In Memoriam - World Black Belt

Kenneth C. Knudson

Kenneth C. Knudson

Sensei Sharkey: I first met Ken when I was about 10 years old, when he and my father were involved in promoting an event. This meeting was nothing more than a passing. Then again in 1973 I was some what estranged from my instructor. I had always been a member of the USKA and at the time was a brown belt. Because of the politics of the time I was not allowed to attend another USKA school or deal with any Shorei Ryu instructors, as they were all USKA at the time. I had started my school in 1973 as a brown belt and now had no place to go with the people I had grown up with and no way to advance my knowledge or rank.

My dad (who, by the way, was never a black belt nor did he ever take a lesson but supported my dreams) suggested I go to see Ken Knudson, the president of the AKA. So we did. He listened to my story, understood my predicament and laid out a plan for me.

Now at the time he was the businessman of the martial arts ($$$) as everyone saw him. This is what he told me: “Give me $10 for a year, choose from any one of my 10 schools and work your a—off. The $10 not only covered me at any school I wanted for a year, but it also included my membership in the AKA. I chose the Lombard or Downers Grove school, as one of the best fighters of our time (Flem Evans) was the instructor there, and it was the corporate headquarters for the AKA, Olympic Karate and Midwest ent.

I knew Ken Knudson would be at this location also, as he taught classes for his school managers every Friday. I had the opportunity to met with and be around Ken and to bounce questions and ideas off him on a regular basis. My goal was to be invited to his Friday workouts which were closed to only his Black belts. After about 6 months I was invited. So this would mean a 4th day of traveling up north from my school and house which was about a 2 hour drive at the time. I asked a lot of questions, but most of all, I listened to everything I could get in range to hear.

In April of 1974, at the AKA Grand Nationals, the first AKA board of review was arranged for me to test for my Black Belt. Several big names for the time were there along with most of the black belts from Olympic Karate. The test was one of the most grueling five hours I have ever endured. From then on I worked harder than ever and bugged Ken even more with questions and ideas and just anything I could do to help him run the AKA. In 1977 he decided to give up the AKA; he would hold an open election at the AKA banquet. He asked if I would run for president; he would back me with all his black belts and all his schools. Many people from across the country would run for president, as the AKA was very popular with much influence in those years. I had no fear of losing of course with his backing, but the fear was of winning.

At first I refused, explaining to him that I was only 21 years old and wanted to finish college and do things important to me, and it was just to much for me and and and, in the most scared, wimpy voice I could muster up. He stood and looked at me with no expression on his face as I rambled on. With no way out of this, I said, “Of course Ken, I will do whatever you ask.” He looked at his watch and said, “It took a bit longer than I thought for you to agree.” I then asked, “Why you would want me to do this?” He said that martial arts were, and will always be, my life and he knew I would do the right thing. I was concerned about being respected by the older and higher rank members, and he told me that in all aspects of life, if I give respect to people they will respect me in return.

So as it is, the years went on I worked hard to make him not regret his confidence in me and continued to seek advice from him over the years. I last talked to Ken about 3 weeks ago when Ken Eubanks died, and as we ended our conversation, he said to me “John, you've done a great job in the martial arts. Thank you, and I am proud of you.”

Ken Knudson took me into the martial arts when I had no place to go—I would have stopped as a Brown belt in 1973 if not for him. The void in my life by his passing will only be filled with the many people that come my way with no place to go.

 Chicago Tribune staff reports: Update

By Mary Ann Fergus and Jamie Francisco Tribune staff reporters Published February 1, 2006

The two pilots at the controls Monday night when a plane crash killed four people near Palwaukee Municipal Airport in Wheeling were good friends--one a financial adviser who flew blood platelets for the survivors of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, the other the founder of a hotel chain that offers romantic getaways.

Mark Turek, 59, of Winnetka, was flying the twin-engine Cessna 421B he co-owned with pilot Kenneth C. Knudson, founder of Sybaris Clubs International, Turek's wife, Donna, said Tuesday.

Turek, a senior vice president in Morgan Stanley's Riverwoods office, and Knudson were returning from Kansas with Scott Garland, 40, of Chicago, a junior partner at Morgan Stanley, and a client, Algonquin resident Michael P. Waugh, according to a company spokeswoman and friends of the victims. All were killed.

