I just got done writing a little story about Ken Fuson, a name some people may recognize as a regular columnist for The N’West Iowa REVIEW or as one of the best-known and well-regarded reporters The Des Moines Register has ever had.
OK, the story actually ended up being fairly lengthy, but I don’t think Fuson is someone who deserves a standard-length memorial story. Whether or not my piece in particular deserves the space it takes up remains to be seen.
After I filed my story on Fuson, I decided to write about a friend who happened to die the same day as him: Legendary Simpson College head speech coach and teacher, Marty Feeney.
He died at age 71.
I met Marty (I always called him Marty, and so did everyone else, so I’m not about to change that here) before I began attending Simpson in 2015. I had visited the college with my parents for a speech and debate showcase the team put on for prospective students who were interested in the program.
Marty was there, along with head debate coach Spencer Waugh.
I don’t remember what we talked about with Marty, but I do remember the warm, welcoming feeling I got from interacting with him.
It’s a feeling I felt often while spending hours traveling with him in a bus to speech and debate competitions around the Midwest. Marty always had a story to tell those who sat next to him and was able to make those monotonous trips enjoyable.
He was also a big believer in two things when it came to tournaments: Always having enough snacks on hand to keep everyone satisfied in between gas station stops and taking way too many pictures of team members—candid ones included.
My Facebook feed became filled with pictures Marty would put on the Simpson College Speech, Debate and Mock Trial page of us competitors either sitting for photos the boring way or doing some zany action pose Marty suggested we do.
His descriptions for those posts were also anything but dull.
In them, he would hype team members up to extraordinary heights, often blending poetry into the descriptions along with references to pop culture and history that only made sense to him.
He would come up with fantastically elaborate backstories for us in those posts that you felt compelled to believe as you read them, not because they made any sense but because they were too fun not to believe.
If I remember right, it was at the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament in spring 2016 that Marty would randomly come up to us over the course of the weeklong tournament and have us pose with mini boxes of Frosted Flakes cereal (one of the snacks he had been sure to bring along for the trip).
In those pictures, we weren’t speech and debate kids holding up silly little cereal boxes; we were international celebrities giving our official endorsement for the Kellogg’s brand cereal and explaining how it was the key to all our success.
Or something like that. You get the idea.
Marty also never passed up photo ops at the end of tournaments when we had all brought in our haul of trophies.
It didn’t matter if the trophy was for seventh place in an obscure speech category or if it was the big sweepstakes trophy that signified Simpson had won the most team points out of any other college; Marty would make sure to snap a shot of you holding it.
Besides coaching speech, Marty was an adjunct communications professor at Simpson 2006-2016. I had never had the good fortune of taking one of his classes, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.
His classes were famous for a particular quirk: He would hand out Mason jars filled with chocolate bars to students as a way of rewarding them for good work.
He makes mention of the Mason jars in the bio of his faculty page on the Simpson College website page, which is still up.
These five sentences probably describe Marty better than anything I’ve written up to this point, so I’ll let them speak for themselves:
“I bring cyberspace immortality and a kooky spin to the Speech/Debate Team. I bring Mason jars and candy bars to my classes. I bring Boston with no accent. I bring a carousel of speech event creativity without the plaster horses. I leave classroom clichés and busy work outside the door.”
I miss you, Marty, and everyone else does, too.