Oceanside CA- A new brewery is under construction in downtown Oceanside but recent events at the site have sent ripples, via the internet, worldwide. On Monday of this week, Jeff and Dande Bagyby went to the construction site of their dream, 10 years in the making, only to find out that someone had defaced one of the newly built walls of the Bagby Beer Company site. “At first I felt violated and angry” said Dande. Although the site has surveillance cameras running 24/7 the perpetrator or perpetrators made it over the fence undetected by the cameras. “We weren’t sure which day it happened so we went through the video. All we saw were the local cats prowling around the construction site.” Dande continued, “We called the police and we were wondering why someone would do something like this.” Then Dande took a closer look at the wall and really read what was there. In big letters were the words, “Kenny- Cancer Can’t Kill Me” and she realized there was a much bigger story behind the illegal artwork than just vandalism. Dande saw the emotion behind the painting, “Imagine the pain and anger that would motivate someone to create this.” she said.
Dande didn’t believe they would ever know what was behind the message painted on the new cinder-block wall. On her blog for the Bagby Beer Company she wrote ” Why would someone express this message, in this way, in this spot? Who was Kenny? Was he still battling? Had he already won or lost? Who were these people? Not unlike nearly everyone we know, we, too, have been devastatingly impacted by cancer – we have seen it destroy too many of our friends and loved ones over the years. It was evident to us that this “graffiti” was bigger than us.”
Resigned to the fact the message may remain a mystery, Dande and her husband Jeff went back to work building their dream. On Tuesday, they were getting ready for the weekly meeting when Jeff suggested that Dande make some food for the meeting. “I know they like your snacks but I think they might like some real food this time.” Jeff said. If not for that suggestion, Dande might not have been near the window, making grilled cheese sandwiches and noticed a small group of people attempting to get a photograph, through the construction fence, of the spray paint tribute to Kenny. Dande didn’t hesitate when she saw the three, she told someone to watch the sandwiches and went after them. She approached the group and asked if they had any knowledge of who did the painting, did they know Kenny or the story behind the tribute. Dande said the three instinctively denied knowing anything about the painting, stating they heard about it and were just driving by. Dande noticed one of them was carrying a fancy DSLR camera. “People just don’t keep one of those cameras in the car” said Dande, so she pressed a little harder.
“I assured them that we were not interested in punishing whoever had done it and we really just wanted to know the story behind it.” Dande explained. “I wanted to see if there was something we could do to make the tribute to Kenny a more permanent one.” That’s when one of the women starting crying. Dande wrote in her blog, “Her eyes welled up, and in a hushed and broken voice she uttered “he’s my husband”. I was speechless. I asked if I could give her a hug, and then I did. We were all crying as she recounted the last several days with Kenny in ICU.”
The woman was Robin McCorristin. She told Dande how her husband, Kenny, had beaten cancer before and that he could do it again. She spoke of the two being high-school sweethearts, of being together more than half their lives and how the cancer had destroyed their hopes of becoming parents. She told Dande of the suffering her husband was going through, now, in ICU at Scripps Hospital. Robin then apologized for the defacing of the property and how badly the artist felt but explained that he knew it was a construction site and hoped the impact would be minimal. Robin told of how Kenny started crying when he saw a picture of the art work while laying in the hospital bed. Dande wrote ” I was disarmed and forever transformed by her vulnerability and her honesty.”
Kenny had gone to the doctor about a week and a half ago for a check-up. Family and friends had a feeling that Kenny wasn’t feeling quite right and the doctors confirmed their suspicions. Kenny had relapsed and the cancer had spread to his chest and lungs.
Dande said she was grateful that events took the turns they did. “I am glad that, by chance, I saw them from the window.” she continued on her blog ” We are so grateful that we were given the opportunity to be touched by this incredible couple, to get to know their story, and to try – eventually – to find a proper, fitting, tribute to Kenny and his gallant battle with this annihilating disease.”
Dande continued her blog “There is a chance Kenny will be released from the hospital this weekend – if so, we’ll be at the brewery, hoping he makes a visit in person on his way home. We’ll be thrilled to meet him, and tell him we are pulling for him, that as long as he wants, the mural shall remain. So, this is why we will not be painting over this, until we can figure out how to replace it with something else, forever.”
Friday afternoon around 3 o’clock. People began gathering at the construction site and the wall with the message for Kenny. Dande’s blog had over 14,000 visits on Thursday and was well on the way to surpassing that on Friday. It became evident that the people coming to visit the wall were there for a reason and not just because they saw the story on social media. Jose Ramon Bahena, Kenny’s cousin, walked up and put his left hand on the wall and broke down. More people went to the wall and they too had eyes full of tears. Kenny McCorristin had lost his battle with cancer and passed away on Thursday afternoon. By four o’clock, approximately 30 people, friends and family of Kenny, had gathered around the cinder-block wall. A wall holding a painting that only a few days earlier had sparked anger, curiosity, soon replaced by compassion was now surrounded by family and friends sharing their grief over the loss of Kenny and sharing their joy for having known him.
“He loved to wake up every morning and keep the momentum going.” said Thomas John. Thomas is the artist who created the tribute. “We met seven years ago. There was a time in my life when the only person I had, was Kenny” continued Thomas “I was mad and frustrated and I had to let it out.” referring to the tribute. ” Kenny kept saying that “Cancer can’t kill me” so I picked a place that was close to his house and started painting.”
One day, I had brought a painting over to their house to show Kenny. When I left, I forgot to bring the canvas with me. I went back to get it but before I got to the door, I heard Kenny say, “If he’s not going to take it, I’m keeping the damn thing.” He didn’t know I heard him but I left with the biggest smile on my face.” lamented Thomas. Similar anecdotes were shared by everyone who gathered at the wall. “Kenny never did anything for himself, he was always doing something for others” said one friend. “Even after he’s gone, he’s keeping us all together” said his brother in law Bryce Ayoso,
“Half of me is gone.” said Robin ” For more than half my life we were together. It helps to have everyone gathered at the wall but I feel like this is all just a bad dream.” Robin said Kenny was a surfboard shaper, he loved to do body work and paint cars, was a devoted husband and valued friend to many in the Oceanside community.
The Bagby Brewing Company will have 9,000 square feet of interior space with more space for outdoor gardens and seating when it opens in late May or early June. The Bagbys are not sure what they are going to do with the wall. Current design for the brewery has the wall being out of sight behind some boilers when construction is completed. ” I don’t know what we are going to do but we have to do something” Dande continued, “The community had expressed itself . We are fortunate they chose us.”
Dande updated her blog, Friday night with the following; “We were honored to host an incredible group of people today at the brewery, to remember Kenny. There were countless tears and the heart break was palpable – but there were also so many smiles, and laughter, and long embraces – just how Kenny would have wanted it. Kenny’s legacy is reflected in this collection of truly exceptional, humble, kind, generous, warm people. Although we did not get the chance to meet him, we are beginning to get a sense of just who he was through this remarkable circle of his loved ones.”
Jeff Bagby is a world renowned master brewer and you can follow the progress of The Bagby Beer Company with Dande’s blog on their website [Link] or on their Facebook page [Link] and follow them Twitter @BagbyBeer.
A fund is being set up for the family of Kenny McCorristin on gofundme.com [Link] or you can type in” Kenny-cancer can’t kill me” in the search on the site. We will update you with information on the services for Kenny when we receive them.