Turek normally called his wife after he landed, but Monday night her phone was silent. She said she had heard news of the fiery crash but couldn't believe her husband was involved until police came to her door and read her the plane's tail number.

"I'm out of my mind," said Donna Turek, a criminal justice professor at the College of Lake County in Grayslake. "We had a wonderful, unbelievable life. I can't even imagine it's over."

Turek and Knudson had flown to Olathe, Kan., because each had business in nearby Kansas City.

Knudson, 61, of Lake Zurich, grew up on Chicago's Northwest Side and graduated from Austin High School. A former toolmaker, he became interested in karate in the 1960s and established Olympic Karate Studios with 10 sites throughout Chicago, while also earning a 5th degree black belt in the sport. He had been a pilot for 40 years.

He sold the karate studios in 1974 to concentrate on Sybaris, a hotel chain that features suites with whirlpools, swimming pools, fireplaces, even cascading waterfalls.

The chain's inspiration came, not surprisingly, from a bed. Knudson and his wife, Char, were shopping in Schaumburg and fell in love with a huge platform-type bed that sat on lighted glass blocks. So Knudson decided to build one that would fit into their home, said Rande Repke, vice president of Sybaris, based in Arlington Heights.

One of his wife's friends who saw the bed being built, said, "I wish we had a place like this away from the kids, a room like this away from the in-laws," Repke said.

Deciding that couples needed a romantic escape, Knudson purchased property in Downers Grove that became the first Sybaris.

Four other hotels in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin followed in the next several years. Repke described Knudson as a caring, thoughtful manager who befriended the 185 Sybaris employees. The business will continue to operate, Repke said.

"Ken built a business that was dedicated to bringing couples together," Repke said. "The business is the best memorial to Ken."

Knudson is also survived by his son, Scott, and mother, Gail Knudson.

Waugh was an operating partner in Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab and the father of three young boys.

Waugh and Garland were good friends who had met through their work for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant chain. Garland had helped arrange retirement plans for the chain's employees and eventually became Waugh's financial adviser, said Michael Rotolo, chief operating officer for Joe's Seafood.

Friends said the men were in Kansas in part to meet with Waugh's father, Jack, to work on the Waugh family's estate planning. Jack Waugh had met with his son and said goodbye to the group at the airport in Kansas shortly before the plane took off, friends said.

Garland was a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley for three years.

Jennifer Garland, his wife, learned of the crash after landing in London on a business trip. She was expected to arrive back in Chicago on Tuesday night, said Ken Sawyer, Garland's brother-in-law. The couple have two children, ages 5 and 3.

Donna Turek said her husband of 37 years was a wonderful partner and father who read extensively to each of his three daughters when they were young and attended their sporting and arts events through the years.

Donna and Mark Turek, and daughters, Olivia, 24, Jacqueline, 21 and Lucy, 18, were all graduates of New Trier High School. Olivia Turek, a singer in New York, became a pilot two years ago because of her father.

Mark Turek started each day at 5 a.m. with a two-hour workout that culminated with a 100-yard sprint in front of the family's home with their bull mastiff, Justice.

Turek had been a LifeLine Pilot since 2000, according to Karen Halverson, assistant director of the Peoria-based humanitarian organization. Turek made at least 11 Lifeline flights, transporting people with medical needs, but he was proudest of the flight he and his wife made on Sept. 13, 2001, to deliver blood platelets to Washington, D.C., after the terrorist attacks.

"It was a feat because nobody was flying and somehow they managed to pull the strings and fly when nobody else was," Halverson said.

A painting of one of Turek's other planes, soaring over the Chicago skyline, hangs in the family living room in Winnetka.

"My husband perished doing the thing he loved most," Donna Turek said.

Tribune staff reporters Colleen Mastony, Josh Noel and Carolyn Starks also contributed to this report.

Chicago Tribune staff reports

Published January 31, 2006, 3:16 PM CST

The founder of Sybaris Clubs International Inc., a hotel chain geared toward romantic getaways, was among the four people killed when their small plane crashed near Palwaukee Municipal Airport Monday night, a friend said today.

Kenneth C. Knudson was acting as co-pilot while Mark Turek, 59, a portfolio manager from Winnetka, flew the eight-passenger Cessna, said Turek's wife, Donna.

