Cover photo for Kenneth Kay Gardner's Obituary
Kenneth Kay Gardner Profile Photo
1949 Kenny Gardner 2024

Kenneth Kay Gardner

September 27, 1949 — May 16, 2024

Herriman, Utah

Kenneth Kay Gardner passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his five children on the evening of May 16, 2024. Born in Ogden, Utah, Kenny was the fourth child and eldest son of Kenneth Woodrow Gardner and Norda Finlinson Gardner.

In his youth, Kenny was literally the All-American boy. A gifted athlete, Kenny regularly won age-group swimming titles in Utah as a pre-teen. When he reached high school, Kenny was an All-State first baseman for the Clearfield High School baseball team, an All-State quarterback for the football team, and was named an All-American in leading Clearfield’s basketball team to its only state title in 1967. Kenny’s achievements in high school were not limited to the athletic field, however, as he served in student government, sang in the choir, and was Clearfield’s Sterling Scholar in math his senior year. Kenny’s Gardner and Finlinson cousins were a huge influence on him during his formative years and they remained important to him his entire life.

After being recruited by dozens of colleges to play either baseball, football, or basketball, Kenny decided to follow in the footsteps of his hero, his uncle Vern Gardner, and play basketball for the University of Utah Runnin’ Utes. Kenny was an All-Conference selection in the Western Athletic Conference his junior year and was the conference’s only unanimous selection to the All-Conference team his senior year. His team was special and was the first to play in the U’s Special Events Center (now the Huntsman Center) and to have their games called by legendary broadcaster Bill Marcroft, who remained a lifelong friend of Kenny’s until his passing in 2020. To this day, Kenny is one of only four players in University of Utah basketball history to average more than ten points and ten rebounds per game.

Following his collegiate career, Kenny was drafted by the Phoenix Suns but an injury in the final days of training camp prevented him from making the team. Being cut by the Suns led Kenny to one of the greatest adventures of his life: joining Jim McGregor’s traveling team that promoted basketball around the world. Kenny spent the fall of 1971 traveling with the team in Mexico and South America to share the sport of basketball and to promote the team’s sponsor, Gillette razors. In early 1972, Kenny found himself traveling through Sweden for six weeks, crammed into a VW bus with six other American players. Their travels in the “Magic Bus” eventually took them further south into Europe, where the team played an exhibition game in a tiny French coastal town called Berck. The directors of the team, Berck Basket Club, were impressed by Kenny’s skill and offered him a contract on the spot.

Kenny’s signing with Berck began a seven-year career in French basketball, interrupted briefly by a stint with the ABA’s Utah Stars during the team’s final season before folding in 1976. In Kenny’s three seasons with Berck, the team won two French Championships and advanced to the semi-finals of the Euro Cup. Kenny was lauded at the end of both the 1973 and 1974 French basketball seasons as the Best Foreign Player in France. Soon after the 1974 season, Kenny signed with Nice Basket Club where he played for three seasons.

It was, perhaps, during this European adventure that Kenny developed one of his most charming and memorable qualities: the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere and to make them feel like the most important person in the room. Kenny made friends and left an indelible impression with people wherever he went. Kenny became fluent in French and enjoyed striking up a conversation with any francophone he came across for the rest of his life.  He met with ambassadors, signed an autograph at the request of the Prince of Monaco, hung with Ringo Starr in Monte Carlo, and, later, was the personal driver for International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Whether meeting with people at the highest levels of world politics or with dear friends who were not famous in the world’s eyes, Kenny’s friendship was sincerely felt and treasured by all.

Following his playing career, Kenny did the sensible thing: he got a job with Western Air Lines, later acquired by Delta Air Lines, where he was a fixture on the ramp in Salt Lake City for nearly 20 years. Kenny made many life-long friends during his time at Delta, where his presence in the breakroom always made for fun times, lots of laughter, and totally-safe-but-memorable antics among his colleagues.

