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Clyde Beal/For The Herald-Dispatch Ken Massey is pictured next to Ham Radio controls. "Ham Radio may be a popular hobby, but it also has the capability to become that one connection ... to save lives," he said.

Ken Massey was born during the summer of 1929 in Kelly Bridge, Ohio, 4 miles outside of Ironton. Five years later, with the nation in the grip of a depression, his father was forced to sell their larger home and move to a smaller, more affordable location.

"I grew up in a one-story frame house with a fireplace in the living room and a woodstove in the kitchen," Massey said. "We drank well water and lit up the night with kerosene lamps. We bathed in wash tubs, slept under feather tick blankets and used an outside toilet that never stopped up. In the evenings Dad would listen to Lum and Abner on our battery-powered Zenith floor model radio. He also loved listening to boxing matches."

Massey still remembers the thrill of every ride the day his fourth-grade class took the school bus to Camden Park. He never went swimming in the Ohio River because kids in the area preferred Storm Creek, which was closer and deep enough for a good swim.

"At one time there were five movie houses in Ironton: The State, Lyric, Marlo, Grand and the Ro-Na," Massey said. "The Ro-Na was restored and looks beautiful today with the marquee lights on. The Grand had the best westerns. Roy Rogers was the favorite because he once lived near Portsmouth, Ohio. I still remember him singing 'Happy Trails.' We rode the city bus for a dime. When we didn't have bus fare we'd ride our bikes."

As a carpenter, Massey's father would make winter sleds, but there was a twofold reason for doing so - they also were used for hauling firewood. Aside from sleigh riding, the creek behind the grade school made a great ice rink when frozen. His greatest Christmas present ever was a cowboy outfit when he was 12. It came complete with twin holsters and a pair of chrome cap-firing six-shooters. He didn't care for the new winter jacket because it covered his cap pistols.

I went to Kelly Bridge grade school," Massey said. "It was about a quarter-mile walk. The school had two buildings, grades 1-4 in one building and grades 5-8 in the other.

Each building had a potbelly stove that got red hot in the winter. Three of us boys got caught smoking Bugler cigarettes one time. Two were older and got paddled. Because I was in the fourth grade, the teacher thought I didn't know any better, so I didn't get punished."

Massey graduated from Pedro High School in 1947. He took classes that allowed dismissal around noon so he could help his father build homes. Every piece of wood was hand cut, and every evening, his father would place those saws in a vise to be sharpened like new.

"When Dad and I completed our seven-room house, he told me I could paint it," Massey said. "When Dad began telling everyone that I painted the entire house, I began getting all sorts of paint jobs. That's when I bought a Cushman motor scooter. I still don't recall what happened to it, but it sure was a lot of fun to ride."

After high school, Massey drove a milk delivery truck for a few months before selling life insurance. That's when he began dating a young lady and finally got married in 1950. Two years later, he was taking an enlistment physical at Ashland's Ventura Hotel.

"My wife had a good office job at Ironton's Fire Brick Company," Massey said. "She continued to work when I was drafted. She retired in 1990 after 40 years. Avanelle and I have been married 67 years now."

According to Massey, Parris Island Marine boot camp in South Carolina teaches discipline, respect for authority and a strict military code that begins right about the time you step off the bus.

"Eight weeks later. I was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for additional training with amphibious landing techniques and assault weapon qualification," Massey said. "Next we went to Little Creek, Virginia, for some temporary additional duty that was followed by practice war maneuvers back at Camp Lejeune."

Massey served aboard the USS Taconic, a 459-foot amphibious force command ship. They participated in numerous exercises with NATO. He finished his military obligation in Quantico Marine Base, Virginia.

"I would have been shipped to Korea if I had six months left on my tour, but I was two weeks short," Massey said. "I was discharged and went back to selling insurance for six years. I was offered a chance to interview for a job at Dow Chemical (and got a) position I retired from after 30 years."

Ken and Avanelle have long been avid campers, a hobby that went through two motor homes before medical complications forced them to sell their camper. He has even enjoyed woodworking and photography, but his passion has always been amateur radio.

"Amateur ham radio is a popular hobby and service that brings people together," Massey said. "We use ham radios to talk across town or around the world. It's social, educational and has often been a lifeline during disasters. When normal means of communication fail, like television and radio, licensed ham radio operators get the word out to areas in need. Ham radio may be a popular hobby, but it also has the capability to become that one connection ... to save lives."

Massey does have one more interesting pastime, and that is teaching 17-year-old Cassie, an African grey parrot, to speak. So far, Cassie announces, "There's the mail, did your prescription come today?" Massey says that Cassie does a darn good Willie Nelson impersonation singing "On the road again."

If you are interested in becoming involved with ham radio procedures or if you already pursue the hobby and wish to share your knowledge and service with others, send Massey an email at

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email


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