MINOOKA – Ken Dryier Sr. of Minooka epitomizes the American dream.
But he fought hard his entire life to attain it.
According to his son, Ken Dryier Jr. of Frankfort, Ken Sr. married his high school sweetheart, Kathy, and then spent 49 years working with her to build a family legacy.
Ken Sr. supported every activity of his two children and three granddaughters from birth onward. He coached his son’s sports teams and attended every practice, game and open house of his three granddaughters, ages 10, 6 and 3 – even though Ken Sr. often worked a midnight shift.
“I was in chorus and musicals,” said his daughter, Kim Dryier, of Naperville. “He never missed a recital – he and my mom even attended the dress rehearsals. He never missed anything. He was always there, cheering you on.”
A worker at a steel mill, Ken Sr. often worked two and three jobs – delivering pizza and stocking grocery store shelves at night – to pay for his children to attend college. Ken knew how to make each moment in a day count.
“He just found time to do everything,” Ken Jr. said. “Everyone made jokes about how he slept two hours a day. The guy was unbelievable.”
Ken Jr. said his father grew up on the South Side of Chicago in humble circumstances and within a small Polish family. Ken Sr.’s mother died when he was 16, leaving behind her husband, as well as Ken and his brother and sister.
“It was a real hardship for the family,” Kim said. “He sacrificed a lot to make sure Kenny and I didn’t have the struggles he had.”
Even though Kim often heard her friends say, “I wish my dad was more like your dad,” she didn’t realize until her college years that her father’s brand of parental support was unusual.
“We thought it was just natural,” Kim said. “We thought it was normal.”
Although Ken Sr. enjoyed Chicago sports, at parties and events, he didn’t direct the conversation to them. He was the unassuming host, ensuring his guests’ comfort and pleasure.
“My dad was the life of every party, without ever having to say a word,” Ken Jr. said in an email. “He made sure your plate was always full, and your glass was never empty.”
When Ken Sr.’s children were young, he was a frequent volunteer at St. Bede Catholic Church in Chicago, especially at the church’s summer festivals, Kim said. In his later years and while living in Minooka, Ken Sr. had hoped to become more involved in St. Mary’s Parish in Minooka, but cancer cut that desire short.
Ken Sr. was 69 when he died Dec. 3, 2015. But he will be remembered as a strong man who quietly prevailed, even while looking out for the rights of others.
“He was extremely generous and kind,” Ken Jr. said. “I remember when we played football. He always made sure everyone was included. He always rooted for the underdogs and made sure they were involved. He was always sensitive to all the kids. He always took care of people.”
Yet the tolls and trials didn’t let up for Ken Sr., especially as he neared retirement. His company experienced wage cuts and moved services out of the country, Ken Jr. said. Ken Sr. went from day shift back to the night shift 20 years into his career, Ken Jr. added.
“Nothing ever came easy for him,” Ken Jr. said, “but he never complained. He always got back up and made things better for his family.”
On the home front, Ken Sr. remained the core of every activity. A simple Sunday phone call would end with a, “Hey, let’s cook out!”
“He was always so glad to see us, to have us over,” Ken Jr. said.
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.