In Memory

Bill McKown

My little brother Bill Johnson McKown died from "Quadriplegia" on March 19, 2014 and spent the last 39 years living his life from a wheelchair being paralyzed from the shoulders down and never moved his arms or legs since he was 19 y/o. My ...mother, Martha Lu (Johnson) McKown dedicated her life to caring for her second son and she passed away the day after Bill did.

In 1975 following his Freshman year at the University of Kansas, Bill spent the summer working as a Ranger at his beloved Philmont Scout Ranch Cimarron, New Mexico. He and one of his BFF's to this day, Gary Lucas took a side trip to California before intending to return to school at KU. There they had a car crash, running up under a large, fully loaded tomato truck who had illegally pulled onto the Interstate. Bill was the passenger in my parents Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and the dash board smashed him in the face and broke his neck at C3-4, a very high level leaving him as disabled as one can be without dying. He was extracted by the "Jaws Of Life" as Pure Prairie Leagues "Two Lane Highway" was stuck on repeat on his 8-Track and taken to the Clovis Hospital in Fresno, California.

The hospital woke my mother with the news her son broke his neck in California and thinking Bill was still working in New Mexico told them that was a pretty sick joke. My father who owned DaMac Drilling, Inc. had one of his drilling rigs fall over in a freak accident the day before and was busy dealing with that. I was a Concert Promoter and had stopped to see my family that day on my way to Omaha to produce a rock 'n roll show, so she was pretty sure they were not calling about me. My two younger brothers, Charles McKown & James McKown were both still living at home and easy to account for. The Fresno Hospital called her back with Bill's ID in hand and then she knew for sure it was him. Somehow my parents got flown to California to be with Bill McKown and I went back to Great Bend a drove their car out to them. We all stayed in the home of total strangers, Tom & Molly Avent for a month in a state of shock and remained life long friends. I also got well acquainted with the guys from Fresno's Papa Concert Productions and the Conte's of Tower of Power fame while staying there. Billy Boy was a mess, still covered in some blood and glass and lying on a "Stryker Bed" which looked like an ironing board with a hole for your face and 60# of weights screwed into your skull and they flipped him 180 degrees every 2 hours. (Try laying flat on your back on the floor and then try to drink or eat something? Very similar to "Water Boarding"). After a month of stabilizing him he was then flown to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado to work (hard) on his rehab process of learning to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair for nearly a year.

Posted on Facebook by David McKown on March 24th
Bill received tremendous support from all of his family and literally thousands of friends who visited or sent cards. The folks at Craig made life long impressions on him and I guess it was at this point Bill made the commitment to himself to become "Super Quad" and our already tight-knit family dynamics were changed forever.

Bill always wanted to try to live a "normal life" but quickly found out how bad the American society discriminates against people with disabilities. This was 20 years before ADA so a determined Bill became a National Disability Advocate and so did my father and I. Gramps, our wise old grandfather asked Bill a simple question, "now what do you intend to do with your life" and Bill responded with, "now I will just have to do everything with my brain and mouth". Bill had already been an award winning artist and winning many blue ribbons beginning when he was 8 y/o and he continued his art by using a mouth-stick. He completed college at Friends University and along with my mom and dad we all worked together at DaMac Drilling & DaMac Construction. We built the large "cutting edge" building that now houses the KBI on Washington Street in GBD. Bill soon became a Community Leader and was as active as anyone with many functions and events.

Philmont (the last place he walked) elected him to their Ranch Committee Board of Directors as their first former employee plus only disabled guy to ever serve, which he did until he died. Bill donated his body for the KU Medical School to study and wants his ashes scattered on the "Tooth Of Time" at Philmont. Bill's Estate will be making a significant contribution to Philmont.

When the oil business crashed in 1986 ~ Jan Farmer & I moved to Maui. Of course Bill wanted to come visit us and insisted on trying to do every single outdoor activity Maui offered. I spent months planning, researching, measuring, accessible van driving, etc. for Bill's visit. When he left Maui he wanted me to continue helping other people in wheelchairs enjoy Maui as much as he did. This led me to starting a Hawaii travel business, Over The Rainbow, Inc. and eventually a nationwide network of wheelchair van renters, Accessible Vans of America which I ran for 18 years.

When Bill set his mind to do things he generally succeeded in a big way. He continued to win blue ribbons for his art work. With Kiwanis & Jaycees he was the State President, Scout Master of Troop 155 where he produced many Eagle Scouts during his tenure, Camp Director at Camp Kanza and he also won a host of BSA awards including the Silver Beaver and chaired countless high level committees. He enjoyed leadership and micro-managing organizational things and was actively involved in numerous community activities. Bill loved going to places and always tried doing far more activities than time allowed, let alone the extra time it takes using a power wheelchair, plus he wanted to see every animal at a zoo or read every plaque at museums. Our father was the same way and you had better have packed a lot of patience if happened to be with both of them. Last year Bill was honored by Great Bend High School for his lifetime of numerous achievements by being inducted into their Hall of Fame. I am thankful they recognized him while he was still alive.

Bill needed someones assistance to do literally everything anyone does on a daily basis, including just scratching his nose (try not doing that and see how few seconds it takes to frustrate you?). The most practical way of life was for him to move back into our family home which our father renovated into a fully wheelchair accessible home. Bill had to hire over 500 personal care attendants who got him out of bed to face each day for 14,235 consecutive days. Many of them became like family members, we spent holidays, birthdays, special functions and events, weddings, funerals and we all often traveled together. But our parents were always his "A-Team" and were always there for Bill, even sacrificing their own wants and needs to provide for his and altered the time and attention they could spend with other people.

In 2007 our father became very ill and was under Hospice care at Cherry Village. Bill called me on Maui and asked me to come help him and our mother who clearly was suffering the effects of Alzheimers and he had lost his go-to attendants and confidants. I took my mother out to visit my father 3-5 times every day for 250 days before he died and when her Alzheimers became a health and safety concern for her and we checked her into Cherry Village also (no other family had both of their parents incarcerated there at the same time). I agreed to stay with Bill until he could find adequate replacements for them, which took years.

I am forever greatful that I got to spend the final years of providing comfort and dignity until their actual dying day and able to be at their bedside with my father, mother and brother ~ even as trying, stressful and exhausting as it was, I was willing to sacrifice my life on Maui for this brutal and thankless task. Now that I have completed what I felt obligated to do for my parents and brother and even though I miss all of them greatly, I am relieved none of them have to live any longer in the awful conditions the were left in.

God Bless ~ George, Martha & Bill McKown and may they all now Rest In Peace together.