Andy Kendall

ANDY KENDALL:  THE SCAPPOOSE EXPRESS

By

Austin Killeen

kendall_andyAs I traveled along the Columbia River Gorge I was amazed by the power of this spectacular river as it cut through the Cascade Mountain Range.  Driving on a wet snow was making progress difficult.  To my right, were the north canyon walls of Washington State; while on my side of the river were the south canyon walls of Oregon State.  The snowy panorama made it appear as if the power of the river was the only thing preventing the two sides of the Cascades from seeking a sinful embrace that would provide warmth from the hostile environment being tossed up by Mother Nature.

I was going to an interview with a man whose image, 40 years ago, was as rugged as the landscape I was driving through.  A baleful gaze from this person could separate a group of men, allowing him a clear path to his objective.  In 1969, I sat ringside, when this beast of a man fought for the light heavyweight championship of the world.  I remembered that afternoon clearly, thinking I would have never climbed in the ring with him, holding anything less than a 35 inch Louisville Slugger.

When I arrived at my destination I was visibly intimidated, because other than a brief phone conversation, we had never met before.  Exiting my car, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a body dressed for the harsh outdoor elements.  The shape had no head as it was above the roof line of my Prius.  Before I could recover from my shock, a paw of a hand was shaking mine enthusiastically.  A sense of relief washed over me, and I realized that four decades had transformed his persona to that of a kind gentle soul.  Before me stood a person who could easily host his own Saturday morning kids TV show; appropriately called the “Uncle Andy Show.”

Kendall, the third of five children, was born on an Indian reservation in Burns, Oregon on September 9, 1938 to Ruth and James Pierce.  Andy’s mother was a full blooded Seminole Indian from Florida and a first grade teacher on the reservation.  Andy’s early memories were happy ones because his parents provided a loving home environment.  However, he relayed one tale when his mother, embarrassed by his behavior at school, sent him home.  Apparently little Andy forgot the reason for his early dismissal, spending the day with his dad making bow and arrows.  When Ruth returned from work she was upset to find Andy playing cowboys and Indians with his dad.  Smiling, Kendall said frontier justice was swift and he was quickly sent to his room.

Sadly his cheerful home life was rocked when his father, who was 66, passed away that very year from a heart condition.  His mother, a strong woman, keep the family intact with a combination of love and discipline.  When Andy was 12 his mother had an attack of appendicitis and entered the hospital for what appeared to be a routine medical procedure.  A post-surgery infection spread to her heart and Ruth Pierce never recovered.  The bureaucrats of Oregon, in their infinite wisdom, broke the family up locating the Pierce children in California, Nevada and Oregon.

Separated from his siblings, Andy was relocated to Prairie City, Oregon to the care of Frank and Genevieve Kendall.  Frank Kendall proved to be a compassionate man, and a bond between the adult and child was quickly formed.  Loving Andy as if he were a biological son, Frank filed adoption papers with the state.   Andy took the surname Kendall which he goes by to this day.  In our interview, Kendall expressed his good fortune realizing his fate could have been entirely different.  His teenage years were good ones and he played football, as a running back, for John Day High School.

Upon graduation from high school, Andy enlisted in the United States Marines for a four year hitch.  At the completion of boot camp, Andy was assigned to Camp Pendleton, California where he was asked if he would like to join the camp boxing team.  For the remainder of his military hitch, he participated in inter-service competition.  He compiled an impressive 18 and 1 record.  Upon his honorable discharge he had two more amateur bouts; losing a close decision to Sylvester Carter and stopping Mickey Keller.

More importantly, Andy met Mike Morton and Jack Bracke, who would become his manager and trainer respectively when he turned pro.

In our interview Andy stated, “Morton managed boxers for the love of the sport and not for the money. I never had to worry about my end of the purse.  He was good for boxing.  I liked Bracke as a trainer because he didn’t try to change a boxer’s style, but worked to improve what was in front of him.  He had a great deal of wisdom which he shared allowing me to maximum my strengths.”

Entering the punch for pay ranks at the Yakima Armory in the state of Washington, the Scappoose Express stopped veteran Ernie Gipson in two rounds.  Two more wins, including a decision over former amateur rival, Sylvester Carter, caught the attention of Ring Magazine.  In January of 1963, Kendall was selected as the Ring Prospect of the Month in the middleweight division.

The Scappoose Express was derailed in his very next bout, losing a decision to the more experienced pro Leonard “Butcher Boy” Coleman in Billings, Montana.  Although dropping Coleman in the very first round, Kendall fought a sloppy fight with much holding, failing to impress the officials at the fight’s end.

Commenting on the bout after the knockdown, Andy chuckled, “Butcher Boy got up, and began rubbing his eyes and shaking his head.  I thought this is going to be fun playing with this yo-yo.  Instead he beat me to a pulp for six rounds.  I’ll never forget that night.”

Not one to be discouraged by adversity, Andy went undefeated over his next 14 fights, including a draw with veteran Gene Bryant.  Kendall was now rated #10 by the WBA and had an impressive record of 16-1-1 with 7 wins coming early.  His manager, Mike Morton, had a decision to make: continue to build up his fighter’s record or build up his experience.  Morton chose the latter.

