The Havens Family

Our Little Cabin in the Big Internet Woods

Kenny & Me

by Janice E. Powers

The first time I heard the name Kenneth Havens was spoken by my girlfriend and neighbor. She mentioned his name quite a bit and it was easy to realize that she had a big crush on this guy. She mentioned him in many of our conversations about what he was doing during the summer and fall of 1962 and into the spring of 1963. Her parents were involved with the Sherrill Grange along with another couple from the West Road, Oneida, New York. The family friends were mostly boys and my girlfriend's family was all girls--six of them, with three still living at home. I knew from her that Ken Havens went to school with the boys and was a friend of theirs since he lived just down the road.

During the winter of 1962-63, I went to a dance at a Grange Hall near or in Peterboro with my friend's family, and it was at this dance that I saw Ken Havens for the first time. He was a member of the little band along with his West Road buddies. I think at this time my friend did introduce me to the guys but they were very involved with their music and did not have time to talk. There were not many people at that dance since it was the dead of winter and very cold and just freezing in that hall. I remember that my friend and I and our two younger sisters jitterbugged a lot with each other to keep warm. When the dance ended, we all rushed to the car and the heater.

During the presidency of John F. Kennedy, students were encouraged to exercise and excel in sports. We always had this checklist of activities to accomplish in gym class. President Kennedy also asked young people to walk for America and to get out in the fresh air and exercise.

So that spring of 1963, my friend and I, along with our two younger sisters, planned a 25-mile walk which involved a few stops along the way visiting family and friends. We left early one wonderful sunny day during Easter vacation and headed through the city of Sherill on our way to the town of Stockbridge where my friend's married sister lived. She fed us lunch. Then we headed back down the West Road to the family friends for our last stop before returning to Sherrill. The boys were expecting us, and they had a houseful. I met them all again and one other young man who was Ken Havens. He came in rather quietly and did not say much but I noticed him watching every move that I made. This certainly left me with an unsettled feeling because he spent most of the time gazing at me and never said a word to my friend.

We chatted with the guys for a while and then headed for home because it was starting to get dark and none of us fearful little teenagers liked being out after dark. We walked a little way when along came a guy that we knew and he offered to drive us home. We took him up on his offer. We did not walk the full 25 miles but that was all right with us. We got to ride in a brand new Ford Edsel instead.

That weekend after the walk Ken showed up unexpectedly at my house on his bicycle, his major mode of transportation at that time. I was extremely surprised to see him because I wondered what was he doing here when it was my friend who liked him. He came up on the porch with the biggest smile. I remember bringing him in to meet my mother and probably my sister. My father operated a gas station and was not home much. Ken stayed until well after dark and we all worried about him riding home on that little bike. We got used to this because he came over many times that spring and early summer and left in the dark. My mother and I, with my driver's permit, drove him home a few times when our car was available. The more he came over, the more he got involved with my family. My mother was very outgoing and generous and happy to have company and Kenny ate dinner with us a few times. I guess I would say about this time that we were smitten with one another. He became my first very serious boyfriend.

In the spring, when the last of the previous summer's hay was gone from Abe Williams' haymow on the West Road, Oneida, the Sherrill Grange cleaned it up to hold square dances as a fund-raiser until the new hay came in. This was the big draw in the area for a lot of the kids, those that danced and those that hung out in the cars smoking and drinking. My friend's mother would drive all the girls to the dance after we spent hours washing, setting, and drying our hair and ironing clothes. The girls all came to our house because I had received an electric hairdryer for Christmas and that little machine ran nonstop from about 4 until 7 p.m. on every Friday nights for weeks. We took over the kitchen and my mother was very obliging because my sister and I were always too excited to bother with eating.

I would meet Kenny at the square dance and we square danced every single Friday night all that spring. On some Friday nights after the dance, my mother and her friend would pick Kenny and me up and anybody else we could pack in the car and take us down to Eddie's Restaurant in Sylvan Beach for hamburgers and soft drinks.

