SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Ken Cornell has gone missing.
For the past three years Cornell, 77, had provided near-daily delight to readers with his humorous posts to the Facebook page “You Know Your Springfield.”
But before I write another sentence, I have to say: Yes, I know “your” is misspelled. It should be “You’re.” The Facebook site deliberately misspells the word.
OK, with that said, let’s resume: A few weeks ago Cornell’s posts stopped.
His audience was worried. Was he sick? Did he die? Was he banned from the site? Did he run out of things to say?
His trademark line in starting a post was this – “Another not so dark and not so warm wonderful day.”
He often wrote about his wife, the fictional “Big Bertha,” whom he described as a former Eastern European shot putter who stood 6 foot 7 and weighed about 400 pounds.
Whenever a new member of the Facebook group would mention the topic of Red’s Giant Hamburg – as most new members inevitably did – Cornell would chime in and state he was the guy who once worked the elevator at Red’s.
The response typically was, “I had no idea there was an elevator.”
Well, there wasn’t. It’s an inside joke.
Cornell also often chided his high school classmate Janelle Knox about her hillbilly lifestyle, including her alleged outhouse and still. His recollection is that she wore feedsack dresses.
He and Knox graduated together in 1959 as part of Hillcrest’s first class of seniors. They had attended Central for their sophomore and junior years. Before that, they went to Reed Middle School.
“Big Bertha” is not that big
I met Ken and “Big Bertha” – his wife, Martiecq -on Oct. 1.
First, I was surprised that Cornell does not live in Springfield. For the past 21 years, he has lived in Nixa. He grew up in Springfield.
Second, Martie is not quite 5 feet tall and currently weighs 82 pounds. She has never tossed a shot put.
Martie is battling cancer. This is her second fight with the illness. The first was some 20 years ago.
Martie is a 1959 graduate of Marshfield High School. She and Ken met in a speech class at what was then Southwest Missouri State and is now Missouri State.
“He would tell these incredible stories,” Martie says.
None were true.
Martie is also on Facebook.
“But I don’t read anything he writes. We’re not Facebook friends.”
Yes, she says, sources have told her she is “Big Bertha.”
“My daughters keep me aware if he says anything I need to be aware of,” she says.
The couple has three children – two daughters and a son – and one grandchild. They have been married for 56 years.
Cornell has had health problems of his own. Recently, there has been a concern about his heart.
“If I played golf and got on the back nine I would get dizzy. I would do yard work and get dizzy,” he tells me.
He has undergone various tests, including a stress test, and, so far, his heart appears to be fine.
“I think it’s 50 years of smoking and a case of O.L.D.,” he says.
“I got a cataract and I need it removed. I have had my left knee and left hip replaced. My right knee is hurting. Shots have helped. And I have stage three kidney disease.”
He’s been too busy helping Martie make all her doctors’ appointments, chemo sessions and lab appointments to go in for cataract surgery.
“It doesn’t seem right to call her Big Bertha and tease her now,” he says.
The writing well ran dry
So, one reason he stopped posting is because of their combined health issues.
The other reason, he says, is that the well has run dry: He’s run out of things to say.
“I sat down at the computer the other day and I could not think of anything to write,” he says.
“And the next day I could not think of anything. And then the third day I could not think of anything.
“Three days in a row I could not think of anything. Three days I could not come up with a clean joke.
“And what could I say about Janelle that I haven’t already said?”
Cornell often found his jokes on the internet.
Martie recalls one of his oldest. Whenever he spotted a roadside sign that said “Watch for Falling Rock,” he told her and their young children that there once was a Native American boy named “Falling Rock” who disappeared.
According to Cornell, it was “Falling Rock’s” parents who posted the sign.
“I think he stole that from Hank Billings,” Martie says. Billings was a longtime News-Leader columnist. He died in 2017 at the age of 91.
Cornell pleads guilty as charged.
“I stole a lot of them. If I could not make something up, I stole it. People would say, ‘That is an old joke. I think you stole it.’
“Of course I stole it,” he says.
Prior to posting on “You Know Your from Springfield,” Cornell never wrote much – at least not humor.
He worked for the Burlington Northern Railroad here in Springfield from 1960 to 1987.
In 1987, he took a job in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a full-time union representative. He wrote contracts and helped settle disputes.
He retired in 1997, and he and Martie moved back to the Ozarks.
His high school pal, Knox, tells me she misses her friend’s teasing and Facebook posts.
“He cheers up a lot of people on there,” she says. “He is like a good neighbor who pops in to say hello.”
I first called Knox for Cornell’s phone number. She tells me Cornell was convinced she was trying to prank him by telling him I was interested in talking to him.
He told me that as well.
“I thought she was trying to get even with me,” he says.
I ask if his posting days are over.
“You know what they say – never say ‘never.'”
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper seven years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.