In the April 11, 2018, edition of this publication, a feature that I wrote about Bobby Kennedy was run that dealt with him selling the Kennedy Directory and Guide to Eckenroth Publications. To prevent Kennedy from being fined an exorbitant amount of money at the next Rotary Club of Coronado meeting, we’ll include in the both the headline and the lead paragraph that Kennedy has been a proud Rotarian since August 1996.

One week ago, the realization hit home that there was simply too much accumulated interview material on Kennedy (CHS ’70) for one article. Several things have transpired in his life to date that may be of interest to the community where he has lived, except for a stint in the Air Force, most of his life.

Kennedy was born in Corona, and calls himself, “Kind of a native. The family had just left Coronado and I was scheduled to be born at the Navy facility. When we left and got on the road, I was born in Corona. My parents are Ron and Emma. I have an older brother Steve, a younger brother Jim and a younger sister Kathy. I skipped third grade and went from second to fourth. My Dad was a Naval Aviator and I went to private school in Pensacola, Florida and then we moved to Oakland. I had already taken the curriculum in public school and they put me in the fourth grade.”

During his days at Coronado, Kennedy was a multi-sport athlete, playing at various times tennis, baseball, basketball and water polo. Kennedy said, “I really liked baseball and I was a big bat on the JV, where I pitched, played third base and batted fourth. I played on the varsity my senior year. The coach then was Leroy Sterkel. In water polo I played as a senior for Pike Meade. Ned Smith was our hole man and I was the outside arm. They taught me the egg-beater and I was voted the Most Improved Player.”

When asked about his fondest memory of Coronado High School, Kennedy smiled and said, “High school was great in Coronado, with the way we partied. Any stories you might have heard about parties at Bruce Johnson’s house were true. My whole senior year was memorable. I was a jock, in the Honor Society and all that. We were kings of the campus and all that implied. We had a great school then and it was a great life.”

Aside from his affiliation with the Kennedy Book, Bobby is probably best known locally for playing tennis, a sport he continues to play. Kennedy described some of the highlights of his career. “I started playing tennis at age 7, at the Admiral’s courts on North Island. Dad took me there one day. Locally I only played varsity tennis as a sophomore and I played baseball after that. My sophomore year I played Raul Ramirez (No. 4 in the World in tennis singles and No. 1 in doubles in 1976) in the Quarter-Finals and lost in three sets. Years later in 1973, when I was in the service, I got into the American Airlines Tournament in Tucson and drew Ilie Nastase in the first round. I snapped a racket on a shot and lost to Nastase 6-3 in the first set. And then I snapped another frame. Nastase was hitting drop shots and lobbing me to hit more overheads. The crowd started booing him, but I was 20 years old and I melted. We were on-serve in the second set, but I lost 6-3. After the match, I was walking with Ramirez and Brian Gottfried (another top-rated tennis pro) and we ran into some of the Aussie players including Rod Laver, who were very encouraging.”

Directly out of high school Kennedy enlisted in the Air Force, where he was a photo journalist and learned to write and take photos. “I was stationed in Tucson,” Kennedy said. “And I worked for the camp newspaper. My partner at the time was the commanding general and I was his ringer. I was on the All-Air Force Tennis Team. They allowed me to play in tournaments and I got out of the service in 1975.”

Bobby worked with his younger brother Jim in a T-shirt business and later joined the Winston Tire Company as a trainee and then store manager. A disagreement over time off to play in the finals of a tennis tournament in Los Angeles led Kennedy to leave Winston Tire, and eventually try professional tennis on the Penn Tour. Kennedy started making the main tournament draw and at one time was ranked No. 1,013 in the World. A torn groin muscle suffered during a match knocked Kennedy off the tour. Fortunately, fences were mended with Winston Tire and he returned to run their largest volume store and eventually became their director of advertising. By 1987 Kennedy was assisting his father Ron with the marketing of the Kennedy Book and by 1991 became a full-time partner in the company.

Kennedy has a son from a previous marriage, Dane Kennedy, who is an EMT and works at Sharp Hospital. He is currently going to school to pursue a career in nursing. Kennedy has been married to his wife Karla for 25 years, the result of a blind date set up by fellow Rotarian Bob Kipperman. The couple was married on Elvis Presley’s birthday. Karla said of their courtship, “We carried Kippy’s belts in a store I worked at in Newport Beach and Bob knew I played tennis in college. Bob felt the need to set us up and Bobby proposed one month later.” The couple has a son Eric, who is a senior at La Jolla Country Day.

Kennedy was sponsored for membership in the Rotary Club of Coronado by his father Ron. “Rotary is a big part of Coronado,” Kennedy said. “No disrespect to the Optimists and the rest of the great clubs in town. Rotary is very important in business relationships. Integrity and being honest as a businessman are very, very important.” Kennedy is a nine-time Paul Harris Fellow, which means he has donated money to Rotary over the years. He added, “Rotary is outstanding, and I can’t say enough good things about Rotary.”

Things were proceeding apace for Kennedy until 2014, when he had a life-altering event. What developed was a battle with Stage Four cancer in the form of a lemon-sized tumor that grew through his lymph nodes and grew around his carotid artery. Kennedy described what happened next. “I had radiation and chemo at the same time because the tumor was wrapped around the artery. I was good for six or seven weeks, and then the whole world came to a stop. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t eat, and they put a tube in for nourishment. My throat was so constricted, I couldn’t swallow. Chemo is the worst and I was pretty useless for four or five months. That was the first time ever that the Directory and Guide didn’t come out the week before the Fourth of July. It came out in late summer. That’s the reason the cycle of the phone book changed five years ago. Cancer opened my eyes to a lot of things. One of them was that I wanted to give back. I got into survival mode and wanted to save the world. I really got involved in that.”

Kennedy formed a philanthropic business venture with insurance professional James Hardy to help people take care of their financial needs. Kennedy used his expertise to create a web presence to get people information about insurance they could buy online. The revenues were designed to go to non-profits. “I worked on that for years,” Kennedy said. “And for some financial capital reasons, it didn’t go. That was a passion I had to change the world for the better, but we stopped it about a year ago. It was part of what made me healthy, that and working on the Directory.”

Recently, with the sale of his company, Bobby and Karla have made the decision to permanently relocate to Indianapolis. “It really started six months ago with the decision to retire,” said Kennedy as he explained his future plans. “I’m about to turn 65 and with all the things I had gone through with the cancer and an appreciation of life, I figured out how to retire. But I couldn’t retire now and afford California. We started looking around and we looked at Florida, Arizona, and the Northwest. Indianapolis has a great cost of living and on all fronts has everything but weather. I have been weather-driven my entire life and until five years ago, I was always in the water and enjoying the outdoors. I’m not driven by weather anymore. Friends and family are a priority and Eric is graduating and looking at colleges around Indianapolis. Karla’s mom is still alive at 86 and she has no family back there. I guess I’ll join an indoor tennis club.”

Regardless of his destination, Bobby Kennedy is a Coronado original. The city will be considerably less colorful without him.

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