Kenny and I also attended the stock car races at the Utica-Rome Speedway every Sunday night with friends who had a car. Neither Kenny nor I had a license or a car and what we did and where we went depended on who had the transportation. It was always cold at the raceway since our group stood high up on the very back row to watch those noisy races. Our favorite driver was Rene Charland who came down from Canada. To keep me warm, Kenny decided I should wear his Stockbridge Valley High School FFA jacket which he had outgrown. We were skinny little bodies at that time and we looked pretty cute in those matching jackets. My mother would tease us about those coats and said we looked like twins.

When Kenny did not see me, he would phone. At first, this was rather difficult, because we did not have a phone in our house. We never bothered to put one in and never missed it. However, Mother thought it was rather nuts for me to have to go up to my Aunt Jean's house, one block up the street, to talk to my boyfriend, so she put in the phone just so we could talk for hours. I cannot tell you today what we talked about but teenagers don't need much!

Needless to say, my friendship with my friend began to cool. She was never spiteful and was very good about seeing Kenny and me together but I know it hurt her. I never heard Kenny mention her name in the time we were together. He obviously made a bigger impression on her than she did on him.

Kenny and I began making plans to attend the Stockbridge Valley High School prom. It was my junior year and my prom year but I did not care to go to my prom at VVS Central High School. Ken arranged a ride with a buddy and his girlfriend. The buddy had a brand new white Ford convertible and we all thought that would make a great prom car. Mother and I scrounged the money for a prom dress and off we went to Syracuse and found a baby blue full-length gown with a huge bouffant skirt that required a hoop. We continued buying things to go with the dress and Kenny bought the tickets and made all the other plans.

Then we learned that Kenny did not know how to dance a waltz. My mother took right over with this and said that she would teach him. So one night after school, he came over and my mother taught him to dance in our living room. This remains one of my most precious memories of Ken. I just plunked myself in the big old overstuffed chair and tucked up my legs while Mother taught him how to dance on our old and worn living room rug. It was just absolutely wonderful watching them because Kenny was scared stiff and my mother just guided him through. I already knew how to dance because dancing was a big thing in both my mother and father's families as they came from large families of 8 and 9 kids. Prom night came and Kenny's mother drove him over early before our ride came by so that we could take pictures in the living room. The night my mother was teaching Kenny to dance, we played a song about a white sport coat and a pink carnation. So my mother, an incurable romantic, just had to play that song the night he came to pick me up in his white sport coat and a pink carnation. After all these years, I still will say that we were the most beautiful young couple at that dance.

Kenny was well liked by everyone in my mother's huge family and by all our neighbors. We had a very busy household with lots of kids, both friends and cousins, in and out all the time. I think Kenny liked this. At one time, my mother did mention that she thought he was a little lonely. I remember him talking about his two big brothers that did not live at home any more and he never mentioned his father who was never around in his life that I could see.

One Sunday afternoon my Aunt Barb and her friend Jack invited us down to Sylvan Beach at Oneida Lake for the day to go out on their pontoon boat which we always called the " Party Barge." We invited along another couple. Aunt Barb provided all the food and we cooked hamburgers and hot-dogs right on the boat while we cruised around. It was a great beautiful day with a lot of laughing going on all the time.

A couple of times Kenny's mother invited me for Sunday dinner. The first time included the Party Barge couple, and the girl, who always liked to clown around, embarrassed me with her slightly bad manners. This really upset me because in my house, we were taught how to act and behave at the dinner table. So Kenny invited me again for another Sunday without the couple and the dinner went much better but I remember that both times I was absolutely scared silly of Ken's mother, who was a very lovely and gracious lady and a very good cook. I never knew what she thought of me and her son but now I know it probably caused her a great deal of worry to see her son in a rather serious relationship.

