BACK ABOARD 'THE SCAPPOOSE EXPRESS'
Who is the most world-famous athlete ever to come out of Columbia County?
It may not be who you think.
As notable as former Scappoose High gridders Derek Anderson and David Mayo are in football, another athlete who fought for the light heavyweight boxing championship of the world might exceed them — Andy Kendall, AKA "The Scappoose Express," who battled for the world crown nearly 50 years ago this spring.
Kendall earned that nickname for his Scappoose-area home and because sports writers noticed after his fights his opponents often looked like they had been hit by an "Express Train."
"Andy was the hero to the whole county," said Mike Sykes, who grew up in Scappoose and is now city manager of Scappoose. "Everybody loved him and got behind him when he fought Bob Foster for the world championship in 1969."
Defending champ Foster prevailed over Kendall in a five-round slugfest that night on ABC's Wide World of Sports, but the Scappoose challenger earned something more important than a title. The boxing career that culminated that night transformed him with self-respect and reunification of his childhood family.
Kendall remained a top contender for several years after that championship fight before years before retiring and moving to the tiny hamlet of Gales Creek in the mountains west of Forest Grove. The verdant setting reminded him of Chapman, the logging community outside of Scappoose where he lived during his long sports career.
Meanwhile, Bobbie Shipman was a young widow with two young sons who one day accepted her sister's invitation to help on weekends at her sister's 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.
The sister introduced Bobbie to him and Andy, faster than boxer's foot shuffle, asked her out for a date, and insisted she bring along her sons, ages 8 and 13.
"Andy took us all out for dinner," Bobbie said, "and my boys thought he was the coolest, funniest man ever, telling me, 'Mom, you just have to marry this guy.'"
Bobbie did exactly that. The two became soul mates for 31 years until separated by Andy's death in 2015 at 76.
Bobbie noted that Andy 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.
Life began well enough. His mother was a full-blooded Seminole Indian and first-grade teacher on the reservation school he attended in Burns. But his father died soon afterward and his mother followed when Andy was 12.
Children's services officials broke 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 Marine Corps for a four-year hitch, where he draw the attention of pro boxing scouts with his 18-1 military boxing record.
After the service he turned pro, returned to Oregon, living outside of Scappoose, training at the old Kenton gym and fighting at the Portland Armory.
Kendall debuted his pro career dispatching opponents including "Prince" Johnson and Freddie "Snakebite" Niblet, and by the mid-1960s had become a top-10 world-ranked fighter.
He continued to climb up the boxing ranks, but at a terrible price — his marriage began to fail. His wife suddenly took their two children to Virginia to live with her parents.
For the second time in his life, since the nightmare when he was 12, he was seeing his family broken apart. In anguish over this development, he 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."
His spleen was full of lead and his appendix and a piece of intestine had to be removed. Kendall kept his pledge to give up drinking for the rest of his life. The near-death experience transformed his heart.
Return to boxing
Kendall returned to Oregon and launched a comeback in 1967, making the World Boxing Association top 10 in 1968 and the next year — 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 against Sugar Ray Robinson in the 1960s; lightweight Portlander Ray Lampkin against Roberto Duran in the 1970s; and super featherweight champion Stevie Forbes, a Grant High graduate, in the early 2000s.
Perhaps the most acclaimed sports broadcaster ever, Howard Cosell, called the fight that night of May 24, 1969, on ABC-TV. Las Vegas odds-makers put Foster a 4-1 favorite, but the quotable Kendall quipped back, "Why should I worry about odds? You can't get hit by odds."
The 6-3 Foster had sizzling fists, finesse and five inches over 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 Andy's face bleed from several cuts. In the third round Andy started having some success getting inside against his taller opponent.
Stronger than the champ, Kendall's body punching seemed to annoy Foster until he was tied up in a clinch. Foster was making Andy pay a heavy price until he was able to close the distance.
The fourth round was a repeat of the third 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 10 count, but in the fifth round Kendall got trapped in his corner and Foster rained hooks and uppercuts on him. Only a granite chin keep Kendall on his feet until the referee mercifully intervened, Killeen wrote.
After the fight Foster said, "Andy was one of the toughest S.O.B.'s I ever faced."
Foster would go onto the heavyweight ranks — above 175 pounds — and battle Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Boxing writers would speculate just how good Kendall might have been without the gunshot wounds and drinking addiction ravaging his health.
After the ring
The indefatigably spirited Kendall would make another comeback becoming the No. 1 contender in 1972 to the champion, but instead of a second title fight, 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.
The ex-Marine who spent a career making believers out of some of the roughest rogues on the planet, found a new life with Bobbie raising their sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He worked for 18 years at the Diabetic Children's Camp and volunteered at the MacLaran Youth Correctional Institution.
"Boxing has a lot of tough characters," said Fred Ryan, longtime owner of the Grand Avenue Gym in Portland, "but Andy was a tough guy and a nice guy."
"So playful with kids." Bonnie said. "That's how I remember Andy."
When the camp children, or his own, might tarry too long outside on summer nights, the gregarious ex-pugilist would imitate nighttime coyote howls so well 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 reunion with his four brothers and sisters whom he hadn't seen since he was 12. The siblings had all gone to different homes in different states, but one by one had heard that their brother had become a famed boxer and that helped them track him to Gales Creek in his retirement.
Before Andy 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.