Kenneth E. Kite

Kenneth Eugene Kite of Columbia died Tuesday, Dec 6, 2011. He was 83.

Born on May 7, 1928, Mr. Kite led an adventurous life full of travel, said Jane Stuart, his oldest daughter.

"We always say he had gypsy blood in him," she said. "He was the independent type."

Mr. Kite's wanderlust started early. The fifth of six children, he quit school and left his home in Woodlandville at age 12 to work on a neighbor's farm for 25 cents a day.

Two years later, he bought a bicycle. "He got on that bicycle, rode it to Columbia, and never went back," Stuart said.

He met Martha Sue Nichols in the summer of 1944, while he was working at the drive-in at Ernie's Barbeque, which used to operate on South Ninth Street. She was on a date with another boy, but that didn't stop Mr. Kite from flirting. They were married soon after, on March 3, 1945.

Their wedding day was full of bad omens, Stuart said, laughing.

They had to ford the floodwaters of Perche Creek in a 1931 Model A Ford, blew out a tire, then lost the spare when the lug nuts fell off. An attendant at a nearby gas station sent them across the road to a junkyard to dig out enough lug nuts to make it to the Booneville Courthouse. But the greatest indignity of all was that Mr. Kite had to be accompanied by his mother because, unlike his bride, he was not yet 18.

"It worked out though," Stuart said. "They were married 66 years."

After getting married, the couple left the city and spent two years as sharecroppers on Shanklin Farm outside Columbia. The day before she was born, Stuart said, her mother was in the cornfield, pulling ears off the lowest part of each corn stalk, a process called "shucking the down rows."

It was after Stuart and her younger sister, Phyllis Ann Leach, were born that their father's gypsy blood started stirring again. For years, they moved around the West, lugging the family's horses in an old trailer while Mr. Kite worked as a short-order cook at movie drive-ins in California, Idaho and Washington.

The Kites returned to Columbia in 1959, bought his old place of employment, Ernie's (then Long's Barbeque), and started Kenny and Sue's Barbeque, which they ran for a couple years. After a brief move to Kansas to manage the 73 Diner in Leavenworth, Mr. and Mrs. Kite returned to Columbia for good, and Mr. Kite worked construction jobs until he retired in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Kite spent the last years of his life enjoying his five-acre property on the outskirts of Columbia with his wife. There, he was content to watch his grandchildren grow up, ride horses and raise cows, chickens, ducks and donkeys.

"He became a real homebody. Isn't that funny?" Stuart said. "After all that traveling."

He is survived by his wife; four children, Mary Jane Stuart, Phyllis Ann Leach, Rhonda Kay Bias, and Randy Eugene Kite, all of Columbia; one sister, Ruth Samuel of Columbia; eight grandchildren, Tony Stuart, Chris Leach, Wendy Leach, Brittney Scott, Benjamin Kite, Kathryn Kite, Hayden Kite, all of Columbia and George K. Stuart, of Chicago; and four great-grandchildren, Chad Stuart, Russel Leach, Sarah Leach, Gabriel Scott, all of Columbia.

Two infant brothers and two sisters, Ida Lee Pipes and Allene Pipes, died earlier.

A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Smith Chapel Cemetery, 925 County Road 416, Rocheport, three miles from the farm where Mr. Kite grew up.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Alzheimer's Association. Online tributes may be left at