Summers in upstate New York are noted for their heat and humidity. We had no air conditioning and one relic of a fan to cool an entire house. My sister and I were always looking for ways to cool down and sleeping outdoors was the best way. Normally, we slept on the front porch with our dog Bill for protection. He happily guarded us and made little growls all night long at any little sound. I guess I would say that we did not get very much sleep out there but at least we were cool.

My sister somehow talked my cousins out of their two-man army tent for a few nights and it ended up in our back yard. Sue and her friend Marian slept out in it for a couple of nights. When Ken came over for the evening and a couple other neighborhood friends came by, we decided to build a campfire out in back of the house and pulled the sleeping bags out of the tent to sit on. We were busy shaking out those old bags when out fell a long slender white item and I reached down to pick up that old sock when it struck us that it was not a sock but one of the girl's sanitary pads. I guess we were just ready for the giggles, because we started laughing over "the sock" and laughed ourselves silly. Everybody else joined in and we had a wonderful evening out there roasting marshmallows and drinking Kool-Aid until about 11 p.m. when my mother came out and said we had better break it up so the neighbors could get some sleep. They all had bigger fans than we did.

One early evening another friend and I were up at my Aunt Jean's house with my mother and I guess I was waiting for Kenny but he did not come. It kept getting later and I did not think I would see him that night. While we were out in front of the house, along came two guys we knew and they asked us to ride with them on an errand. I know that if I had been alone, I never would have gone but my friend was always ready for adventure and I let myself get talked into going. My Aunt Jean and Mom were right there when we hopped in that car. About 20 minutes after we had gone Kenny rode up on his bicycle and my mother and Aunt Jean elected not tell him where we were. They both knew that I had done a dumb thing and he was really very worried about what had happened to me. All they did say was that I would be OK. About two hours later we drove in and Kenny was waiting for us. I nearly fainted when I saw him. My friend and I rode in the back seat while these two boys rode in the front seat over to another town. One of the guys collected money he was owed for some farm work. I did a lot of explaining to Kenny, and I don't think he ever did believe me when I told him what we did. He wanted to read a lot of other things into it, and they just were not there. I never found out why he was late and why he didn't call.

 One day that summer when Ken had his mother's little white Ford Falcon, we decided to go out on a drive through the countryside with another couple. It was hot and muggy and riding around with the windows down was a great way to cool off. The most popular song at this time was by Bobbie Vinton. The girls just loved that song, and the guys hated it. When it came on, Ken turned it off and I turned it right back on. He turned it off and the girl in back flew over the front seat (she was great for doing stuff like this) to turn on that radio, and a scuffle ensued, and I thought we would wreck the car. After that incident, Ken came over with the car to pick me up so that we could visit friends, and we never invited anyone along to ride with us again.

We wound the summer down and went to the New York State Fair with our friends from the Party Barge. The guy had his license by now and his parent's car. While there, we met up with my father who had the day off and decided to see all his old buddies at the cow barn. He had worked with these men on the Harden Farms in Camden, NY and helped the Harden Farms earn many blue ribbons with their Holstein cows. We were leaving when we saw Dad in one of the youth cattle barns while people were trying to lasso hay bales for fun. My father stepped up and grabbed a lasso and handily roped a hay bale and I could not believe what I had seen. Here, he was my father and I had no idea he could do this although I knew that he grew up on a ranch in Montana. This impressed the guys tremendously.

School started and I entered my senior year. I saw right off that I was going to have a good time and it became my best school year. I joined the bowling, track and softball teams as well as a few other school organizations and clubs. I passed an exam I flunked in my junior year, from staying out too late when I should have been studying. I had lots of jobs baby-sitting, cleaning houses and ironing, and I made enough money to buy all my own clothes and cover all the incidentals from school. I began helping my father with the gas station bookkeeping. Weekends I spent roller-skating with my friend Deanne or going to the church youth group with my friend Arlene for roller-skating and hayrides. I did not have much extra time.
Over the late summer of 1963, Ken got his driver's license and with that car, it meant his territory widened immensely. I saw him less and less and I knew that he was running around in the car because that was what every guy that I knew in the area did. Then he drove by the house many times but never would stop. I would see him and so would the other members of my family. I sent him a card and a letter for his 17th birthday but did not hear from him, so after my 17th birthday that November I called him and asked him to come by the house. At that time, I returned his old FFA jacket, which by now was too small for me, and two or three other items that I thought he would like.

