KEN RANKIN took off work during the summers, most of the time without pay, so he could help kids in Fairbanks learn how to play baseball.
His decades of service to the community are to be recognized this evening when a baseball field next to Pioneer Park is to be named in his honor at about 5:50 p.m.
It is also to be “Ken Rankin Legacy Night” at Growden Memorial Park, with the Alaska Goldpanners playing the Mat-Su Miners. Rankin’s brother, Dale Rankin, is to throw out the first pitch. The ceremony honoring Rankin is to start at 6:45 p.m.
The Rankin family has a long tradition with youth baseball and the Alaska Goldpanners. General Manager Don Dennis said that Ken was his “unofficial adviser” and a reliable sounding board for many of the things Dennis did with the team, helping out on such decisions as the design of the uniforms.
“I think it’s hugely appropriate that he gets a field named after him,” said Dennis. “His interest went far beyond the baseball part into a very personal interest in each kid.”
Rankin, who coached baseball in Fairbanks for nearly four decades, died in 2002 at 73. He began coaching in 1959 with Jim Growden, the man who Growden Memorial Park is named for. Their team was first known as the Pan Am Jets and later became the Yankees. Rankin was a big fan of the New York Yankees and of pinstripes.
A lifelong bachelor, he was born in Knoxville, Iowa, and served four years in the Navy, then studied at Upper Iowa University before heading north. He worked at Clear Air Force Station as a member of Laborer’s Union Local 942 until his retirement.
As reliable as the midnight sun, he could be found in or near the ballparks every day in the summer, carefully tending the grounds and practicing with his players. He could never get enough practicing.
His players always tucked their shirts in and were asked to play the game and conduct themselves with pride. He went so far as to send instructions home to the moms on cleaning uniforms so they would stay bright after multiple cycles in the washing machine.
“He was a disciplinarian when he was coaching, but he was always a very gentle man,” said Jim Dieringer, whose children knew Rankin as a coach. “The kids that were on his team, they loved him.”
After the games, the parents would wait in the stands while Rankin engaged the kids with a lecture that could be a long one, hitting the high and low points as the kids drank soda pop.
Rankin donated thousands of hours of his time to tending the fields and used his own money to help buy equipment and uniforms.
He took personal responsibility for the condition of the baseball fields and could be found there at any time of the day, digging dandelions, painting the backstop, setting the sprinklers or kicking off those who didn’t belong.
In a News-Miner interview in 1990, Rankin had this to say about the value of programs for children: “I’m a firm believer if a kid starts with sports–and this goes for the glee club, drama club, band and all that–and sticks with it, by the time he gets out of school, he’s going to be a good, honest, smart kid.”