ERNEST KENNETH WILLIAMS, known by all simply as “Ken”, was born on January 30, 1947 to parents Esme Sylvanita and Ernest Dorthen Williams in Long Beach, CA. As a youth, Ken enjoyed playing outdoors, collecting insects and tadpoles. His collecting hobby was so well-known that he earned the nickname, Papa Frog, for his efforts. An only child, Ken and first cousin, Alexis, were raised as brother and sister from a young age. “Kenny was my first best-friend and we remained close friends throughout our lives.”
Ken loved his cousins Wilton and Alexis and often told stories of their early years together. He developed a special relationship to all his cousins: Tanis, Desiree, and Linda in time. Ken learned to fish from his father and this hobby continued to be a passion for the rest of his life. Ken began singing in the choir at Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church at a young age. His range and tenor was quickly noticed and encouraged by the choir director. He freely accepted invitations to sing at personal occasions for family and members within the community in Long Beach. Ken sang proudly and confidently. His voice commanded the stage for singing performances at elementary, junior high and high school choirs and elite choral groups. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School where he performed with the Poly Chorale and Choir. On one occasion song writer, Jester Hairston, who is credited with the song “Amen,” which was made popular by the motion picture, Lilies of the Field and starred Sidney Poitier, made a visit to Poly High, where Ken had the privilege to sing the solo!
After graduation in 1965, Ken relocated to San Diego and began coursework as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. Not long after arriving, Ken met Robbie North in a chance encounter that would begin a romance. A romance that would last 46 years. Ken and Robbie were joined in holy matrimony on July 7, 1973. They had three children: TerHea, Shantrice, and Kenny Jr. Ken’s extended family also grew as Robbie was one of nine children. In particular, Ken and Floyd Jr. developed a special bond and became as close as brothers, hunting and fishing together.
Upon graduation from SDSU, Ken attended graduate school at United States International University and graduated in 1975. His thesis title, “Factors Affecting High School Attendance,” focused on some of the struggles high-schoolers experienced in the mid- 1970s and this was a demographic that Ken immediately gravitated toward. Soon after graduation, Ken accepted a teaching position at Kearny High, where he taught for a number of years before transferring to San Diego High (SDHS). As one of only a handful of African American teachers during that time, Ken used the current events of the day (i.e. Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and Cold Wars) to engage and motivate his students. By drawing connections between those current events and past historical events Ken, with his natural talent for oration, drew students in and inspired them. This he continued to do throughout his 30+ years as a U.S. History teacher
at SDHS. Ken was also an ASB advisor for a number of years and never failed to support his students both inside and outside the classroom. He attended football games, basketball games, school performances and track meets. If a student asked him to go, Ken would make every effort to be there. In 2006, He was presented with a plaque from the Board of Education of San Diego City Schools “in recognition of his many contributions to the young people of San Diego.”
Ken loved his wife and children dearly and took everyone on countless road trips and family vacations. Both Ken and Robbie believed in exposing their children to as many different experiences as possible. The strong bond that exists between his children may be attributed to the time spent on those long, long road trips! Ken taught all his children to fish and appreciate nature. He supported and encouraged all three in their various pursuits from scuba diving, to basketball, to marching band. Education was extremely important to Ken and he was always proud that all three children went to and graduated from college.
Ken loved good food, music, and laughter. An amazing storyteller, He often put us “all in stitches” as he told stories of himself, Wilton, Alexis, Floyd, Carl, Gary, and Chris “back in the ol’ days.”
Ken and Robbie joined City of Hope International Church in 2007 and quickly became frequent and notable parishioners.
Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016 and after a lengthy struggle made his peaceful transition on Sunday, June 23, 2019.
Ken was preceded in death by parents, Esme and Ernest Williams; mother-in-law, Mattie Massey; brother-in-law, Gary North; uncle, Leslie Gumbs; aunt Christine Tucker; niece, Rachel North; first cousins, Clarence Gumbs and Gloria Minkoff.
He is survived by his wife, Robbie Williams, children: TerHea, Shantrice, and Kenny Jr. Extended family include Ianthe Thomas, Alexis Donadelle-Newjahr, Wilton Donadelle, Tanis Nelson, Desiree Neal, Linda Smith, Floyd North Jr., Jackie North, Joan North, Carl North, Debbie North, Chris North, and Sheila Scott, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.
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