Ken Gardner has seen a lot of changes around campus over the last 52 years.
Yet the Daphne resident has been a constant each and every year, never missing a chance to see the Trojans take the field for Homecoming.
At last Saturday’s game against Georgia State, Gardner was honored for attending his 52nd consecutive Homecoming game, a feat the Class of 1968 alum never consciously sought to achieve.
“I just love TROY,” Gardner said. “I’ve loved it since the day I stepped foot on campus. It’s very humbling, surprising and almost embarrassing (to be honored), because I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve it. I come back because I want to come back, not for any kind of recognition.”
Gardner still remembers his first Homecoming game fondly, but he’s enjoyed seeing the progress that has swept through the University since then.
“I think back to ’64 and what the campus looked like and what it looks like now,” Gardner said. “It’s gone from what I loved back then – a little, small hometown school where you knew everybody – to a major university. It’s really exciting to see all the growth, how it’s expanded and how we’ve gotten to be known nationwide. There’ve been a lot of changes, but it’s all been positive to me.”
Even he is astounded that he’s never had an issue that’s come into conflict with Homecoming.
“Fortunately, there haven’t been any weddings or deaths to prevent it,” Gardner said. “I’ve been very fortunate, I guess, health-wise. And, amazingly, the families on both sides didn’t schedule major events on Homecoming weekend. I think some of them knew better.”
In his time traveling to games, he’s seen one-win Trojan teams and one-loss Trojan teams.
One team in particular, though, holds a special place in his heart.
“The ‘68 Homecoming was special because we had such a fantastic team,” Gardner said. “I started in 64, and I watched us win one ballgame. In 1968 we won our first national championship. I knew all the players, and they were all great guys. It was just like a big family.”
Gardner attended his first homecoming game as a freshman escort to the Homecoming Court. He is a charter member of Theta Chi Fraternity, was charter president of the Southwest Alabama Alumni Chapter in 1985, and served several terms on the National Alumni Association Board of Directors. He is now retired from the materials handling equipment business.