Kendall’s next opponent was the more seasoned Don Fullmer who had already been in the ring with Jimmy Ellis, Dick Tiger, Jose Torres, Sandro Mazzinghi, Virgil Akins, and Emile Griffith.  To win this bout, the Scappoose Express would have to take his skills to a higher level.  Meeting in Las Vegas, Andy quickly found himself behind against Fullmer.  Entering the ninth round, the West Jordan import was handing Kendall a lesson in ring generalship.  Refusing to accept defeat, Andy came on strongly in the last two heats, to capture a draw.

Continuing his learning experience, Kendall was rewarded with a match against former middleweight champ Bobo Olsen in Reno, Nevada.  The aging, 36-year-old, ex-champ was pitting his ring experience against the ex-marine’s youth.  An enthusiastic crowd was not disappointed as both boxers displayed the skills that had gotten them their rankings.  Olsen using a left jab and jarring hooks to the body controlled the infighting.  Kendall displaying a surprisingly effective jab and overhand rights dominated the action at long range.  After 10 sensational rounds, both men’s faces displayed the marks of their trade.  Olsen was awarded a close but unanimous decision.

Commenting on the fight, Andy stated “Olsen gave me an education.” “He was as good with his head as he was with his hands.  And many of his body punches were actually thumbs to the liver and kidneys.  I didn’t complain, I just started doing the same thing myself.”  Three days after the Olson bout, Kendall was diagnosed with hepatitis.  Doctors felt he might have been exposed when he drank running water at the Comstock Mines in Virginia City, where he had gone for a pre-fight publicity stunt.  Told by the doctors to rest for 6 weeks, Andy ignored the advice and signed for a bout with world ranked Eddie Cotton.

Impressed by Kendall’s early ring success a group of business men, headed up by Portland Attorney, Bob McKee, were prepared to back the Oregon native financially.  He had to win his next fight.  He would be meeting 39 year old Eddie Cotton in his hometown of Seattle, Washington.  Eddie, ranked 6th in the world by Ring Magazine, had fought the who’s who of boxing since 1947 and was showing no signs of slowing down.  McKee and his backers were prepared to offer light heavyweight boxing champion Jose Torres $70,000 to defend his title against Kendall in Portland if he was able to defeat Eddie Cotton in his next fight.

The fight itself was a disaster for the Portland visitor, being stopped for the first time in his career at the end of the tenth round.  Early on Kendall got in trouble with referee Pat McMurtry for low blows.  He was penalized a point in the fourth and two more in the eighth.  “It effected how I fought, making me less aggressive.  I felt my punches were on the belt line and would not have been penalized any place else.”

By the tenth round he was blinded in the right eye by blood leaking from a severe cut above the eyebrow.  Just before rounds end Kendall was dropped by a left hook for the first time in his career, just beating the 10 count before the bell rang.  The ring physician stopped the bout due to the open wound.  Needless to say any talk of a title match with Jose Torres was finished.

Not feeling well after the Cotton bout, Andy had a series test performed by his Doctor.  It was discovered that he had hepatitis again.  Added to this Kendall had injured one of the knuckles of his right hand.  During our interview, Andy stated that hepatitis and a bad knuckle weren’t his only problems, his marriage was falling apart.  After a hiatus of 9 months, Kendall came out of hibernation to capture a 10 round decision over inexperienced Dick Gosha in a surprisingly competitive bout.  Ring rust and concerns regarding his marriage might have contributed to his less than stellar performance.

After the Gosha fight, the Kendall’s separated, and his wife took their 2 children to Virginia to live with her parents.  For the second time in his life, he was seeing his family broken apart.  In anguish over this development, he stopped training and turned to alcohol to medicate his depression.  Not having seen his children in months, he traveled to Virginia to see his offspring.

He probably should have left his anger and alcohol in Oregon.

“When I got to my in-laws’ house, my father-in-law had a shotgun and tried to stop me from entering the residence.  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 was in the operating room about 8 hours.  His spleen was full of holes and his appendix and a piece of intestine had to be removed.

“After surgery one leg was numb, and doctors said I’d never walk again, much less box.  At first I accepted the idea, but I started to walk again.  It took about a month after spending two weeks in a wheelchair.”

He returned to Oregon to see if he could resume his career.  In June of 1967 he launched his comeback scoring 3 wins and 2 draws over the next 5 months against less than stellar competition.

Although Kendall’s come back from near death to box again was an uplifting tale, he appeared to be a shell of his former self.  Apparently his ring efforts after his near death encounter impressed Ring Magazine as they ranked him 10th in August of 1968.  Perhaps this is why Roger Rouse selected Andy as his first opponent after losing a title fight to Dick Tiger.  Whatever the reason it was a mistake.  Kendall forced the action and appeared to win the decision in Rouse’s backyard of Billings, Montana.  The local newspaper account of the fight, stated the fans booed the draw verdict, feeling the visitor deserved the win.  It was apparent the Scappoose Express was back on track and heading towards a collision with the top contenders in the division.

