Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith (1939-2014)

There are people who influence our lives in such a way that we would never be what we are now without them.

For me, one of those is Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith, who passed away November 14 at the age of 75. He was an author, historian, researcher, and genealogist with an inquisitive mind and boundless energy for his many research and writing projects.

I first met Jonathan when I worked at Kinko’s Copies in Jackson, Tennessee in the early 1990s while attending college at Union University. He would come into the store to have copies made of his manuscripts and I was often the one who would copy them. The pages would be typed on a typewriter and Polaroid photographs and clippings pasted onto them. Normally this was a hassle for the person working the copy machine because these pages would often jam in the document feeder and had to be hand-placed on the glass. Because Jonathan was always kind to me, smiling and polite, I went to the extra trouble of sorting through those troublesome pages. His books were standard paper size–8.5 x 11–and often stapled together as a booklet. Being a History major, I couldn’t help but print an extra copy for myself to read later.

Jonathan was a self-publisher before the term was in vogue. He created and designed his own books, copied them at Kinko’s, and donated them to the Tennessee Room at the Jackson-Madison County Library, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and anywhere else his works may be useful to researchers. There are over 100 in the Tennessee Room alone. He never sold his books–they were researched and written for the sheer love of his craft and sharing his discoveries with others rather than for monetary profit. He showed me that local and regional history and genealogy didn’t need to be produced by a big-time book publisher. Oftentimes, these firms would never touch them anyway.

I took Jonathan’s practices and began publishing my own manuscripts in the same manner, though I explored my creativity by designing front and back covers and binding them using spiral combs or plastic strips. In this manner, I published my first books–Hurst’s Wurst, Adam Huntsman, The Correspondence and Speeches of Adam Huntsman, and The McCanns of McNairy County, Tennessee.

After I married and moved to Middle Tennessee in 1993, Jonathan and I corresponded about our research projects for the next 20 years. When he came across information about something I was working on, he graciously took time to send it to me. It meant a lot that he thought of me when doing his own research. He would send me a copy of his latest book and I would return the favor when mine were completed. We shared an interest in Adam Huntsman, and his research on the Huntsman farm in Madison County was invaluable to me. (Most of Appendix B of The Peg Leg Politician would not be possible without his endeavors.) I’ve kept all his letters over the years.

Though 30 years my senior, I considered Jonathan a good friend and a mentor. I’ll miss seeing him at the Tennessee Room or receiving a letter from him discussing his research or passing along some piece of information he had uncovered for me. His passion for research and transcribing old records will be dearly missed.


The Tennessee Room has established a fund in memory of Jonathan Smith, which will be used to purchase a digital microfilm reader/scanner for the Tennessee Room. A memorial plate will be attached to the reader/scanner when it is purchased. It is our hope that the use of this machine will help perpetuate the memory of his dedicated work in reading and abstracting records from an unmeasurable number of microfilm rolls.
To contribute to this effort, please write a check to:
Tennessee Room Endowment – Jonathan Smith Memorial
and send to:
ATTN: Tennessee Room
Jackson/Madison County Library
433 E. Lafayette St.
Jackson, TN 38301

Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain

I’m excited to share the title and front cover of my latest book project, a biography of baseball great Ken Boyer.

Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain tells the story of Kenton Lloyd Boyer (1931-1982), who played major-league baseball for 15 seasons, most of them with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1955 to 1965. He spent his last four seasons with the New York Mets, the Chicago White Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a five-time Gold Glove Award winner for his exceptional defense at third base, an 11-time All-Star at the same position, and the recipient of the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1964.

The book also explores his personal life, his childhood in southwest Missouri, his minor-league career, and his coaching and managerial careers.

Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain is tentatively scheduled for publication in August 2014, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of both the Cardinals’ 1964 World championship and Ken’s MVP season.

To learn more about this project, please visit my book page, like my Ken Boyer page on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.

Ken Boyer_Front Cover

St. Louis Cardinals Book Collection

As baseball author and book reviewer Ron Kaplan notes on his blog, the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox will spawn a slew of books about the winning team before the holidays.

It’s interesting for me to see the collections of fellow book collectors/hoarders, and sometimes they share photos of them on their blogs or in Facebook groups such as Baseball Books. Ron, a devoted Yankees New York Mets fan,* shared his modest collection of Red Sox titles.

Before Game 6 of the Series commences tonight, I thought I’d share my Cardinals book collection. (A few titles are buried under papers and index cards on my desk, as I need them for the biography of Ken Boyer I’m writing.)

* Big correction: Ron is a Mets fan, NOT a Yankees fan. Big difference!

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Cardinals Books_1

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Title Considerations

Book-question-mark

Sometimes it’s the easiest part of writing a book. Or it can be the hardest decision to make in the whole process.

What should I call it?

That’s the dilemma I have with my biography of St. Louis Cardinals great Ken Boyer. Oh, I have several titles in mind, but I haven’t settled on the one I’ll use yet.

I’ve asked my Kickstarter backers and followers of my Ken Boyer: Captain of the St. Louis Cardinals Facebook page for their input and suggestions.