The identities of the other two passengers had not been released as of 1:30 p.m.

Knudson, 61, founded the first Sybaris in Downers Grove in 1974, according to information in news reports and on the company's Web site. On the site, Knudson bills the Sybaris suites as "a magical place where you can spend precious time alone together."

The Web site lists other hotel locations in Northbrook, Frankfort, Indianapolis and Mequon, Wis.

Officials said that the Cessna 421B was coming from Olathe, Kan., when it tumbled from the sky around 6:30 p.m. Monday about a half-mile southwest of the airport. One witness, Mike Donis, 18, of Prospect Heights, said the plane appeared to be heading for a safe landing when it began to spiral downward.

Authorities said the plane, registered to a Delaware company, did not issue distress signals before it slammed nose down into a construction storage lot at 300 Alderman Lane in Wheeling. No one on the ground was hurt, but the aircraft disintegrated on impact.

The engine and small bits of the wing and tail were among the few parts of the plane that were still recognizable after firefighters doused the flames.

The cause of the crash was still unclear today. John Brannen, senior air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency would be moving the charred wreckage to its offices in St. Louis for a closer examination.

Brannen did not offer any initial theories about what had gone wrong. He said there had been no sign of trouble in the transmissions between the plane and Palwaukee, where the aircraft was attempting to land. Birds, obstacles or power lines did not appear to be factors, he said.

One piece of evidence authorities have already reviewed is footage from a nearby security camera that captured the last few moments before the crash.

Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said Monday that firefighters found the four victims, all apparently adults, burned beyond recognition. The Cook County medical examiner's office was seeking to confirm their identities through dental records.

It was the second crash near Palwaukee in less than seven months. In August, a pilot who had just taken off from the airport lost power in an engine and was attempting to return for an emergency landing when he overshot the runway and clipped a nearby building.

The pilot and his passenger received only minor injuries. The NTSB is still investigating that accident.

The last fatal crash at Palwaukee occurred in October 1996, when an executive jet crashed and burned while taking off in windy conditions. The pilot and three passengers were killed, and the NTSB later faulted the pilot for not aborting the takeoff and the co-pilot for not taking "sufficient remedial action."

Rob Mark, a Palwaukee spokesman, said it appeared the plane Monday may have been circling or lining up to make an approach from the southwest when the crash occurred. Typically, pilots like to head into the wind when landing.

"That makes it go as slow as possible," he said.

Officials said the pilots of the Cessna intended to land on Runway 34, where a circling approach would be required to avoid interfering with planes landing at nearby O'Hare International Airport.

The circling approach is somewhat more complicated than executing a straight-in course, but the two pilots on board the flight were experienced aviators who based their plane at Palwaukee and they were very familiar with the air-traffic procedures, officials said.

To land on Runway 34 at Palwaukee, the pilot of the Cessna 421B first flew toward the opposite end of the runway. He then canceled the approach and circled around to Runway 34, according to air-traffic controllers at Palwaukee and O'Hare. The maneuver is required to avoid a conflict with jetliners descending for landings on Runway 22 Right at O'Hare.

Landing at Palwaukee from the south is done to take advantage of headwinds when the wind direction is from the north. Landing into a headwind makes a plane more controllable and helps slow its speed.

The Cessna should have been flying with its wings level as it emerged from the clouds at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. The pilot is then supposed to make visual contact with the airport, officials said.

But the plane was on a steep vertical descent-a nose-down dive-when it plowed into the ground, according to Brannen.

A Cessna 421 has the benefit of being equipped with two engines and the loss of both engines is unlikely, officials said. But losing power in one engine during the landing sequence, when the plane is close to the ground, can make the aircraft very difficult to control because suddenly the two equal lines of thrust coming off the engine on each wing are interrupted.

Having only one engine working tends to turn the plane over, making it unrecoverable so close to the ground, unless the pilot takes action quickly to stabilize the aircraft.

But pilots are trained to handle engine-out situations.

"In that scenario, it is really an issue of pilot experience,'' said Mark, a veteran pilot. "There are people who can fly an airplane on one engine with their eyes closed, while others are an accident waiting to happen.''

Palwaukee has approximately 350 to 400 takeoffs and landings a day, Mark said.

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