I guess my actions indicated that I was looking for a break in our relationship. My common sense told me I had to do this but my heart was never ready for my decision. I felt we both needed the chance to find our way. Our rather intense relationship probably scared both of us and I thought we would always get back together after we grew up a little bit but we never dated again. I knew that when I graduated, I would go to work, because my family needed the money. My father had a nearly fatal heart attack one month before my high school graduation. After I graduated in 1964, Kenny still had one year left in high school and I became a working gal and my outlook on life changed quite a bit since I had entered the adult world in a big hurry.

My first serious and very good job was at the State University of New York, Morrisville. I was hired right out of high school as the executive secretary to three Deans. I was 17 and had this incredible job with more money than any of my high school girl friends. One of my tasks working with the Dean of Instruction was to send a letter of probation each semester to the parents of students whose gradepoint had fallen low. One of the students was Kenneth Havens and at one time, I, regarding her son, sent his mother a typed letter. I just was mortified that I had to do this. I don't think either one of them knew it was me that did that, but I had to do it. He graduated so the letter must have given him a little push to bring up the grades.

We saw each other now and then at Gussie's Pizza in Oneida, New York, and at the SUNY, Morrisville. I was always with a bunch of girls and he was always with a bunch of guys and we just never had an opportunity to talk.

I wrote much more than I thought I had in my head on this young man. He was the first love of my life and I will never forget him for his twinkling blue eyes and our sweet and tender memories and it pains me to this day to think he died in that place called Vietnam. At the time he died, I was married and living in San Diego, California. My first notice of his death in the Vietnam War did not come to me until the spring of 1970. Until then, I had no idea that he had died or that he had even been drafted into the Army, and found out that the folks back home did not want to tell me. By summer of 1970, I was planning a big trip back to New York State to see my family for the first time in three years, and my mother knew I would find out when I got back. So that spring of 1970, I opened a letter from my mother and out fell a newspaper clipping of a posthumous Bronze Star Medal and Air Medal presentation to Ken's mother and that is the day my heart nearly stopped. It was a horrible time in my life and I cried for days.

I absolutely despised that war in my own quiet way and remember writing a paper in college on the terrible waste of young men's lives and the political indecision that squandered them. Besides Ken, two of my classmates from grade school were killed in Vietnam. I refused to watch the nightly television news regarding the ongoing deaths of the servicemen. I would not even go to a movie about Vietnam and I still find that very hard to do to this day. I voted for Richard Nixon because he said he would end the Vietnam War and he did.

Over the years I have returned to the Oneida-Sherill area to visit my family. The first time I went to the Glenwood Cemetery in the summer of 1980 to look for Ken's grave, I had no idea where it was located. I wandered around and up and down the knolls and then I heard the caretaker call out to me and ask who I was looking for. I told him and he said I was in the right section and to move a little more to the right. It struck me that he knew the name of every body in that cemetery. Then in the mid 1980's, I visited Washington, D. C. while on vacation and found Kenny's name on the Vietnam Wall as well as the names of my two classmates from Camden Elementary School.

My summer with Kenny Havens is a wonderful memory from my high school life. He, at times, could be so serious but then so incredibly funny. We were just so happy with one another. He and I had a great time in the summer of 1963 and he was absolutely crazy about me for the short time we were together. We shared some of the best times of my life and I will hold him in a place in my heart forever.

© 2008 Janice E. Powers

Our sincere thanks to Janice Powers for granting permission to publish this memoir on The Havens Family.

Jan & her husband, Jim
Jan with her husband, Jim


A pink carnation 


A story about two high school friends, Ken Havens and Jan Powers -- how they met and the high school prom.