Covering the Colorado legislature was a blast and I was always reluctant to single out a favorite lawmaker because I liked so many of them, but on April 11, 2005 I came clean.
“Do you have a favorite legislator? ” Colorado Pols, a new blog that was a must read for politicos, asked me in a Q & A.
“My press colleagues and lawmakers always tease me about Sen. Ken Kester,” was my answer. “He was so much fun in the House and he is a riot in the Senate.”
And it was true. How could you resist a guy who couldn’t resist having some fun with fellow Sen. Jim Isgar over a sex education bill.
“Isgar told me’s coming out with a bill where you’ll have driver’s training and sex education in the same car,” Kester deadpanned.
That one-liner from Kester was one I captured when I covered the legislature for the Rocky Mountain News and then the Denver Post.
I was honored that at Kester’s funeral Monday in Las Animas the preacher, former Rep. Mark Cloer, read the entire blog I wrote about Kester in 2010 as he was about to retire from the Capitol after 12 years of service. The blog included more of Kester’s quips and an incredible biography fashioned by his three sons, Dan, Mike and Ed.
“His oldest memory is of waking up from his nap and the dust on the pillow formed the shape of his head,” they said of their dad, who grew up during the Dust Bowl.
Kester was born March 16, 1936 in Lamar, and died Feb. 17. He was 81.
Besides his sense of humor, the Las Animas Republican was known for keeping his word, working across the aisle and fighting for southeastern Colorado. “Kind, decent, nice” were words repeated over and over again in Facebook posts and Tweets about Kester.
“He was kind, fair, and respectful to all. It was an honor to carry legislation with Ken for the good of the people of Colorado!” wrote Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.
“So sorry to hear about Ken,” said former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Jefferson County Democrat. “He was a decent man and good to work with.”
Sam Mamet, longtime director of the Colorado Municipal League, tweeted that “Ken was kind, decent and, above all, fun.”
Among those at the funeral service were Sen. Larry Crowder and former Sen. Lew Entz, both Republicans, former Rep. Buffie McFadyen, a Democrat, and lobbyists Becky Brooks and Kelley Brooks. Locals included Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell and her husband, Jerry, a former school superintendent, and former Bent County Commission Chairman Bill Long.
The funeral was held at the school-turned community center, across the street from the home Kester entered late one night in 1974 as he tried to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. He had planned to run for county commissioner as a Republican, but discovered he was registered as an unaffiliated. He needed 500 signatures from registered voters in the county who did not vote in the primary in order to get on the general election ballot.
The primary turnout was always good in Bent County so the effort was arduous.
Kester entered the home, got the signature of the wife and asked the whereabouts of the husband. Asleep, he was told. Kester walked into the bedroom, woke him up and got the signature.
The whole episode was witnessed by the 19-year-old who had convinced Kester to take on the incumbent commissioner.
“It happened right in that house there,” Dick Wadhams said, as he toured his hometown — where he is known as Richard — the day before the funeral. “I’ll never forget it.”
Kester went on to win — and then become a Republican.
That was one of the stories repeated over and over again as Kester’s friends, fans and family gathered to honor the man.
Another was the time he dropped the Bible that the former Bent County clerk, Donetta Davidson, was to be sworn in with when she was appointed secretary of state. A hush fell over the state House until Kester turned to face his colleagues with his oh-gosh look and lawmakers burst out laughing. The Denver Post got the best photo of that moment, which I used in my blog. Davidson was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral and like other longtime friends of Kester, including Jace Ratzlaff, she left the auditorium holding a crumpled up tissue.
After the funeral service, the burial and reception were held later in the afternoon in Cañon City, where Kester was buried alongside his late wife, Virginia, who died in 1995. When Dan Kester announced his father’s death on Facebook, he wrote, “I have always said that all of the good things in my life came because I was the son of Ken and Virginia Kester.”
Lobbyist Mike Beasley, who with J.J. Ament helped Kester win his first House race, attended the Cañon City portion of events.
“I told his boys, ‘I learned so much from your dad. He was what a public servant should be,'” Beasley said. “Ken Kester was the model of someone who gets things done.”
Among those at both the funeral and the burial was another Las Animas native, Karen Long.
She was the office manager at Kester’s car dealership in Las Animas from 1969 to 1980, and recalls all the trophies and sports shirts from the events Kester’s dealership used to sponsor. She later worked at car dealerships in the metro area and one day when Kester called to chat, she told him she was ready to get out of the car business. Pretty soon she got a call from the Adams County clerk’s office. Long became the deputy to Clerk and Recorder Carol Snyder, and then succeeded Snyder as clerk for eight years.
Long, a Democrat, retired to Cañon City. She bought the townhouse that belonged to Kester’s late sister.
“Ken always had his thumb on whatever he was involved in,” she said. “He was a people person, that’s for sure. “