Kenneth Victor Kardong, professor emeritus of the College of Sciences at Washington State University, passed away Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in the peaceful surroundings of Hospice House South of Spokane following a 10-year struggle with cardiomyopathy and the complications of a recent stroke.
Ken was born Feb. 7, 1943, in Bremerton, Wash., to Raymond and Charlene Kardong while Ray served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Following the war, the family moved into a small log cabin on the west side of Lake Sammamish built by Ken’s maternal grandparents. Those years were a boys’ heaven for Ken and his two brothers, Ed and Don, who had the extensive forested property as their playground. Eventually the family moved to Bellevue, where Ken attended grade and middle schools and graduated from Bellevue High School in 1961. He was an avid Little League player in the lower grades and played sports, especially basketball, throughout his high school years. He was voted most inspirational player for his basketball team despite his less-than-towering stature. His warm and fun personality allowed him to have many friends, most of whom he reconnected with during several high school reunions.
Following his graduation from BHS, Ken attended the University of Washington, where he developed his love for scientific research and formed abiding friendships with his fellow students and the fraternity brothers of Psi Upsilon. Ken had an incredible wit, sense of fun and infectious laugh that were what caused a fellow student in the Natural History of Vertebrates class, Willemina (Willi) Langendoen, to immediately fall in love with him. Ken and Willi took several other classes together, and after they both graduated in 1965, they were married Dec. 27 of that year.
Ken continued his academic studies and earned a master’s degree in zoology at the UW and then completed his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in Urbana. It was there that sons Kyle (1969) and Jason (1971) were born. It was also where he and Willi attended their first opera together, a love they continued to develop after returning to the Northwest in 1972. They subsequently attended every one of the 20 Seattle Opera performances of the Wagner Ring Cycle over the next 40 years.
In 1972, Ken accepted a teaching and research position at Washington State University. Initially he taught in the recently developed WWAMI Medical Education Program, and then in the Department of Zoology, where he taught and conducted research for the next 38 years. Ken was a very popular, caring, supportive, albeit demanding teacher in all of the classes that he taught and was recognized for those qualities as the recipient of the Faculty Achievement Award for Teaching. He loved to verbally spar with others and enjoyed years of participation in an informal discussion group named, tongue-in-cheek, “Quantum Philosophy.”
Many pre-med and graduate students “suffered” through the challenging Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy or the Functional Morphology classes that he taught, but many wrote Ken later that his classes were the ones that they were most proud of having taken while at WSU and that they were influenced greatly by his passion for scientific inquiry, but always with kindness and humor. Equally influential was his great contribution to the teaching of those courses through his definitive textbook, “Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution,” the eighth edition of which he completed shortly before his death.
Sabbaticals in England, France and the Netherlands provided opportunities for collaborative research with other vertebrate morphologists who then became lifelong colleagues and friends.
Throughout their marriage, Ken and Willi enjoyed the outdoors — backpacking on Cascade Mountain trails, cross-country skiing and mountain biking from their home north of Moscow. Always a daily long-distance runner, Ken was very proud to have run in the very first Spokane Bloomsday Run in 1977, founded by his brother, marathon Olympian Don Kardong, and he ran for the WSU Corporate Team in most subsequent Bloomsday runs until heart failure prevented him from further participation.
An avid fly fisherman, a love that he shared with his son, Jason, he spent many joyful days in his favorite fishing spots on the St. Joe River in northern Idaho. When it was no longer possible to participate in these activities, he began to look for other ways to enjoy the beauty of northern Idaho or north central Washington. He then purchased a remote piece of property high above Lake Roosevelt and secretly began the building of a small cabin. When the shell was completed, he invited Willi for a “ride to a pretty spot.” When they came upon this little cabin she thought they were trespassing, and when she asked who owned that lovely place, he replied, “We do.” With his own hands, and Willi’s assistance, Ken spent the next eight years turning this little bit of heaven into their favorite getaway. Many days and evenings were spent sitting on the deck watching sunsets over the western hills and the river activity far below. During Ken’s last two grueling months in Spokane hospitals, large photos of the cabin and its views graced whichever room he was moved to, and may have encouraged his fight to the very end to be able to return and sit on the deck once more.
A devoted husband to Willemina, and so proud of the accomplishments and special talents of his sons, Kyle and Jason, he doted on his two grandchildren, Kieran and Kana, who had a very special final visit with him in late August.
A kind and gentle man, he was loved by those who knew him and will be greatly missed. Ken is survived by his wife of nearly 53 years, Willi; his sons, Kyle (Darcie) and Jason (Tami); grandchildren Kieran and Kana; brothers Ed (Elaine) of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Don (Bridgid) of Spokane; sister Glori, of Foster City, Calif.; and nieces and nephews and the extended Langendoen family members.
The family wishes to thank the doctors who cared for him so devotedly during the past 10 years and the caregivers during the last two months of his life at Providence Sacred Heart Hospital, Holy Family Hospital, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute and Hospice House of Spokane South.
A celebration of life will be scheduled for later in the spring. Donations to honor Ken may be sent to Hospice House of Spokane (hospiceofspokane.org), the Humane Society of the Palouse (humanesocietyofthepalouse.org), Healing Hearts Northwest (1418 E. 64th Court, Spokane, WA 99223) or the charity of your choice.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Short’s Funeral Chapel, Moscow, and online condolences may be sent to www.shortsfuneralchapel.net.