Bob Beachy looks back on one special moment that illustrates how much Fred White, the longtime Royals broadcaster who died May 15, loved the Kansas outdoors.
“We were duck hunting and we had our boys with us,” recalled Beachy, who described White as one of his best friends. “Fred coached the boys’ basketball team and they had a game that afternoon. But the hunting was so good, we couldn’t pull ourselves away.
“Finally, we had to leave and the boys changed into their uniforms in the car. We got there right at tipoff, we played the game, and we acted like nothing was wrong.
“But everybody knew we were just lucky to make it on time.”
Beachy will tell you White was that kind of guy, whether in the broadcast booth or in the Kansas outdoors. White was known for his long career of broadcasting Royals games and college basketball. But he showed just as much passion about the Kansas outdoors.
He was brought up in Illinois, where he embraced a rural lifestyle. He learned to pheasant hunt at an early age, and loved the tradition and camaraderie of the outdoors sport. That passion carried over to his adult life. After marrying his wife, Barbara, he used to joke that he picked up some great places to hunt in the deal.
White spent every Kansas pheasant opener on his in-laws’ land near Russell. He also hunted deer on family land near Augusta, Kan., and he hunted ducks with Beachy every fall.
He also fished whenever he had the chance, though he had little spare time once baseball season began. White and Denny Matthews were the radio voices of the Royals from 1973 to 1998, and White was there for many of the team’s greatest moments. His travels throughout Kansas as part of the Royals Caravan, offseason events in which representatives of the team traveled to destinations in Missouri and Kansas, made him even more enthralled with the Sunflower State.
“Fred found Kansas to be a fascinating place,” said Mike Hayden, former governor and secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “He loved the beauty, the history, the hunting and fishing opportunities of the state. And he wanted other people to know.”
White got a chance to help get the word out when his longtime friend Beachy lobbied to get White onto the board of directors for the Kansas Wildscape Foundation, an organization that Hayden founded in 1991. The intent was to come up with a nonprofit organization that could help fund outdoors projects being done by Wildlife and Parks.
Beachy was a charter member of that group’s board of directors. White was brought on in 1995, and he quickly embraced his role.
White used his connections with the Royals to bring in star athletes and collect memorabilia for fund-raising auctions. And he came up with the idea of the Flint Oak Shoot, a shooting event at the internationally known Flint Oaks shooting range and resort in Fall River, Kan., that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Wildscape over the years.
But perhaps it is a project that is unfinished that best displays White’s love of the Kansas outdoors. Searching for a way to communicate what a special place the state is, he started interviews for a planned weekly radio show called “Exploring Kansas with Mike Hayden.”
White and Hayden were longtime friends, having hunted pheasants together for 28 years. White had a deep respect for Hayden’s knowledge of the state and his grasp of the history, natural resources and special geographical features such as the Ogallala Aquifer, the Flint Hills and the Cimarron Grasslands that set Kansas apart.
Though White was suffering from the effects of melanoma, he completed a number of segments of the show before he died. Now, Kansas Wildscape and White’s friends want to see that the show goes on the air as a legacy to White’s passion for the Kansas outdoors.
“Through his connections, Fred had a number of stations that said they would carry the show,” Hayden said, “What we were waiting on was getting a major sponsor.
“Even though Fred is gone, we’re still working on getting the show on the air. We think this would be a great legacy for someone like Fred, who did so much for the Kansas outdoors.”
A celebration of life ceremony for White will be at 10 a.m. today at the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village. And many of his hunting and fishing buddies will no doubt gather to mourn the loss of a special friend.
“When I first invited Fred to our duck club, it was an opportunity for us to sit in God’s glory and really get to know each other,” Beachy said. “Those were special times I’ll never forget.
“He wanted to make a difference in this world, and he did. The Kansas outdoors has lost a special friend.”