And since November 2007, Kunze has been executive director of the Fort Wayne Center for Learning, where he is heavily involved in preparations for the organization's annual fundraiser, the Brain Game, on Feb. 27 at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.
The Brain Game has enjoyed success because of community support and because of a hard-working committee of nearly 30 people dedicated to making it “the most fun you'll ever have at a charitable event,” Kunze said of the rollicking trivia contest that's celebrating its fifth year.“When I was 11 or 12 and watching (the television show) ‘Emergency! Squad 51,' with (characters) Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto, I told my parents I wanted to be a firefighter,” Kunze recalled. “My mom said, ‘No, Kenny, you go to college and get a good job.'”
The LaPorte native earned a degree in telecommunications from Indiana University, moved to Fort Wayne in 1982 to work at radio stations WQHK and WMEE, and began what he dubbed “my master's degree in life with a focus on Fort Wayne.”He spent three years as an on-air street reporter, covering everything from murders and the Gladieaux Refinery explosion to illegal dumping of waste and a dog rescued from a house fire.
“These experiences opened my eyes to all that makes a community,” he said.
His commitment to the city trumped a job opportunity requiring relocation to a larger market. “I liked Fort Wayne,” he said. “I also decided to chase my childhood dream of becoming a firefighter.”
He left radio and joined the Fort Wayne Fire Department in 1985, rising to his current rank of Battalion Chief of the Combat Division.
“My role is to prepare my crews for every possible emergency and to assure that they have every resource necessary,” he said.Kunze's love for broadcasting couldn't be denied, however, and, in 1986, he established a successful wedding and party deejay business.
“Kenny K — the DJ” performed at about 65 events yearly, an estimated 1,500 appearances in 24 years. His talents are evident during the Brain Game as he assists hosts Linda Jackson and Charly Butcher with emceeing duties.
He wasn't looking for another opportunity.
“I was busy and content with my role in life when I first came across the Fort Wayne Center for Learning in 2004,” he said. “The center drew me in ... by helping my daughter, Emily.” Emily was a freshman special-education student reading at first-grade level, he said. The family had exhausted its options when they met with the Center for Learning's director of instruction.
The center focuses on children who experience processing, comprehension, attention and reasoning difficulties, helping them overcome these challenges with individualized instruction and methods designed to develop critical learning skills.
The results were startling.
“Two months later, Emily had gained two years in reading ability, and she had become a confident learner,” Kunze recalled. “As the light bulb came on – that she could learn like everyone else – she told her mom and me, ‘Thank you for finding me this school.' I was hooked.”Kunze joined the center's board of directors in 2005, volunteered to help organize the first Brain Game in 2006, and assumed the role of executive director in 2007, despite his duties with the Fort Wayne Fire Department.
“I still work full time with the fire department and now full time at the center,” he said. “It has been challenging, but rewarding,” he added, explaining his wife and now-grown children fully support his commitments.
“I'm trying to do too much — there's no doubt about that,” he said. “But for a period of time, until I get all this figured out and what God's plan is ... I'm glad to serve.”
More infoWhat: Fort Wayne Center for Learning helps children who have difficulty with processing, comprehension, attention and reasoning skills.
Where: 3310 Mallard Cove Lane
Information: Call 469-3925, visit www.fwcl.org, or e-mail kkunze@ fwcl.org.
The Brain Game
What: A Fort Wayne Center for Learning fundraiser, the Brain Game, will take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, 120 W. Jefferson Blvd.
How to help: Three sponsorship levels; team entry ($1,000); team sponsorship ($1,300); corporate table ($800 for 10 people); or individual ticket ($75). Deadline to enter teams or commit to sponsorships is Friday.
For information, e-mail email@example.com or call 469-3925