Boxer Andy Kendall made an impression wherever he went
The soft-spoken ex-Marine had earned boxing acclaim, making believers out of some of the toughest men in the world — yet he identified with vulnerable children and worked with them for 18 years.
Forty-nine years ago this month, that man, the late Andy Kendall of Gales Creek, fought on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" for the light heavyweight boxing world championship.
Kendall carried the moniker "The Scappoose Express," because of his Scappoose-area home and sports writers' observations that his opponents looked like they had been hit by an "express train."
"Andy was an impressive human being, a hero," remembered Michael Sykes, a former Forest Grove city manager who grew up in Scappoose.
Sykes added, "Everybody loved him and got behind Andy when he fought Bob Foster for the world championship in 1969."
Foster, the defending champion, prevailed over Kendall in a five-round slugfest that night on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," but the challenger earned something more important than a title. The boxing career that culminated that night left him transformed — and ultimately, it reunited him with his long-lost family.
'Mom, you just have to marry this guy'
Kendall remained a top contender for several years after that championship fight before retiring and moving to Gales Creek. The verdant setting reminded him of Chapman, the logging community outside of Scappoose where he lived during his pro boxing career.
Meanwhile, Bobbie Shipman was a young widow with two young sons who lived in Forest Grove. At her sister's behest, she ended up helping out on weekends at her business, the Gales Creek Log Cabin. Their most faithful diner was the gregarious new caretaker at the nearby Gales Creek Children's Diabetic Camp — Andy Kendall.
After Shipman was introduced to Kendall by her sister, faster than boxer's foot shuffle, he asked her out for a date, and he insisted she bring along her sons, ages 8 and 13.
"Andy took us all out for dinner," she said, "and my boys thought he was the coolest, funniest man ever, telling me, 'Mom, you just have to marry this guy.'"
And Shipman did exactly that. The couple was together for 31 years until they were separated by Andy's death in 2015, at the age of 76.
Bobbie Kendall, who still lives in the Gales Creek area, noted that her husband was always quiet about what drew him to boxing. It may have stemmed from his foundation, or lack of foundation, growing up in Eastern Oregon.
Hardscrabble early life led to service, sport
Life began well enough for Andy Kendall. His mother was a member of the Seminole tribe and a first-grade teacher on the reservation school he attended in Burns. But his father died when he was very young, and his mother died as well when Andy was just 12. Children's services officials broke up the family up, sending Andy and his four siblings off to three different Western states.
Andy was relocated to the John Day area north of Burns, to the care of Frank and Genevieve Kendall, who bonded with Andy and adopted him. He liked John Day, starred for the high school football team, and, after graduation, enlisted in the United States Marines for a four-year hitch, where he draw the attention of pro boxing scouts with his 18-1 military boxing record.After the service, Andy Kendall turned pro and returned to Oregon, living outside of Scappoose, training at the old Kenton gym and fighting at the Portland Armory.
Kendall debuted in his pro career by dispatching better-known opponents, including "Prince" Johnson and Freddie "Snakebite" Niblet. By the mid-1960s, he had become a top-10 world-ranked fighter.
He continued to climb up the boxing ranks, but at a terrible price, as his marriage became to fail.
Shot nearly dead, Kendall refused to let career die
Abruptly, Kendall's wife took their two children to Virginia to live with her parents. For the second time in Kendall's life, since the nightmare when he was 12 years old, he was seeing his family broken apart.
In anguish over this development, Kendall stopped training and turned to alcohol to medicate his depression. He traveled to Virginia to see his kids.
"When I got to the house, my father-in-law had a shotgun and tried to stop me from entering the residence," Kendall once told boxing writer Austin Killen. "I turned sideways just as he fired, or he would have blown a big hole through me. Lying on the ground, I remembered asking God not to let me die. I said I'd never take a drink again if he let me live."Kendall's spleen was full of lead, and his appendix and a piece of intestine had to be removed. The near-death experience in 1967 would forever change him. Kendall kept his pledge to give up drinking for the rest of his life.
After a stint in the hospital, Kendall returned to Oregon, still carrying shotgun pellets in his body, and launched a comeback. He made the World Boxing Association's top 10 in 1968, and the next year, he earned the ultimate prize — a title shot at world light heavyweight champion Bob Foster.
