This blog was originally posted on our website January 30, 2014 - we were in the midst of construction at the time, and this blindsided us. This experience resonated with so many people, reminded us about the meaning of community, and galvanized who we are as people and as a business.
It has been nearly two years since then, and even still, not a day goes by that we don't think of Kenny, his inspiring wife Robin, and every single member of their loving family and extended group of kind and generous friends. Much love to each and every one of them, today and always.
In the months since we opened, we have been contacted by countless guests, local and otherwise, who ask about Kenny and Robin, and inquire about the status of the wall. Most of them ask if it is still in place. It is, and it always will be.
It is our mission to keep Kenny's spirit and memory alive - please feel free to share.
So, the Bagby Beer Company was vandalized over the weekend. We came in to the brewery on Monday morning to this:
As a fledgling business in Oceanside – one that in fact is still in the midst of construction, this immediately felt like a blow. Our property, one we have been laboring over and painstakingly renovating over the past half of a year, not to mention dreaming about for the better part of a decade, had been defaced. Someone scaled the fences, hid behind a newly-built wall, and added their ‘touch’ to what will be the maintenance area for the brewery we are installing, all while managing to elude the surveillance camera that runs just about 24/7.
“This sucks”, we told ourselves. We thought about the work and the cost that would be needed to restore the wall to it’s previous state, what it meant that someone had so little regard for what we are trying to build. We wondered: should we expect more such vandalism episodes? Was there more we hadn’t yet discovered? Did this mean we aren’t wanted or welcomed in Oceanside? We called the Police to report it.
And then we took a minute, stood outside of ourselves, and really read the piece.
“Kenny - Cancer Can’t Kill Me”
And we instantly realized: there is far, far more to this story, and we’d like to know what that is. Why would someone express this message, in this way, in this spot? Who was Kenny? Was he still battling? Had he already won or lost? Who were these people? Not unlike nearly everyone we know, we, too, have been devastatingly impacted by cancer – we have seen it destroy too many of our friends and loved ones over the years. It was evident to us that this “graffiti” was bigger than us. It told a story to which we all can relate, and in its honesty and boldness, did what so few of us have had the courage or means to do – “Fuck Cancer” it says. Indeed. We couldn’t agree more.
Here is where the story takes an astounding turn. It was the next day, Tuesday – about 1:00. We were gearing up for our weekly construction meeting when I looked out the window of our on-site office, and noticed a few people looking through the construction fence, and attempting to photograph this tribute to Kenny – from about 60 feet away. Without hesitation, I approached the trio. I asked them if they knew the story behind the art, did they know Kenny or the artist. Right away, instinctively, they denied knowing anything, that they had just heard about it, that they were just driving by…no way, I thought. I pressed them. I assured them that we weren’t interested in punishing whoever had done it, that we merely wanted to know the story, to find out more, to see if there isn’t an opportunity to prepare a tribute to Kenny that can be more permanent, more visible…and that’s when one of the women started crying. Her eyes welled up, and in a hushed and broken voice she uttered “he’s my husband”. I was speechless. I asked if I could give her a hug, and then I did. We were all crying as she recounted the last several days with Kenny in ICU, battling his second round with cancer, how he had beat the disease once several years ago, how she believed he could do it again, but this time it is much worse. She told me how he is suffering, how they have been together nearly two decades, how their dream of having a child was shattered by the course of his testicular cancer, how adoption wasn’t an option because it is too expensive (she’s a teacher and he, a surfboard shaper). I invited them to take a closer look and get a better view; they hugged one another, and cried, and took pictures together in front of the wall.
And then she apologized. For defacing our property. She explained that the artist felt badly, but he knew it was a construction site, and that maybe the impact to us would be minimized. She told me how when Kenny saw a picture of the piece, he broke down crying. I was disarmed and forever transformed by her vulnerability and her honesty. The feeling of “why us” was – in an instant – replaced with gratitude. We are so grateful that we were given the opportunity to be touched by this incredible couple, to get to know their story, and to try – eventually – to find a proper, fitting, tribute to Kenny and his gallant battle with this annihilating disease.
There is a chance Kenny will be released from the hospital this weekend – if so, we’ll be at the brewery, hoping he makes a visit in person on his way home. We’ll be thrilled to meet him, and tell him we are pulling for him, that as long as he wants, the mural shall remain.
So, this is why we will not be painting over this, until we can figure out how to replace it with something else, forever.
UPDATE - 1.31.14:
We were devastated to learn last night that Kenny had succumbed to his illness, surrounded by his gentle, loving, devoted wife, Robin, his extended family, and a massive group of friends.
We were honored to host an incredible group of people today at the brewery, to remember Kenny. There were countless tears and the heart break was palpable - but there were also so many smiles, and laughter, and long embraces - just how Kenny would have wanted it. Kenny's legacy is reflected in this collection of truly exceptional, humble, kind, generous, warm people. Although we did not get the chance to meet him, we are beginning to get a sense of just who he was through this remarkable circle of his loved ones. This is a huge loss for our community.
We continue to be amazed at the impact Kenny's story is having on so many people. Thank you for allowing us to share it, and for being touched by his life.