Sunday, May 17, 2009

Remembering John

A very convoluted process led me to thoughts of John Koning, a college boyfriend. John was hands-down the most intelligent person I have ever known, and also one of the nicest.

John studied physics on full scholarship at Case Tech, back before it became attached to Western Reserve University. After a couple years, he left Case and moved back in with his parents, for reasons that were not clear to me at the time. He attended Youngstown State, having completed his physics major, and thereafter accumulated majors in math, political science, and economics. A standard course load was five classes — John routinely took nine or ten. His accum was higher than 4.0. He was, at various times, assistant editor of the newspaper, editor-in-chief of the yearbook, a member of student council, and fraternity president. The faculty was in awe of him, but he also had the gift of not leaving other students feel condescended-to.

It’s hard to pick something about the world of 2009 and say “John would have loved that.” John would have loved everything about 2009! He would have been a computer nerd extraordinaire, a wizard online. He would have done good, trustworthy things with hedge funds; alternatively he could have been secretary of the treasury. Better than all that, John was such fun to be with: he was funny, with humor that worked at levels both simple and very sophisticated. He was fun-loving and wicked and sweet.

John died in 1974, but despite that, I got hits when I googled him. For one thing, there’s the John Koning Award for players of the game Diplomacy. (The first two Diplomacy Cons were held in Youngstown, in John’s parents’ back yard on South Belle Vista.) He was passionate about Diplomacy, obviously, and created The Youngstown Variant and several rules which are apparently followed even today. (I wonder if it's still a valid tactic to get an opponent drunk and lock him in a closet? It was in the 60s.)

From his mid-teens, he was an energetic sci-fi fan and published a couple zines. For you nonfans (or as they were then called, non-fen) zines were like blogs, only they were sent through the mail. He was the publisher of sTab and a founder of OOPSLA, which apparently has thrived. His copies of the Ring trilogy were first editions.

My parents sent me John’s obituary. He earned a Ph.D. in economics and taught at Northwestern, but apparently he returned to Youngstown to die. John had childhood onset diabetes, and for someone born in 1942 to be diagnosed before 1950 — let’s just say he didn’t make retirement plans.

He was the adopted-after-20-childless-years son of a Dutch Calvinist couple. The Konings lived in a fundamentalist community of siblings and cousins, and the only book his parents owned was a Bible. But they turned the entire top floor of their house over to John, who slept on a cot in the narrow aisles of his own personal library, which filled the entire space. His father and mother protected him, assuring him of years to be exactly who he was, and if one of them could have given him a pancreas, it would have happened in a heartbeat.

John almost reached the age of 32; he outlived the predictions by four years. If he had been born the year he died, he could anticipate a normal life span. For the diabetic born now, "normal" can include not just long life but children. It's our loss that the world didn't get more John Konings.

1 comment:

Shataina said...

How do you feel about him personally, though? I can't tell.