'Ken was a champion:' Steny's celebrates life of employee, Special Olympics coach who died from COVID-19

MILWAUKEE -- With a personality bigger than life, Ken Kuemmerlein was celebrated at Steny's Tavern & Grill Sunday, July 26.

"He's a huge part of the community, and it's a tragic loss," Ryan Steny said.

The long-time employee at Steny's was known for his jovial ways while serving as a shuttle driver and trivia guy, but more so for the way he made people feel both on and off the clock.

Ken Kuemmerlein

"A big, gentle giant. He had a way with everybody," Ross Knodl said.

"He was a great guy, just phenomenal," Laurie Knodl said.

The Knodl family is taking this loss especially hard.

"It was a huge loss to our family, and to the Special Olympics," Ross Knodl said.

Kummerlein wasn't just a coach for their son, Ryon, but also a friend, who always left him with a feeling of...

"Happiness," Ryon said, recalling memories of sporting trips all around the world with Special Olympics Wisconsin.

"Ken was a champion," Laurie Knodl said. "He got Ryon out of his comfort zone."

"He took special care of the special athletes he coached -- really get down to their level, and he understood them," Ross Knodl said.

On Sunday, many shared stories and experiences as they celebrated his life.

"He passed away from COVID," said Steny. "Our number one thing is not only to honor Ken, but everyone stays safe."

With the seriousness of COVID-19 very evident, guests were required to wear masks and grab a bracelet.

"We will have three different color bracelets," Steny said. "One is like, please keep your distance. The other is, I'm OK with hugging. The other is no hugging, no touching. I'm cool with talking," Steny said.

A little space and social distancing couldn't stop the connection being felt.

"He got along with everyone," Steny said. "If you could take anything away from Ken's passing, it's be good to people. Don't judge. Treat everyone with respect. Give everyone a chance. That's how he treated everyone, and everyone should take that away from him."