It wasn’t unexpected, but local musician/former Beachland booker/force of nature Ken Janssen didn’t live to see 2015, passing away on New Year’s Eve.
For the last two and a half years, Ken was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he did so with the panache, humor and spirit with which he did everything.
He made his mark on the music scene first with punk rockers the It*Men and then with the aggressive Hot Rails, both affiliated with the so-called Davenport Collective of musicians, an intermingled group of players who populated (and still populate) dozens of the area’s most interesting bands.
He worked as a booker and sometime bartender at the Beachland Ballroom back in the late ’00s. But as the Waterloo area started to develop around the Beachland ,with programs to rehab homes to attract artists, musicians and other creative people, he decided he wanted to be part of that vision. He got his real estate license, left the Beachland in 2011 and went to work selling the neighborhood he’d fallen in love with so much he bought a house there. With his passion, energy and big heart, he was a perfect fit for the job.
In 2012 he started to show the first symptoms of the inexorable and incurable progressive disease, which gradually robs a person of his physical capabilities. He was diagnosed in late 2012.
He continued to participate in the music scene as long as he could. He was part of the 2013 Lottery League, performing from a wheelchair with his randomly drawn bandmates Justin Markert, Christopher Hoke, Krissy Brannan and Chris Dines as Wyld Bal5 at the Lottery League Big Show at the Agora in April 2013. And he appeared onstage at the Beachland Ballroom when the It*Men reunited for a benefit for him called The Last Waltz of the It*Men. A second benefit took place at the Beachland in May to help defray some of the costs of an experimental treatment to try to slow the progress of the disease.
Alas, that was not to be. Despite his increasing struggle to function physically, he remained as engaged with friends as his abilities would allow. He leaves his wife Kathy, his partner in the struggle. He was only 41.