By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nearly 10 months after his death at the age of 59, former Iowa basketball player Kenny Arnold still is touching lives in a positive way, and one life in particular.
I reached out to Arnold’s former Iowa teammate, Mike “Tree” Henry, on Monday to get his comments for an upcoming article, and just to say hello and see how he was doing without his best friend.
Kenny Arnold and Mike Henry were like each other’s guardian angel, best friends since college who had a special bond that grew stronger through years of hardship and sadness.
Arnold, a starting guard on Iowa’s 1980 Final Four team, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1985 and battled serious health issues for the last three decades of his life.
The Chicago native fought valiantly as his body was ravaged by multiple strokes that ultimately confined him to a hospital bed. Arnold also couldn’t speak in the latter years of his life, but his mind was sharp until the very end, which came this past April when Arnold passed away with Henry at his side.
Henry was almost always at Arnold’s side providing care, comfort and encouragement.
As Arnold’s medical condition worsened, Henry’s commitment to his friend grew stronger.
So I was curious to see how Henry was doing without Arnold in his life anymore. Henry still often thinks about Arnold, but Henry’s day-to-day life has changed dramatically since his friend and former college teammate passed away.
“I’m just learning how to have a life for myself now, which is weird to have free time and not having to be anywhere or go anywhere,” Henry said. “But adjusting to that in a positive way, too.
“So really everything is pretty good.”
Henry still is determined to build on Arnold’s legacy and to keep the Kenny Arnold Foundation running for the foreseeable future.
And it was during the course of our conversation on Monday that I learned about Henry’s latest noble cause.
A woman had donated a wheelchair to Arnold, but Arnold passed away before he had a chance to use it.
Henry described the wheelchair as the “Cadillac of power wheelchairs” and said it cost approximately $25,000.
“We spent the past year, pretty much since he passed, trying to find somebody to donate it to,” Henry said. “We didn’t want to just give it away to anybody. We wanted it to go to somebody who really needed it, kind of in the spirit of Kenny.”
The search finally paid dividends this past weekend as Henry learned about a 40-year old fireman from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook who is suffering from multiple sclerosis and regressing rapidly.
“He’s really going downhill fast and can’t walk anymore and is going through a total change of life, obviously,” said Henry, who also lives in Bolingbrook. “So I’m actually coordinating it as we speak to give it to him in the next day or so to kind of pay it forward.”
“I’m excited about that and we’re going to keep the foundation going and try to do some other things. I’m really thrilled to make that happen. That’s something we had been working on.”
Henry had contacted veteran’s organizations, nursing homes and hospitals looking for the right person, but he said liability issues always stood in the way.
So he finally decided to contact the people in human resources at a local high school where he is head of security and they told him about the fireman.
“They found a great candidate and this is going to be life changing for him,” Henry said. “This will give that gentleman mobility again. And it’s well needed.
“It turns out his chair that he had broke last week, so it’s perfect timing to hook up with him. He needs the chair. It turned out to be a perfect opportunity.”
The thing I’ll remember most about Kenny Arnold, besides his incredible courage and resolve, is that he brought out the best in people.
Iowa’s 1980 Final Four team, which was coached by Lute Olson and led by star point guard Ronnie Lester, was a close and well-connected group in college. But the players grew even closer over time as they rallied behind Arnold and tried to comfort him.
It was really a beautiful thing to watch despite the horrible circumstances.
Kenny Arnold deserved better out of life, but he never wallowed in self-pity or felt sorry himself.
He was always more concerned about the well-being of those around him than his situation, and that’s why giving this wheelchair to an ailing fireman is the perfect way to honor Kenny Arnold's rich legacy.
“It’s just a great continuing story with Kenny’s legacy,” Henry said. “It’s just amazing, you know, more Kenny stories.”