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Son remembers his famous father, & ‘many fathers’ who took him under their wing

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POSTED June 18, 2014 1:28 a.m.

Kim Komenich lost his mother when he was 18 years old. He had graduated from Manteca High and was attending Modesto Junior College at the time. Two years later his father died.

Recalling those years with his father, Komenich said, “Although there was still a bond, my relationship with my father was strained.”

Growing up, he did know that his father was an accomplished basketball player during his high school and college days. However, only decades later and after his father was long gone, did he began to realize the magnitude of his father’s historic contribution to basketball – the third most popular sport in the United States second only to football and baseball.

It was that realization and discovery which led to the making of “Cowboys: The Story of the 1943 Wyoming Championship Basketball Team,” a documentary film in which one of the shining athletic stars was Milo Komenich, the Pulitzer Prize winner’s father whom he described as a “ringer” and whose soaring 6-foot-7 stature made him an athletic marvel in those days. He played center.

• • •

Milo Komenich – the story of a star athlete and father

He was a standout high school basketball player at Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana, and later was recruited to play for the University of Wyoming Cowboys for the 1941-1943 and 1945-1946 season. He and guard Ken Sailors led the Cowboys to the historic 1943 National Championship. He was elected posthumously to the University of Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame Named in 2006, and to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

Milo Komenich originally went to Indiana University in Bloomington. It was there where Everett Shelton – who would be described as a basketball entrepreneur today except there was no such thing as professional basketball at the time – discovered then recruited the star player out of Indiana.

Shelton “made the trip East with the idea of getting a big man and he came back with my Dad. Shelton taught him from the beginning,” Kim Komenich says in the film which he directed and co-produced with G. Allen Johnson (film writer) and Jessica Sison (film editor). In the film, Ken Sailors from the history-making 1943 Wyoming Cowboys called the 6-foot-7 Milo Komenich “big, big, big” and “Our Big Man.”

After college, Komenich’s father went on to play on several AAU (American Athletic Union) company teams before ABA (American Basketball Association) and NBA (National Basketball Association) were in existence. Milo Komenich played for the Anderson (Indiana) Packers, Twentieth Century Fox, Dow Chemical, and the Fort Wayne Zollnerr Piston which later became the Detroit Pistons.

Komenich was born in 1956, when his parents were in their 30s, his father’s basketball glory days were long over and he was working as an insurance agent in Stockton and Modesto. The family came to Manteca in 1961 via Stockton where Komenich first found out his father’s historic accomplishments in basketball after discovering his old uniforms and trophies packed in storage boxes. He started kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School that fall.

In the early 1970s, his father left the insurance business and went to work at Libbey-Owens-Ford glass plant (later Pilkington Glass) in Lathrop. His mother, Juanita, worked in the finance department at Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop. His mother died in 1975 when he was attending Modesto Junior College.

Komenich realized early on that he did not inherit his father’s athletic genes, about the same time his father arrived at the same conclusion.

“Although I was a little overweight to be a basketball player, I remember playing some one-on-one games against my dad in our driveway on Mylnar Avenue,” he recalled. “He bumped and checked me as though he was playing against George Mikan in the old days, and I decided then and there that my basketball career was over.”

He did end up in sports in some way even though he never became the athlete his father “intended me to be,” Komenich said. That was when he came to work for the Manteca Bulletin as interim sports editor “for about three months after Davey Wagstaff and before Ron Agostini when my father died in 1977.”

• • •

The love of many fathers

Looking back to that summer when he lost his father, Komenich said “a lot of men stepped up as ‘fathers’ for me.”

There was Bill Forbis, his photography teacher at Manteca High. He and his wife Beverly and their daughters “were very important in my life during those years.” To this day, after 40 years, Bill Forbis continues to be an inspiration for Komenich. The feeling is mutual. “We think so much of Kim,” Beverly Forbis said. Her now octogenarian husband added, “He’s our fifth child. He’s my boy. Our girls think of him as big brother, more than their brothers.”

Another father figure for Komenich was his former Scoutmaster Jim Hughes. He and his wife Eva, a retired teacher, and their family “have always included me in their family gatherings and have provided a much needed ‘reality check’ when necessary,” Komenich said.

“His personality always spoke about the kind of person he is – very kind,” said Eva Hughes. Their house was “always home” for Komenich, somewhere “he could run to and be one of the family,” she added.

There were also former Bulletin editors John Lovell and Glenn Kahl who is now a reporter for the paper. The day his father died, when Komenich found him unconscious when he came home from school, he said Lovell “almost beat the ambulance to our house after hearing it on the police scanner.” As for Kahl, Komenich said he was the one “who helped me decide at an early age that I was going to be a journalist.” It was Kahl who gave the then 15-year-old Komenich his first job in the Manteca Bulletin darkroom.

After his father died, LOF co-worker Salah El-alami, his wife Mari and their family “included me in their family vacations,” Komenich said.

“I will always remember the kindness and the guidance I received from these men and their families,” he said.

 

To contact Rose Albano Risso, email ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call 209.249.3536.


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