Despite his memorable achievements on the basketball court, Kenny’s greatest source of joy in his life was his posterity. Kenny is the father of five children whom he coached, mentored, advised, and encouraged for as long as his health allowed. Beyond his own kids, Kenny memorably coached basketball teams that won AAU championships in Utah and also spent a year coaching the undefeated Freshman basketball team at East High school during the 1989-90 season. Boys who played for him remember Kenny as a coach who always encouraged them, always taught them at a high level, and who helped them feel like the greatest players in the world. A prolific rebounder during his playing days, he could often be heard yelling for his boys to “Go get a rebound!” from the stands as he watched them play at East High and at the University of Idaho. His presence was similarly felt in the stands of East High volleyball matches as he cheered on his daughter, Liz.

Kenny’s tenderness towards his three daughters was touching to witness from such a strong, tough man. He had sole custody for most of his two youngest daughters’ childhoods and saw those girls become outstanding students and athletes at Granger High School. Kenny always taught his children the importance of education and his five children went on to attend college at the University of Utah, the University of Idaho, BYU, Utah State University, Clarendon College, Boston University, Trinity University, and the University of Minnesota.

The last fifteen years of Kenny’s life were met with serious health challenges that reduced his mobility. The last ten years of his life were truly a miraculous gift made possible by a heart transplant. Through a divinely organized coincidence, Kenny learned that his heart donor was former BYU football player, Nick Longshore. Nick is a personal hero to Kenny and his family and his gift extended Kenny’s life long enough for him to see the weddings of his two youngest children and the births of five additional grandchildren. Kenny’s family is forever grateful to Nick, to his family, and to the doctors and care providers who have shepherded Kenny’s care over the last decade plus. Through several news stories and minidocumentaries about Kenny and Nick’s touching story, Kenny was able to spend some of the last years of his life as an ambassador for the miraculous gift of organ donation, raising awareness for the importance of “Checking Yes!” on driver’s license applications. Kenny and his family would like to thank the journalists and news organizations involved in getting the message of organ donation out to the public.

Kenny was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the last months of his life saw him turn his thoughts to God in a special way. He mentioned repeatedly that he could feel the strength of the prayers that so many offered on his behalf. He also requested several Priesthood blessings during this time and learned many things about the love that God has for His children. During the last hours of his life, Kenny requested one last Priesthood blessing to help him feel peace as he crossed to the other side of the veil.

Kenny was a larger-than-life personality whose absence will be felt by all who knew him. Kenny is preceded in death by his parents, Kenneth W. and Norda F. Gardner, by his sisters Nancy (Ron) Safsten and Geneal (Clair) Sorensen, and by his son, Kenneth Gentry Gardner. He is survived by his sister Bonnie (Daryl) Budd, his brothers Terry and Steven (Mareva) Gardner, by Mary Peterson, the mother of his four oldest children, by Nancy Lile, the mother of his two youngest children, and by his children Nate (Michelle), Josh (Carina), Liz (Tim) Jaggi, Baily (Stratos) Sklavounos, Taylor (R.J.) Donaldson, and by fifteen grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Golden slumbers will now fill Kenny’s eyes as he lays down the weight that he carried for a long time. We love you, Dad. God be with you till we meet again.

Family and friends are invited to celebrate Kenny’s life at a viewing on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Memorial Mountain View Mortuary, 3115 E. Bengal Blvd., Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121. Funeral services will follow the next day on May 29, 2024 at the Willow Creek 1st Ward Chapel located at 2115 E. Sublette Pl., Sandy, UT 84093. A viewing will be held from 9:30 to 10:30 that morning with funeral services following at 11:00 a.m. Interment will follow at Memorial Mountain View Cemetery. Kenny’s funeral services will also be broadcast and can be watched below.

If you would like to remember and honor Kenny, one of the best ways to do that is by becoming an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Kenneth Kay Gardner, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Viewing

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

6:00 - 8:00 pm (Mountain time)

Memorial Mountain View Mortuary, Cemetery and Pet Garden

3115 Bengal Blvd, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Viewing

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

9:30 - 10:45 am (Mountain time)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2115 Sublette Pl, Sandy, UT 84093

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Mountain time)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2115 Sublette Pl, Sandy, UT 84093

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Graveside Service

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

12:45 - 1:45 pm (Mountain time)

Memorial Mountain View Mortuary, Cemetery and Pet Garden

3115 Bengal Blvd, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

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