Published April 30th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
STOCKTON, Missouri — Ken White leads a frenzied life once spring arrives.
Check out his schedule on a recent April day. He started by hitting the woods and collecting a sack full of tasty morel mushrooms. Then he rushed down to his pond and caught a limit of crappies. After he cleaned those fish, he began working on his garden. He ended the afternoon by mowing his grass.
Not bad for a 92 year old.
“April is my favorite month,” said White, who lives on 40 acres in Stockton, Missouri. “The fish are biting, the turkeys are gobbling, the morels are popping, everything’s greening up…
“It’s just a great time to be alive.”
And White is very much alive, despite his advanced age. The key to his continued vitality? He credits an outdoor lifestyle.
“My entire life, I’ve enjoyed the good things nature provides — fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, boating,” he said. “It still keeps me feeling young.
“You have to stay active. You can’t sit around all day watching TV. That’s when a lot of people start going downhill.”
Indeed, the outdoors life is — and always has been — White’s fountain of youth.
He continues to fish with enthusiasm. He participated in his 61st consecutive Missouri turkey opener. He loves living in his A-frame cottage in the middle of the woods near Stockton Lake. And he still writes an outdoors column for six newspapers in southwest Missouri.
“Sometimes, I can’t believe I’m in my 90s,” he said. “When I was younger, I thought 60 was ancient. But I’m not going to sit around and worry about it.
“Age is just a number.”
White has led a Forrest Gump-type life.
Much like the movie character played by Tom Hanks, his life has been a series of memorable scenarios.
White goes back so far that he can reminisce about the days when he was President Harry S. Truman’s personal photographer.
“I was in the Navy at Key West and Truman was staying in the Little White House down there,” White said. “He asked if there was someone from Missouri who was a photographer. I got the job and that led to some great things.”
After Truman was out of office, he and his wife Bess returned to their home in Independence. White eventually got a job as a photographer with the Independence Examiner newspaper, partly because of Truman’s glowing recommendation, and he remained close to the former president and First Lady. He often brought the Trumans fresh crappies for dinner, and he took Bess fishing regularly.
“One time I asked Bess to pose for a picture with a stringer of trout she caught,” White said. “Harry said, ‘Good idea,’ and grabbed that stringer of trout. Well, he hadn’t caught those fish, but he knew a good photo opp when he saw it.
“They sent the photo to their daughter, Margaret, and she wrote back, “I know dad didn’t catch those fish.’ “
White also was known as one of the best fishermen of his time, fishing many of the Ozarks reservoirs when they were in their infancy. In fact, he won the World Series of Fishing in 1963. The event featured three days of fishing — one each at Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Taneycomo. All species of gamefish counted for points.
“I caught so many fish the first day at Bull Shoals that I wouldn’t have even had to go the other two days,” White recalled.
But he did and ended up winning easily.
The fame White gained from winning the World Series of Fishing led to a feature appearance on the national TV show “What’s My Line?” in which he and two others tried to convince a panel of celebrity judges that they were the real Ken White.
White is a living history book when it comes to Missouri turkey hunting. He hunted the first spring season in 1960 and hasn’t missed one since. “One year I had triple bypass surgery, but I got out of the hospital just in time to make it out for the opener,” White said. “I got a turkey that day, too.”
As a noted photographer, he has a gallery of framed pictures in his house, including images of former presidents Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, stage performances by the Beatles and the Three Stooges, and visits with athletes such as Roger Maris and actors such as Lorne Greene of “Bonanza” and Jack Lorde of “Hawaii Five-O.”
Much has changed for White over the years.
He laughs when he recalls the difference between fishing tournaments in his day and today.
“Back when I was in the World Series, if you had a 50-horse motor, you were really something,” he said. “Today, if you don’t have a big bass boat and at least a 200-horse motor, you might as well stay home.”
The same stark changes are evident in turkey hunting.
When White participated in Missouri’s first modern turkey hunt in 1960, only 14 Ozarks counties were open and hunting was limited to three days. There were only 698 hunters and they took only 94 turkeys.
“Now, that many turkeys are taken in the first few hours of the season,” he said “The Conservation Department’s restoration program was a real success and hunting is open statewide.”
White’s personal life also has changed drastically.
He lost his wife, Donna, with whom he had been married since 1987, in 2019. That left a void in his life. Not only were they husband and wife, they were best friends and hunting and fishing partners.
“Everywhere I look around here, it reminds me of her,” White said.
But life goes on, as Donna would have wanted. And White continues to impress.
“It’s hard to believe that he’s in his 90s,” said Les Jarman, a guide at Stockton Lake and one of White’s friends. “He’s still out here fishing and still catching fish.
“You can tell he just loves it.”
Jarman’s son, Luke, who also guides, added, “He’s still a good fisherman. And he’s just a nice guy.
“I look up to him. He’s like a role model.”
Flatland contributor Brent Frazee is a Kansas City based outdoors writer.