Winning 4 of his next 5 bouts, 3 by stoppage, Kendall finally got his title shot against light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  Attending with my friend Bill Arthur, we were able get front row seats for the big event.  Watching Howard Cosell do his prefight buildup for ABC’s Wide World of Sports added to the excitement.  Sadly for Kendall, Foster was arguably one of the best light heavyweights of all time and certainly one of the best one punch knockout artists in the history of boxing.  The lanky Albuquerque native busted up Kendall face in the first two rounds with a punishing left jab.  In the third round Andy was finally able to get inside his taller opponent.  Stronger than the champ, Kendall’s body punching seemed to annoy Foster until he was tied up in a clinch.  Kendall’s face and body continued to take punishment until he was able to close the distance on Foster.

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, Andy somehow found the strength to beat the 10 count.  When the referee waved the fighters on to continue, Andy was quickly trapped in his corner as Foster rained hooks and uppercuts on the defenseless challenger.  Only a granite chin appeared to keep Kendall on his feet, until the third man mercifully intervened.  Despite a gallant effort, the Scappoose Express had been derailed.  Commenting on the bout, Andy humbly stated; Foster was just too big for me.  If we fought a 1,000 times the results would have been the same.” His dreams of the title were over an apparently his impact as a leading contender as well.

Over the next 18 months, Kendall’s record was 5 wins 2 coming by knockout, 3 losses and 2 draws.  The competition was decent and it kept the Scappoose Express ranked as a fringe contender.  Suddenly Kendall got hot reeling of 12 wins and a draw over his next 13 bouts, to once again climb to the top of the division.  One of these victories was over undefeated prospect Pat O’Connor in the Irishman’s home state of Minnesota.

Watching a tape of the O’Connor fight in Kendall’s living room, I couldn’t help but think of Mike Silver’s excellent new book The Arc of Boxing.  The flashy O’Connor had built up a 31 and 0 record against bell hops and taxi cab drivers.  While the craggy faced Kendall had a spotty record fighting against the best light heavyweights in the world.  For the first couple of rounds the slow starting Kendall did little while sizing up O’Connor.  For his part the home town boy was displaying an excellent left jab and fancy footwork to take an early lead.  By the third round, the visitor from the North West had solved the puzzle.  The golden boy from Minnesota could no longer land has jab and his feet looked like they were stuck in a tar pit.  It was just a matter of time, as Kendall took O’Connor to school, battering him from pillar to post.  Only O’Connor’s heart allowed him to survive until the seventh round when he fell from exhaustion.  The referee, Wally Holm, wisely halted the mismatch before the Minnesota boxer got seriously hurt.

Once again Kendall was ranked #1 in the world, but boxing the elite of the division for the past 11 years was starting to take its toll on Kendall’s body.  Instead of a second title fight, it was the often repeated sad story of leading contender becoming an opponent for up and coming prospects.  Prospects who for the most part would have had a hard time dealing with Kendall in his prime.  The Scappoose Express hung up his gloves for good after losing a split decision to Karl Zurheide in Zurheide’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It was only 2 years earlier that Kendall had stopped Zurheide in 9 rounds in the very same ring.

When I started writing this article on Monday March 9th, I hit the play button on my recorder.  Unfortunately I hit the erase button by mistake.  Having a good sense of humor, Andy was kind enough to fill in the blanks by phone.

Today Andy lives in Gales Creek, Oregon, 20 miles west of Portland, with his lovely wife Bobbie of 20 years.  Their beautiful home is nestled on 2 wooded acres with a babbling brook cutting through the property.  When I visited the Kendall’s this winter, the view from the kitchen window of the brook belonged on a post card.  The Kendall’s have 8 children between them, plus 15 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.  Andy is retired from Landstom Cement Company where he worked for 28 years.  For 18 years he did volunteer work for the Gales Creek Children’s Diabetic Camp and still volunteers for the McClern School for Boys working with troubled kids.  Because of his own childhood experience and the breakup of his first marriage, Andy is dedicated to making the lives of disadvantage children better in any way he can.

As for the nickname the “Scappoose Express”, one newspaper said Kendall was 3 quarters Scappoose Indian.  His mother being a full blooded Seminole Indian that would make him one and a quarter full blooded Indian.  That’s more Indian than all the Indians on the reservation.  One newspaper clipping stated his opponent looked like he had been run over by an express train, which is likely where the Scappoose Express originated from.

As for Kendall’s pledge to give up drinking when he was left for dead in Virginia; he has not had a taste of alcohol since that eventful day.  As a result of publicity from his boxing career, he has reunited with all his siblings.  Last year the entire Kendall clan had a reunion in New Plymouth, Idaho, at his sister’s home.  This was the first time they have all been together since the state split them apart over 58 years ago.  The Kendall clan had tee shirts printed up to commemorate the occasion.

For a humble man, there is a lot more to Andy Kendall than meets the eye.

kendall_killeenbw

Andy Kendall and Austin Killeen, Gales Creek, Oregon. January 2009

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