Krazy Kenny

Story By Karen Tinsley
Photography by John Liviero

According to astrology, if you were born between May 21 and June 20, you are a Gemini. Which means that ‘Krazy Kenny’ Koekstat (born on June 15) is a Gemini man. This zodiac sign is associated with planet Mercury, the ruler of communication in the astrological universe. 

Each of the 12 signs of the zodiac is ruled by one element: fire, earth, air, or water. Gemini is an air sign; people born under this sign are thought to be naturally friendly and communicative. Perhaps the most curious sign in the zodiac, Geminis are witty, charming and love to socialize. 

The Gemini man is very extroverted, quite versatile, adept at multi-tasking and always up for new, exciting challenges. 

If you’ve met Ken (and chances are you have!), you would agree that the above two paragraphs pretty well describe him almost perfectly.   

However, there is one important thing missing from that almost-perfect description: this particular Gemini man has a heart like a hotel. 

That fact likely has much more to do with Ken’s upbringing and adverse early life experiences than it does with astrology. When Ken was 15 years old, his dad suddenly lost his job. The Koekstat family also lost their home, their car and their way of life. Ken recalls, “we moved seven times that year; we finally landed in Toronto.”

Back then, teenaged Ken had no idea what a pivotal role that his time in “the big city” would play in shaping the rest of his life. He recalls spending a lot of time alone, by himself in his bedroom with his guitar, a book of chords and the Isley Brothers playing on repeat.

A year or so later, Ken was back in Windsor again. He graduated from business college and landed his first fulltime job at a customs brokerage firm on Huron Line. 

After trading in his J45 Gibson for a Beltone electric guitar and amp, Ken recruited several musically inclined friends to form his first band, which they called Hearts of Stone. The band was booked at teen hot spots like The Purple Pad and The Kitten Klub. Ken also recalls the weekly band competitions at Club Alouette. 

After winning quite a few of those contests, Hearts of Stone auditioned at the Riviera Tavern, which was known back then as the ‘temple of rock ‘n’ roll’. Rebranding themselves as Gass Inc., the band now sported Nehru jackets they bought in Detroit. They played ‘the Riviera six nights a week. 

In 1968, Ken still had his ‘day job’ at the customs brokerage firm, but he was also raking in the bucks from his nighttime music gigs. He upgraded his equipment and located an American agent, who booked the band at clubs across the midwestern United States. After buying and ‘tricking out’ a used camper bus, Ken and the band quit their day jobs and hit the road. 

Little did any of them know how rough life on the road would be; their bold sojourn didn’t last too long.  

By 1970, Ken was playing in a band called Dagwood. He laughs, “We went in to play at the Drop-In Tavern for two weeks and we ended up staying for two years.”

Four years later, just a few weeks before his June birthday, the Gemini man joined Windsor Police Services and ended up staying for 17 years. 

Fast forward to 1989, when Deputy Police Chief Alec Somerville invited Ken to become coordinator of Windsor-Essex County Crime Stoppers. 

The success of this award-winning program is certainly no secret; under Ken’s leadership, fundraising events became a trademark; for many years, Crime Stoppers Music Reunions comprised more than 200 entertainers performing free of charge for a good cause. 

Ken may have left the police force in 2007, but ‘the r word’ (aka ‘retirement’) doesn’t appear to be part of his vocabulary.  After turning in his shield, Ken worked part-time as a credit manager at a local music store, founded The Windsor Essex Music Hall of Fame and continued performing at fundraisers, festivals and music venues with his band Brand X. Formed in 1982, Brand X is still going strong as one of the hottest live dance bands in our region. 

If you met Ken for the first time in 2013, you might have mistaken him for a senior flower child; this normally clean-cut Gemini man grew his hair almost to his shoulders. People who hadn’t seen him for a while might have secretly wondered if he was experiencing some kind of age-related crisis. 

Ken laughs, “Some people did call me a hippie; others asked if I needed a handout! And then of course, there were some who just said, ‘That’s Krazy Kenny for ya’.”

Only his family knew the truth: that Ken and then-5-year-old granddaughter Paisley were growing their hair so they could donate “8 to 12 inches of clean, untreated” hair, to be used for hand-crafting human hair wigs for children experiencing hair loss from cancer. 

“It wasn’t the first time this particular hairstylist had lopped off locks for cancer, but it WAS the first time she lopped off the locks of a guy for that purpose!”, Ken laughs. 

Ken and Paisley decided to donate their hair in honour of Ken’s son Grant, who had been diagnosed with leukemia when he was only 8 years old. For more than two stressful years, Ken and his family drove to and from London every week, where Grant endured 110 treatments. 

After Grant lost his hair, sometimes people stared. Other times, kids could be cruel.

“Anyone who has been affected by cancer knows that most of the time you just feel so helpless. You wish with all your heart that there was something, anything you could do. For Paisley and me, this was our something,” Ken reflects. 

In addition, Ken and Paisley raised the $1,200 needed to pay for the creation of the wigs. “As usual, all my friends stepped up, including the publisher of this magazine, who said ‘just tell me how much you need, and I’ll cut a cheque’. I can always count on my friends.” 

More recently, Ken organized Road to Kindness, a special fundraising event featuring 10 of Windsor’s hottest bands performing in support of Moose Lodge. Like all events that Ken gets involved with, not only was it a complete sellout, but more than $10,000 was raised to help the Lodge continue helping others. 

In the months to come, Ken will be involved with the 2024 McGregor Music Festival at Co-An Park in support of cancer, a benefit concert in Lanspeary Park in support of a local food bank, and the Windsor Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame Charity Golf Tournament at Roseland Golf and Curling Club to benefit autism.

Ken shares, “I believe in teaching our children and grandchildren to be good people: give back to your community whenever and wherever you can. And above all, practice The Golden Rule (‘treat everyone how you want to be treated’). That’s the legacy I want to leave.”

There’s no question that Ken’s legacy is assured. 

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