Kenny Harbaugh-great father, husband, family member, and friend of many in our community-passed away on December 13 while in British Columbia on a company trip with a team of his Patagonia coworkers. Those whose lives he touched are now left to grapple with life without a guy who simply made the world a better place.
On December 21, a large gathering of family, friends, coworkers, and teammates lifted Kenny up with fond memories and stories of the man who touched so many lives with his love, compassion, generosity, and good humor. He raised the bar in life, and it did not go unnoticed. At his memorial we were vividly reminded how much Kenny’s family and friends meant to him. Kenny loved cycling, music, bikes and bike parts, surfing, and his job at Patagonia, and among these his love seemed to be equally apportioned, since he melded them so well and with such good humor.
Each person who spoke at his memorial, and each person attending, expressed or knew the primary truth about Kenny: He loved being a father more than anything in the world. He rejoiced in being a dad to his kids, Garrett and Greta, and spending time with them. Kenny was very proud of his kids and loved going out on expeditions with them and introducing them to new experiences, whether it was visiting zoos, BMX racing at Elings Park, or taking them to their first indie rock concert. We were reminded that many of Kenny’s friends would tempt him with indie music concerts or other passions of his, but always first in his mind and heart was how his fathering would be impacted. Friends would send email after email imploring him to join them at this or that concert in L.A., and his standard response would be, “Sorry, can’t; it’s a school night, which means books for the kiddos early and lights out by 8 p.m.”
Only those who knew how much Kenny loved music truly appreciated how much his kids meant to him, given the temptation of a night of music. He grew up, as did many of his close friends, with punk rock music and then hung tough for the musical ride that followed in the ’80s and ’90s. While many eventually dropped “off the back” as adult life took its toll, Kenny’s love of music never waned. Neither did his joy in breaking out in song.
He had an amazing ability to use his vast musical knowledge to drum up hilarious or apropos songs in his famously friendly greetings to coworkers or while out on bike rides with his friends and teammates. Sometimes he sang Broadway musicals, while at others he sang funny or telling lyrics from his beloved Echo & The Bunnymen, Gang of Four, The Jam, or Guided by Voices bands. When Kenny managed to get away to a concert (on a non-school night, of course), you could be sure of a few things: He would arrive early, pay attention to the opening band, and hold his ground or move up closer to the stage for the headliner, all in an effort to drink in the intensity of the music as much as possible. He would oftentimes exhort others beforehand to “Bring me a beer!” since he knew he would not leave his sentinel post at the front.
Kenny was a relentless nicknamer. “B-Rad,” “Teres ER,” “Lisir,” “Neighbor,” “Big Jim Sports Camper,” “Grumpy,” “Runner Dude,” and “Miss Stone” were but a few. He chose to greet friends and colleagues with a humorous nickname, accent, or song on their behalf, and everyone loved him for it, knowing that in his own way Kenny was just trying to make them feel comfortable and welcomed. He sought out newcomers and greeted them with a customized Harbaugh welcome.
Many who spoke at Kenny’s memorial or who have paid tribute to Kenny on either Patagonia’s blog (thecleanestline.com) or his cycling team’s blog (onthebteam.blogspot.com) praised Kenny as a bike missionary. Countless people recounted how Kenny had cajoled and coerced them into getting on a bike so they could act like a kid again and improve their lives and health. Kenny was a fixture on Patagonia’s noon group rides. If you weren’t a bicyclist, you were a target for Kenny. He generously offered to track down inexpensive bikes for those who did not have one, and loved spending his time ordering bikes and bike parts or putting them together and repairing them for people. His love for all things bike was so strong that he was even known to caress and smell newly arrived bike parts as he pulled them from their packaging in his Patagonia workspace.
His Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch cycling teammates noted that Kenny was a phenomenal mountain bike racer and rider who specialized in riding the most technical and challenging of trails, including the trail commonly known as Romero Trail. To pay tribute to Kenny, his teammates gathered en masse on the Sunday after his passing to ride up that trail, which they have since renamed “Kenny’s Trail.”
Kenny was many incredible things to many people, and we all miss him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Heidi, Garret, and Greta. As requested by his friends, coworkers, the cycling community, and others, Patagonia has established a memorial fund to help Kenny’s family. Personal contributions can be made payable to “The Ken Harbaugh Memorial Fund” and mailed to:
Ken Harbaugh Memorial Fund
Attn: Ray Netzley
259 W. Santa Clara St.
Ventura, CA 93001