As his health fades, Kenny Arnold still inspires

In Media by rkassebaum

Blackouts. Be bold, wear gold. Stripe the stadium. One color-coordinated day for fans at an Iowa Hawkeyes football or basketball game blurs into another.

Well, not all. The next one will tower above the rest. It’s a whiteout for people attending the Illinois-Iowa men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday afternoon, and it will be about far more than an eye-catching aesthetic.

Fans are being urged to purchase white T-shirts with “Iowa” in script font, and the name “Arnold” with the number 30 on the back. The current Hawkeyes team wore the shirts in warm-ups before its game at Northwestern last month, and will do so again Saturday.

“Arnold” is Kenny Arnold, the guard from Chicago who was a 3-year starter for Iowa while wearing No. 30. He led the Hawkeyes’ 1980 Final Four team in points and assists as a sophomore despite playing part of the season with a broken right thumb.

Arnold, 57, has endured a hard adult life. He had a malignant brain tumor when he was 25. Later in life, he suffered a series of mini-strokes that cost him his ability to speak. He has faced chronic pain, and has lived for the last several years in a Chicago nursing home.

At various times, his Iowa teammates and his coach, Lute Olson, led fundraising efforts for Arnold or produced the financial help themselves. The proceeds from the shirts sold for Arnold — at Iowa City/Coralville stores Black & Gold Shop and Hawkeye Fan Shop and at Carver — will help Arnold.

“The biggest things are to pay for some physical therapy and help him with pain management,” said Mike “Tree” Henry, one of Arnold’s Iowa teammates who visits Arnold a few times a week.

“The issue is his right hip,” Henry said. “It’s extremely painful to him.”

So much so, in fact, that Arnold typically is bedridden. Traveling would be too difficult for him right now, so he won’t be at Saturday’s game. His nursing home is having a watch party of the Iowa game. Meanwhile, his old teammates will reunite in Iowa City this weekend.

From 11:30-12:30, they’ll sign autographs in Carver before the 1 p.m. game. From 4 to 8, they’ll gather at the University Club on Melrose Avenue for a meet-and-greet with fans.

Much of this has come to fruition because of seeds of goodness planted by a Hawkeye fan from Storm Lake and his 13-year-old son.

Marty Gallagher read about Arnold’s condition and decided to try to help a player he idolized when Gallagher was a 10-year-old growing up in Strawberry Point.

“I got in touch with (former Iowa players) Mark Gannon, Ronnie Lester and Tree Henry,” said Gallagher. “I went to Chicago to determine if I’d be able to do something to help Kenny.”

Gallagher is the CEO/co-owner of Talk to Me Technologies, which specializes in speech-generating devices. They donated such a machine to Arnold last year, enabling him to use a touch-screen to detail his pain and his basic needs, and to be able to again enjoy being able to converse with people.

“It’s really made an unbelievable difference,” Henry said. “It turned him around immediately. The ability to communicate raised his spirits. I really can’t think Marty enough.”

Marty’s son, Ben, came up with the T-shirt design with no intention of taking it to the masses. But Henry posted a photo of one on Facebook, and all sorts of Iowa fans quickly inquired how they could get one.

The shirt features a small logo with “TFL” inside an outline of the state of Iowa. That stands for “Teammates for Life.” It couldn’t be truer in this case. Henry and his college teammates have stood by their friend through all these years.

Steve Waite was a center on that team. He scored the most-famous basket in Hawkeyes history when his drive and subsequent free throw for a three-point play with five seconds left broke a tie in Iowa’s 1980 NCAA East Regional championship win over Georgetown in Philadelphia, sending the Hawkeyes to the Final Four.

“A lot of teams were more talented,” Waite said this week from his Des Moines home. “But we had great chemistry.

“You hear that all the time, and sometimes it’s a little overblown. But for us, it was very important. We got along really well on the court and off the court. Our styles and personalities meshed, and that has carried on after basketball.

“Kenny, in some ways, has kept us pretty tight as a team. In 30-some years, we’ve moved in different ways in different states. But certain things pull us back together, and this weekend is a very good reason.”

Henry was at that Chicago nursing home visiting Arnold when he was interviewed for this column.

“The guys on that team talk about it all the time, how we had the world by the tail,” Henry said. “To see Kenny go through this really puts life and everything into perspective. He’s my hero now.”

Article by The Cedar Rapids Gazette
Mike Hlas

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