Ted McKenney, 64, longtime executive director at Solid Rock Bible Camp and a longtime cross-country running coach in the area, is battling an advanced, aggressive, inoperable brain cancer.
“It’s been very overwhelming,” Soldotna’s Crystal McKenney, Ted’s daughter, said. “He has a way about him that makes everybody feel very special. We’ve had 100 or more people calling to help — people from all over the world.
“He also traveled a lot and served on a national board for Christian camping. We’ve had a huge response from both the church and the community.”
A few days after a CT scan at Central Peninsula Hospital found a mass in Ted’s brain, he went to Anchorage on March 15 for further investigation. He was diagnosed with Stage 4, high-grade glioblastoma in his corpus callosum. The corpus callosum sits deep in the brain.
“In other words, an advanced, aggressive, inoperable brain cancer,” wrote Crystal on the Ted & Val McKenney Facebook page, which was set up to keep people informed on Ted’s condition.
Crystal wrote that her father was initially given, with treatment, 12 to 18 months to live in a best-case scenario.
Friday, McKenney was accepted into a Phase II clinical trial at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California. There are four phases for clinical trials, with Phase II set up to learn how safe a treatment is and how well it works. Crystal said a crucial difference from Phase I is that Phase II does not use placebos, meaning everybody gets treatment.
The sudden need to spend about nine weeks in the San Jose area meant a lot of costs, but it also meant the McKenneys got a quick lesson in how much Ted had meant to so many over the years.
Crystal posted on Facebook on Friday that the McKenneys would need $1,500 to cover travel costs, plus more to have a car in the San Jose area. The response was immediate.
“We had $10,000 in 12 hours and it’s continued to come in, but not as quickly anymore,” Crystal said.
Ted, his wife, Val, and their son, Corrin, traveled to San Jose on Monday. Crystal said her father had some good days before he left and talked about how humbled he was by the response.
“In one sense, I’m not surprised because everybody always loved him,” Crystal said. “He was so nice to everyone and genuine in a very real way.
“I’m not surprised there was such a big response because he lived his whole life giving to people and serving others. It does make sense in his time of need that they would give what they could.”
Solid Rock Bible Camp, which sits just west of Soldotna, was founded in 1958 by Bert and Donna Schultz, Val’s aunt and uncle. Val was working at Solid Rock when she met Ted, who went on Solid Rock’s full-time staff in 1982 and became executive director in 1995. Ted served in that role until retiring on Nov. 11, 2019.
Solid Rock, which provides Alaska youth outdoor experiences to encourage relationship with God through Jesus Christ, serves about 3,500 young people and families throughout the year.
Ted’s reach extends beyond that. For over 30 years, he served as a cross-country and distance running coach in the area, first at Cook Inlet Academy, then for a brief time at now-closed Skyview High School, then for the past six years at Soldotna High School.
Ted also held a running camp at Solid Rock, where he coached some of the best runners in the state. Ted quickly gained a reputation for cheering for excellent running across the state, and not just from his team, and for mentoring coaches.
Crystal said that’s why coaches and runners from all over the state have already reached out to the McKenneys.
“He always cheered for everybody he knew, and even some people he didn’t know,” Crystal said. “Last year at the region meet, for the small-schools race he put on Kenai garb, then switched out really quickly after the race into SoHi garb.”
Ted also has been the lead pastor at Peninsula Bible Fellowship since 2015.
“He’s a father figure to my kids, he’s been my coach in high school, I’ve been an assistant coach to him over the years,” Crystal said. “It’s just a weird loss of so many things, not just my dad but someone who’s also been my boss, landlord and coach.
“He fills a lot more than just one role for so many people and that’s why this loss is so much bigger.”
Crystal said the support of so many has been welcome when trying to deal with the sudden and severe news. She particularly thanked Bob and Teressa Minnich for coordinating getting food to her parents in the weeks after the diagnosis. Food was not only tricky due to precautions that had to be taken due to the new coronavirus, but also due to dietary restrictions Ted is under.
The coronavirus also caused further complications. Ted and Val have four children. Crystal, Courtney Procter and Corrin McKenney all live in the area, while Carrie Setian lives in Anchorage. Ted and Val also have numerous grandchildren.
“The coronavirus has complicated things,” Crystal said. “Even before the coronavirus, we had to crack down on the kids. It doesn’t matter if it’s the coronavirus or something else, he can’t risk getting anything right now.”
Travel between Alaska and California also will have to be done with quarantines in mind. Corrin will be down in San Jose until April 12, when Crystal and her 17-year-old daughter, Jordan Schwartz, will take over for him.
Crystal has seven other kids who will not make it down. Ted and Val will stay in California for nine or 10 weeks, after which the hope is Ted will be healthy enough to travel home.
“When he left yesterday, all the kids had to say goodbye knowing he might not live to get back, which is of course hard,” Crystal said. “That level of unknown is hard to live with.”
Crystal said, in talks with Ted before he left, he said he would miss watching the grandchildren grow up, but the one thing he stressed is how much he wanted to give back to Val after his retirement.
“They made a sacrifice because he had to work all summer, every summer, and never took holidays off,” Crystal said. “He wanted to do things like take her to Scotland, and do all the things they never got to do. He expressed how sad he was that now those things probably won’t happen.”
Crystal said her mother has been incredible through all this.
“She’s the kind of person that researches all 47 options, analyzes them and does a chart,” Crystal said.
At an appointment March 20 at CPH, Val had cold symptoms so she could not come in the hospital. Crystal and Ted were in with the doctor, but they just held up the phone and let Val talk.
“My dad turned to me and said, ‘There’s no one better to have on your team when you’re sick than her,’” Crystal said.
Crystal said the family’s financial needs have been met for the time being. Those who want to help can follow the Ted & Val McKenney Facebook page, offering words of support there and being notified if additional financial needs arise.