Former Dowagiac resident Kenny Stroup writes a bookPublished 8:44am Monday, October 26, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Kenny Stroup prides himself on “Being at the Right Place at the Right Time,” so it made a natural title for his first book.
Stroup, who turned 50 last month, chronicles his last 21 years of uncanny encounters with celebrities between its covers, whether it’s hanging out with Charlie Daniels at the Cass County Fair or praying with Johnny Cash at Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.
The former Dowagiac resident, visiting here last week from Missouri, is a dogged letter writer – 42 from former University of Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz, who won the Fighting Irish’s last national title in 1988.
“Don’t count the years but make the years count,” went one of Stroup’s handwritten birthday greetings from Holtz.
“It’s something the Lord has put into my life to be able to do,” he said. “They’re just people. Put God first and everything else falls into place.”
For every Notre Dame sports standout, beloved St. Louis Cardinal (Kenny as a youngster wanted to play major league baseball) or country music performer Stroup encounters, there are surprises in the 121-page, $10 paperback, such as Sophia Loren (he sent her a Notre Dame sweatshirt), Brigitte Bardot (he had to have her 1999 note translated from French at a college) and Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon Levitt of “Third Rock from the Sun” and director John Madden during the making of the 2008 movie “Killshot.”
Stroup didn’t include it in the book, but he said he also received a response when he wrote to actress Susan Sarandon that he made her day.
He first wrote to Loren in the summer of 1993. That Christmas he received a personal Christmas card. Kenny continued to write the Italian actress about once a week. He even got Dick Vitale to record a video message for her.
Perhaps his oddest meeting was getting a speeding ticket in Memphis, which led to visiting the home of actress Suzanna Leigh, best friend of Sharon Tate, goddaughter of Vivien Leigh of “Gone with the Wind” and co-star with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis of “Paradise, Hawaiian-Style.”
“I’m going to put that in my next book,” he said. “She’s 63 now, but still a pretty lady. I got a ticket, but good things happened afterward. There’s always a rainbow after the storm.”
Nor would a book about Stroup’s Wonderful Life with God be complete without a chapter on Jimmy Stewart.
Kenny lives near Cape Girardeau and winces when reminded that’s Rush Limbaugh’s hometown. Sikeston, with its restaurant famous for roll-throwing, is another point of reference.
The bachelor lives in Advance, Mo., between Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff, or midway between St. Louis and Memphis.
He lives 2 1/2 hours from Graceland. His mom met Elvis in the 1950s.
He’s been back in Missouri for 14 years since leaving Dowagiac.
He’s here visiting his sister, Tammy Kara, a hair stylist in Benton Harbor.
Kenny is the second oldest of Kenneth and Melba Fryman Sr.’s five children.
His older sister, Deanna McCain, was 46 when she died Oct. 7, 2004. The third sibling, Tim, also a hair stylist, died Jan. 31, 2009. He was 47.
Fourth in the Singing Stroup Family is Dave, the speed drummer profiled in the Daily News in November 2007.
Tammy is the youngest.
His parents also live in Advance. When the Stroups moved to Michigan 40 years ago, Kenneth Sr. left two jobs – General Mills and custodian at a high school.
In Dowagiac he went to work for Rudy’s, but got hurt and was never able to work again after 1971.
“I was born Sept. 20, 1959, in Lemay, Mo. We lived 10 to 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis,” Stroup recalled in an interview Oct. 22 at the Daily News.
“I spent 10 years of my life there. We came up here in 1969.”
Coming north this time, he just missed an ice storm which left a shell several inches thick.
“I do a lot of ministry work,” he said. “I’ve evangelized at 75 to 80 churches since I’ve been down south. I had my good times in Dowagiac, but there’s a big world out there.”
He was 4 when he saw his first Cardinals game at old Sportsman Park, “but being a ballplayer wasn’t in God’s plan for my life. This book reflects how it opened up to different people, like having prayer with Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels. I’m not some important guy, but it just worked out that way. The way I feel God helps me is God puts protection on me and life goes on. Some people have a hard time with rejection. To me, rejection is part of life. If you can’t handle rejection, you might as well sit in the house and forget it. No is part of life. It’s how you accept no, how you take no. I do not quit.”
“My ministry’s important to me,” he says. “Writing’s important to me and meeting people is important to me.”
In Dowagiac, Stroup operated a used car business for five years, from 1983-1988.
He also worked for Ameriwood when it was Jessco, for Georgie Boy and did odd jobs.
At this point in his life, Stroup feels as though he’s reached a destination in his ministry for God.
“I’ve found my place,” he said. “I pray on things and ask God to direct me every day of my life.”
“I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better than them, but (factory work) wasn’t me,” Stroup said. “I thank God for people who work in these industrial places because where would we be without them?
“A key in my life is following up on people. Not stalking. There’s a right way and a wrong way. Every so often, I’d write a page or two and let them know I was thinking of them. Getting letters to them is another thing. I’ve been successful by being persistent. My fourth meeting with Charlie Daniels, they sent me to 11 gates before I found him standing by his bus. There has to be trust there that you’re for real and don’t want something from them. It takes money to live, but there’s more to life than being rich. If I died today, my life has been good. I’ve been blessed. Greed sets in on people.”
From the St. Louis scene his book is populated by Stan Musial (also an accomplished harmonica player, Al Hrabosky, Lou Brock, Mike Shannon (a broadcaster and restaurant owner), Julian Javier, Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Jack Buck, Red Schoendienst, Steve Carlton, Joe Buck, Whitey Herzog and Ozzie Smith.
At the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., Kenny encountered Pete Rose, banned from baseball for gambling and denied induction into the Hall of Fame, although Stroup concludes Charlie Hustle deserves enshrinement.
Living close to Notre Dame in 1988 gave him numerous opportunities to meet sports figures, from Jerome “Bus” Bettis, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail and Rick Mirer, the quarterback from nearby Goshen, Ind., to Chris Zorich, Ruth Riley, Ara Parseghian, Terry Hanratty, Tony Rice, Joe Theismann, Paul Hornung, Digger Phelps, Muffet McGraw and even Regis Philbin, who remarked, “Kenny, you sure do get around.”
Not only does Stroup get kidded about his resemblance to walk-on Daniel Ruettiger, but he had a bit part in “Rudy” in the fall of 1992 and met actor Ned Beatty.
Stroup wrote to Tanya Tucker for two years before he saw her at the Cass County Fair in Cassopolis in the summer of 1992.
His “great Christian friendship” with Charlie Daniels began at a 1994 show at the Cass County Fair Kenny attended with Elzie and Sue Casey.
Country stars who also appear in Stroup’s pages include Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Roy Acuff