Kenneth Speirs was a lifelong runner, a Berkeley resident, a professor at Cal and Diablo Valley College, and a dedicated son, brother, uncle, friend, father, and husband. He suffered a heart attack while running the first Berkeley Half Marathon in 2013. We honor his spirit and his memory by running for him each year and raising money for a selected charity.
This year we are raising money for the Berkeley Public Schools Fund. The Berkeley Public Schools Fund is the largest source of outside funding to directly reach teachers and programs in every Berkeley public school, from Pre-K through 12th grade. Their mission is to inspire and empower an extraordinary public education for every child. More information about BPSF can be found here: https://www.berkeleypublicschoolsfund.org/
The title for our team is "Climb High." Climb High was an invitation, a challenge, a personal motto emblazoned across the front of one of Kenny's favorite tee shirts in the NYU days. We choose it because it expresses a feeling that we all experienced in Kenny's presence: that urgent call to do more, experience more, think more--climb higher over whatever obstacles or opportunities we encountered as we journeyed. Climb High, runners!
Here's a longer piece on Kenny:
“God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our beloved Kenneth Speirs lived life boldly and with passion. Not for him the ordinary or the practical. Life was to be seized and made into an adventure. For his two boys, Kai and Bo, he constructed rich experiences and days filled with silliness and joy. For his wife, SanSan Kwan, he built a scaffold of care and love. For his students, in Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, New York, LA, and the Bay Area, he created a classroom full of inspiration. For his friends and family, he brought fierce loyalty paired with hilarity and delight. His passion and wit were contagious to all who encountered him.
Writes one student, “You catalyzed my sense of wonder about the world, you reshaped my ideas of what learning ought to be like, you instilled a lifelong pursuit of learning and reading, and you taught me that everything beautiful is small. You taught me to look at life in moments – brief, indefinite intervals of time that leave imprints on your life.”
Writes a cousin, “I’ll remember always how you made me feel important, made me laugh, shake my head, want to be better, more smart…more like you.”
Writes a friend, “With Kenny, time became fatter and richer and slower, the world became more generous, experiences yielded up more stories, we all became a bit better at making the world bend, even if just slightly, in our direction.”
Kenny struck up ebullient conversations with strangers. He was gut-splittingly funny. He was a tough competitor. He had great hair that went blond on his arms in the summer. He always preferred to walk. He was an athlete gorgeous to watch. He was a lifelong runner. He indulged his wanderlust. He doubted himself. He reveled in his lanky, capable body. He lived with style and always recognized beauty. For Kenny, everything was meaningful. Each written word was an expressive choice. He was a romantic to the core. He began every class he taught with a personal story. He loved Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Faulkner, Shakespeare. He loved Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, the Lakers and the Dodgers. The last book he taught was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In it a father and a son strive to endure in an apocalyptic world. At the end, the father dies and the boy must carry on.
Ken suffered a heart attack while running the Berkeley Half Marathon on November 24, 2013. He died on December 11, 2013. He earned his PhD in English from New York University in 1998, writing a dissertation on Herman Melville. He went on to teach in China, Taiwan, New York, LA, and most recently UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College. Over his professional career he was awarded several NEH grants, other research awards, and a Fulbright. He co-edited a book on multiraciality with his wife and published numerous articles on 19th Century American literature and on pedagogy.
Kenneth is survived by his wife, two sons, his mother, two brothers and their families, and multitudes of friends, colleagues, and students.