Below is a list of possibilities as well as ones that have been suggested to me:

  • Ken Boyer: A Life in Baseball
  • Ken Boyer: A Baseball Biography
  • Ken Boyer: A Baseball Life
  • The Captain: The Life and Baseball Times of Ken Boyer
  • 14: The Baseball Life of Ken Boyer
  • Ken Boyer: A Cardinal Legend
  • Ken Boyer 14: The Captain’s Baseball Life
  • Ken Boyer: The Biography of a Cardinals Legend
  • Janie Boyer’s Dad*

* I thought this was the funniest one.

I’ve also started looking through photos I’ve gathered (and exploring a few other possibilities) as likely candidates for use on the front cover. But to have the cover, I need to have the title selected.

I’d be very interested to know what your thoughts may be, either from the list above or another suggestion. (Note: This poll is only to record reader input and the final title decision will be at my discretion.)

Kickstart for Ken Boyer Book Successful

Thanks to 42 backers (actually 44 to account for two contributions sent by mail), the Kickstarter campaign for my Ken Boyer book was successfully funded at 9:48 PM CST last night!

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After the first effort in February and March fell very short of the $2,500 goal, I had my doubts whether this second try would succeed. But a friend thought that tax preparation time was a bad time to ask anyone for money–which in hindsight makes perfect sense!–so I regrouped and gave it another try in July and August. Thankfully, it was a success.

The following comes from my project update to my backers posted this morning:

I’m amazed at the outpouring of support for my project, especially in the last few days as the deadline to fund this Kickstarter effort drew closer. Honestly, there were moments when I doubted the mark would be reached in time. But every one of you came through to make this possible. And for that, I will be forever grateful to you.

Longtime friends, Cardinals fans, and baseball fans in general really stepped up to the plate and showed their support for me personally or how much they wanted to make this book to be written and published.

What has really struck me is the faith that Ken’s children and grandchildren have showed in my work through their pledges, emails, and Facebook messages. This is the most rewarding aspect for me–to have their approval for my project as it goes forward.

A few special “thank-yous” are in order:

Thank you to all 44 backers who have placed their faith and trust in me to accomplish my goal of writing and publishing a book fitting of Ken Boyer’s legacy. I will do my best to make you all proud!

$1964 Raised but $536 Left to Raise in 60 Hours

Yesterday, pledges were added or increased to my Kickstarter effort for my Ken Boyer book to bring the total amount raised as of this morning to $1964.

Dashboard_08.20.2013

Anyone who knows about Ken Boyer and the St. Louis Cardinals realizes the significance of that number.

It was in 1964 that the Cardinals made an August-September comeback to clinch the National League pennant on the last day of the season. It was also the year that Ken, the team captain, batted .295 with 24 homers and 119 RBIs and was named the N.L. Most Valuable Player.

Whether it’s successful or not (though I hope it is!), I’m very grateful and appreciative of the support shown through the pledges that have been made. It’s nice to know there are still fans of Ken who remember him and the personal qualities and talent he brought to the St. Louis Cardinals and–I’m finding out–to the other teams he played for and managed as well.

If you would like to make a pledge, please visit the Kickstarter page and click “Make a Pledge” in the right-hand column. Thank you!

PROJECT UPDATES

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to interview former major-league pitcher Tommy John, who was Ken’s teammate with the Chicago White Sox in 1967 and ’68. The two became good friends and Ken would invite him to go quail hunting in the winter near his home in Hermann, Missouri.

Daniel Shoptaw of the Cards Conclave blog wrote a nice post about the project and the Kickstarter effort this morning. (Thank you so much to Christine at the Aaron Miles’ Fastball blog for her help in spreading the word about them!)

I’ve been working diligently on the manuscript this past week and have finished a first draft of the chapter(s) dealing with Ken’s minor-league seasons at Lebanon and Omaha, as well as what I know so far about his military service. This week, I will start working on his season with the Houston Buffaloes of the Double-A Texas League. It was his performance at Houston that convinced the Cardinals he could be their starting third baseman in 1955–and for years to come.

UPDATE: While writing this post, a $75 pledge was made to bring the total to $2,039.14! Only $460.86 left to go in 59 hours.

2nd UPDATE: A $15 pledge has brought the total up to $2,054.14! Only $445.86 left in 58 hours.

New Kickstarter Campaign for Ken Boyer Book

Ken Boyer_1956_1With a few starts, stops, and restarts in between, I’ve been working on my book project about St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer for the past two years. Now I want to complete my research and start working exclusively on the manuscript in order to have it ready for a 2014 publication date.

I have a new Kickstarter campaign underway at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kevindmccann/ken-boyer-a-baseball-biography

Please take a moment to learn more about the project and look over the rewards I’m offering. As of today, $745.14 has been pledged with 20 days to go. The goal is $2,500, and it’s an all-or-nothing proposition: if I don’t meet the minimum amount, my project receives none of it.

Christine Coleman at Aaron Miles’ Fastball (a great Cardinals blog) invited me to write a guest post to explain the project and the Kickstarter campaign.

I hope my fellow St. Louis Cardinals will support this effort. Pledges will go toward research and travel expenses, including a trip to St. Louis this summer to do work at the public library and the Mercantile Library, as well as interview Kathleen Boyer (Ken’s wife) and family members and teammates.

To follow my progress, please “like” my Ken Boyer Facebook page and follow my new tweets!