Only three other Oregon athletes have ever fought for a major world championship: middleweight Denny Moyer, out of Central Catholic High School, against Sugar Ray Robinson in the 1960s; lightweight Portlander Ray Lampkin against Robert Duran in the 1970s; and super featherweight champion Stevie Forbes, a Grant High School graduate, in the early 2000s.
Kendall–Foster: A fight to remember
Perhaps the most acclaimed sports broadcaster ever, Howard Cosell, called the fight that night of May 24, 1969, on ABC.
Las Vegas oddsmakers put Foster a 4-1 favorite, but the ever-quotable Kendall quipped back, "Why should I worry about odds? You can't get hit by odds."
The 6-foot-3 Foster had sizzling fists, finesse and five inches on Kendall, but the Scappoose Express had his supporters.
"Andy was a scary-looking dude, reminded me of a rhinoceros because of his tremendous strength," wrote Killeen, who watched the match from ringside.
Foster controlled the first two rounds with a punishing left jab, making Kendall's face bleed from several cuts. In the third round, though, Kendall started having some success getting inside against his taller opponent.
"Andy could counter-punch with anybody — an absolute brawler," recalled Oregon boxing legend Fred Ryan, owner of Grand Avenue Gym in Portland.Stronger than the champ, Kendall seemed to annoy Foster with blows to the body until he was tied up in a clinch. Foster was still making Kendall pay a heavy price until he was able to close the distance.
The fourth round was a repeat of the third right up until Foster landed a vicious left hook on Kendall's chin.
Dropped like he had been shot, the challenger somehow found the strength to beat the count to 10, but in the fifth round Kendall got trapped in his corner, and Foster rained hooks and uppercuts on him. Only a granite chin kept Kendall on his feet, until the referee mercifully intervened, Killeen wrote.
After the fight, Foster said, "Andy was one of the toughest SOBs I ever faced."
Riding into the sunset in Gales Creek
Foster would go on to the heavyweight ranks (above 175 pounds) and battle Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Meanwhile, boxing writers would speculate just how good Kendall might have been without the gunshot wounds and alcoholism that had ravaged his health years earlier.
The indefatigably spirited Kendall would make another comeback, again becoming the top contender in 1972, but instead of a second title fight between him and the champion, promoters opted for younger challengers to generate more fan attendance.
Kendall retired in 1974 at age 36, went to work for a cement company and then found his way to Gales Creek.
He found a new life with his second wife Bobbie, raising their sons, grand-children and great-grandchildren. And the ex-Marine, who spent a career making believers out of some of the roughest characters on the planet, identified with vulnerable children, treating them tenderly in his 18 years at the diabetic children's camp and volunteering at the MacLaran Youth Correctional Institution.
"Boxing has a lot of tough characters," said Ryan, "but Andy was a tough guy and a nice guy."
"So playful with kids," Bonnie Kendall said, "that's how I remember Andy."
When the camp children or his own children might tarry too long outside on summer nights, the gregarious ex-pugilist would imitate nighttime coyote howls so well that the kids would scamper back into the house — and then hear Andy's booming laughter outside, after tricking them into good behavior.Boxing also led Kendall to a full-circle completion — a reunion with his four brothers and sisters, whom he hadn't seen since he was 12 years old. The siblings had all gone to different homes in different states, but one by one, they heard that their brother had became a famed boxer, and that helped them track him to Gales Creek in his retirement.
Before Kendall died, the siblings were able to have a reunion at Andy's sister's home in New Plymouth, Idaho — the first time the five of them had been together since the state split them apart 58 years earlier.
Kendall spent his last years on a property not far from the Wilson River Highway, living by a little creek with his wife and dogs. His grandson and granddaughter-in-law live a couple houses away.
"I love this little place," said Bobbie Kendall. "It's peaceful and quiet."
The Scappoose Express is gone, but mementos of him are unmissable in Bobbie Kendall's home. She keeps a scrapbook with old newspaper clippings of interviews he gave and accounts of his fights, win or loss. She has a tape, too, of his 1972 bout with Pat O'Connor, which he won by technical knockout.
His photo hangs prominently on the living room wall. In it, he's well past his boxing days. He's holding a gift his daughter gave him. And on his face, there's the smile of a contented man.
Mark Miller contributed to this report.
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