He was born Jan. 3, the New Year's Baby for 1948, to Mary Margaret Thomas and Norval Pickett Jr., former chief of police and long-time mayor of Brazil. Before his first birthday, he moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Norval Jr. and Norval Sr. worked in a mechanics garage at the camp that built the atomic bomb. The rest of his life was just as rich and full of character.
Called Kenny Ray by family and friends, he spent the rest of his life in and around Brazil. He grew up on Depot Street, just north of the coal yard, where he was surrounded by a close community of friends, neighbors and family. Their lives echo in the stories he told so readily, and with so much color and charm. The Pickett's were well known in town as early as the 1950s for looking after an astonishing variety of exotic animals including chimps, bears and lions. Ken relished the stories that linger in town even today, like those which (erroneously) suggest that his father had let alligators into the local sewer. There are also stories about Kenny, and he wasn't afraid to tell those too -- like the time he and some childhood friends borrowed the town's only police car to go joy-riding down U.S. 40 with the lights on. Kenny ran cross-country and sprints on the Al Barkis track team, during the years when Brazil High won 75 consecutive dual-meet track events. Despite any number of legendary shenanigans and pranks pulled on teachers with his classmates, Ken graduated from Brazil High School in 1966. His draft number was not called for service in Vietnam, but he enlisted and served several years in the National Guard.
His entrepreneurial instincts led him to develop a number of businesses that hired local and regional residents -- a salvage business, Pickett Oil Company, Quick Pick Convenience Stores, Pick n Save Grocery, Mansfield Stone, American Stone Fabricators and American Limestone. Ken inherited his father's sense of civic pride, and believed that Brazil was a place to be proud of, and he continued to give back to the community that raised him. Just before Norval's death in 2003, he and several friends conceptualized Brazil's Orville Redenbacher popcorn festival and secured ConAgra funding to begin what has become a new community tradition, breathing fresh life and commerce into the city. In 2004, Ken donated a 109-year-old cornerstone for the new county jail, which he had salvaged from the old location when he demolished the building with his father in 1963. Kenny knew the story behind every block, building and family in the city -- and he always wanted to share. He was an avid collector of Brazil's history in memorabilia, stories and post cards -- he made frequent donations of his finds to the Clay County Historical Society and to anyone he thought would be interested. Kenny was a staunch, lifelong Democrat. He had a soft heart for local charities and needy families, even when his own pockets weren't so full.
Ken was married to Marcia Potee of Terre Haute It was a union that brought him new family and new joys later in life. He loved Indiana, his friends and family, chili and morel mushrooms, basketball games, museums and beating everyone at Monopoly. Ken enjoyed traveling and learned something everywhere he went -- though he never stopped thinking of himself as "just another boy from Brazil," he took trips with family all over the world, from Hong Kong and Japan to England, France, and Germany. He read voraciously, never novels, but always newspapers, politics and history. Ken always had time to offer his opinions on the finer points of upcoming elections or the latest issue in local, state, and national politics. His family will remember him for his playful but intensely loving, surprisingly sensitive spirit, and the characteristic humor and enthusiasm with which he approached everything he did.
Ken is preceded in death by his parents and an infant brother Norman Pickett.
Ken is survived by his wife Marcia, children Jordan Thomas Pickett, Philadelphia, Amanda Biedess and husband Matthew, San Antonio, Texas, stepchildren Odie Potee, Terre Haute, Chris Potee and wife Jennifer, Noblesville, Bruce Potee and wife Regina, Indianapolis, Jerrod Potee and wife Julie, Ft. Mills, S.C., and Michelle Pedersen and husband Dean, Vernon Hills, Ill., grandchildren Maddie Biedess, Chistine Laucher and husband Adam, Meghan Potee, Liz Potee, Jordan Potee, Jake Potee, Hannah Potee, Evan Potee, Abby Pedersen and Ben Pedersen, and great-grandchild Jackson Laucher.
Services will be at French Funeral Home Sunday, April 11, 2010, at 2 p.m. Burial will follow at Stunkard Cemetery. Visitation will be at the funeral home Saturday, from 5-9 p.m., and again Sunday for one hour prior to services. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Serving on the Streets, 525 E. National Ave., Brazil, Ind. 47834.
Visit www.frenchfuneralhome.com to light a candle in his memory.