while, but soon returned home.

Kenneth learned the oil business from his father, Ewell Conner, as well as JB Burchett and Jr. Brown working on cable-tool rigs, and he took advantage of his experience to get involved in oil drilling and promotion in the early 1980s. He also made a not-too-serious run for Sheriff .

Kenneth began wrestling in the 1960s, originally as “Ken O’Connor”. That evolved into “Chuck”, undoubtedly taken from the star of The Rifleman TV show, who was also a good athlete, playing pro baseball and basketball, and actually favored Chuck a bit.

His tag-team partner was Dale Mann, who had been raised near Kenneth and had moved back to Kentucky in the early 1970s.

They traveled all over Kentucky and Tennessee as wrestling partners, and Big Red continued to wrestle until he was declared disabled by the Social Security Administration –and might have gone to Georgetown to wrestle on Sunday nights for a while thereafter.

Kenneth Conner didn’t have a funeral, because he told his wife he didn’t want one. He directed that his remains be taken upon a hill near his house and be put in the ground there. His wishes were, and should have been honored. A quiet ending for a colorful character.

We had a softball team together in the early nineties. It was mostly Conners, so our shirts said “Conner” and “Non-Conner” . We had a lot of fun. Chuck loved to play ball.

An honorary manager for one of Chuck’s softball teams was another local sports legend, the late John Emmitt Polston. When asked how he coached a player like Chuck, he once replied “You don’t coach a man like Big Red, you just wind him up and turn him loose!”

Before Chuck decided not to have a funeral, he asked me to give his eulogy. This column is as close as I can come to honoring his request.

Kenneth was an imperfect man, as we all are. He may have been the biggest family man in Clinton County, but we can’t say he was the best.

What we can say is that he was never going to have anything in his life, because he was going to give it away. The countless times he’d taken people money, food, or even given them a place to live will never come to light.

He lived his life that way for two reasons–he thought it was the right thing to do, but he also loved the adulation he would receive. He was a bigger than life character, a hero to some, and a friend to many.

I could go on and on, but I’ve said enough. You surely have your own memories of Big Red.

[Editor’s note: A death notice for Kenneth “Chuck” Conner appears on page 4 and a separate memorial appears this week in Turnovers, on page 6.]