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Simpson College mourns deaths of Feeney, Fuson


Simpson College lost two close friends on Friday, January 3 with the passing of speech and debate coach Marty Feeney and former marketing writer and media strategist Ken Fuson.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of two of our own,” interim president Bob Lane said. “These men made a significant impact on both the Simpson College community and the lives of the individuals they worked with. Even though they are gone, their legacy will live on through those whose lives they touched.”

Services for Feeney, 71, will be handled by Hamilton’s Funeral and After Life Services in West Des Moines. A visitation will be held Saturday, Jan. 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. with a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Faith Lutheran Church in Clive. 

A Celebration of Life service for Fuson, 63, will be held Saturday, Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. in the Worship Center at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. A luncheon will be served in The Bridge following the service.

Remembering Marty Feeney

Marty Feeney poses with students at commencement.
Feeney (second from left) poses with Deano Pape (third from left) and students at commencement.

Feeney began his career at Simpson in 2006 as an adjunct professor in the department of multimedia communication. He started coaching speech and debate in 2014 and remained a member of the faculty until 2016. 

Whether he was teaching or coaching, one thing remained constant: Feeney approached his work with energy and passion. 

Spencer Waugh, Simpson’s director of speech and debate and mock trial, worked closely with Feeney on the school’s nationally-ranked speech and debate team. Waugh remembers his “contagious” energy and enthusiasm as well as his ability to spice up an hours-long bus trip.

“He could make the whole bus feel great even after an exhausting day of competition,” Waugh said. “He liked to sit right in the middle of all the students and would surprise them with boxes of movie candy. He rarely sat with the rest of the coaches at the front of the bus. He loved to hear all of their stories and he shared a few of his own. He gave great feedback and truly loved the activity and the students.”

Feeney had the opportunity to impact the lives of thousands of students throughout his career, which included stops at Monmouth College (Illinois) and Central College. Jacy Gomez is one such student, experiencing Feeney as both a professor and coach. 

A 2016 graduate currently living in Washington, D.C., Gomez recalls Feeney running — literally — around the classroom to draw attention to an important scene in a film. She joked with her friends that he burned more calories per class than anyone could burn at the gym.

But her fondest memories of Feeney came from speech and debate. He spent countless hours helping the team prepare for competition, then became its biggest cheerleader at the tournament. 

“I’ve never seen a person more willing to spend all night sleeping on a crowded bus just to wake up at the crack of dawn to coach and cheer on students,” Gomez said.

Feeney made a habit of staying in touch with his students. Even after their final speech, debate or class, he continued to provide support and friendship.

He encouraged Kelsey Schott, a 2018 graduate, to look into graduate school and consider coaching debate upon returning from a trip to England. Today, she’s enrolled in the master’s in communication program at Ball State University as well as coaching debate. 

The nudge Feeney provided made a difference. 

“I hope to one day be as energetic, encouraging, caring and compassionate as a coach and teacher as Marty has been to so many students,” Schott said. 

Memorials may be directed to the Speech and Debate Progam at Simpson College, 701 North C St., Indianola, IA 50125.

Remembering Ken Fuson

Ken Fuson poses with Steffi Lee '15 following commencement.
Ken Fuson poses with Steffi Lee '15 following commencement. Photo courtesy of Steffi Lee.

Fuson came to Simpson in 2011 to serve as the college’s writer and media strategist. Already a highly-accomplished journalist with decades of experience under his belt, Fuson was tasked with producing copy for various marketing materials and writing news stories for the college. 

He picked up where he left off as a gifted journalist, producing heartwarming articles that told the story of the students, faculty, staff and alumni of the college. 

But it was the impact he had on young journalists that provided a lasting legacy. 

Though not a member of the faculty, Fuson mentored dozens of young writers as an intern supervisor. He took the aspiring journalists under his wing, providing encouragement, mentorship and friendship.

“Ken showed his interns how to become better writers, but more importantly, better people,” recalls Steffi Lee, a 2015 graduate who went on to a career as a television reporter. “Even though he’d be busy working on various projects for the college, he’d take time to read through our stories for classes and the school newspaper and offer honest, thorough feedback.

“You could feel his love for mentoring students in all your interactions with him and I’m forever grateful I had a chance to be mentored by him.”

Fuson not only enjoyed mentoring young writers, he took pride in their accomplishments and offered support following graduation. When 2015 graduate Kate Hayden joined the Des Moines Business Record in 2018, Fuson was one of the first to reach out.

“He sent me a thoughtful note and several Simpson College pens so the community would know I represented Simpson journalism,” she said. “I feel so grateful to have his notes of encouragement for the future and to be one of the many students Ken took the time to cheer on. He kept us excited about journalism.”

Fuson’s lasting legacy is evidenced by the scores of memorials written since his passing. One in particular, published by his beloved Des Moines Register, gives an especially honest, thoughtful look at Fuson’s life.

The author, Daniel P. Finney, wrote a great story. But, as another writer who benefited from Fuson’s expert advice, he begins the story with a disclaimer. 

It reads, “Ken Fuson would have written this better.”