When the St. Louis Blues won the fourth game in the Stanley Cup Finals Monday night, Ken Duckworth was watching at home and thinking of his late wife.
Danette Duckworth passed away Feb. 2, but her recliner still holds two pictures of her along with her old high school Blues jersey, her phone and tablet.
“She kind of watches the games with me still,” said Ken.
The Blues had always been a large part of Danette’s life. Ever since Ken knew her, Danette loved hockey.
The couple, who grew up in St. Clair, casually knew each other in elementary school. But it wasn’t until he was 15 and she was 16 that they became good friends.
“I would bug her in study hall,” he said.
That’s when he learned that she had subscriptions to several sports magazines including Hockey Digest, Baseball Digest and Sporting News.
Ken noted that she was the only girl he knew who had subscriptions to sports magazines.
Growing up with the brand new St. Louis Blues team, which was established in 1967, Ken said they fell in love with the sport at a young age.
“I grew up playing hockey,” he said, playing at the roller rink in Union.
So it was fitting that the first time Danette visited his house, they played table hockey. Ken said he beat her.
Ken described Danette as a “shy gal,” but when a Blues game was on her whole demeanor changed.
“When she watched the Blues, she’d be yelling ‘Shoot the puck!’ ” he said.
He remembers their two daughters always laughing at how much she changed when she watched a game.
Ken recalled having to tell her to “Pipe down” every now and then.
“She would just be yelling at the TV constantly,” he said.
Even a diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in 2017 wasn’t enough to get her to stop showing support for her team.
Danette underwent a major abdominal cancer surgery and then chemotherapy. When the initial PET scans came back, everything looked clear.
A few months later, they were told the cancer had returned. Doctors predicted she had a year left to live.
That’s when Danette requested to be buried in a custom Chuck Lefley jersey. Lefley, a forward for the Blues 1974-81, had been her favorite player ever since he gave her his hockey stick after a practice one day.
Ken said that was her most-prized possession.
So the family had a customized Lefley jersey made with the number 25 printed on the back.
“She always said they would win the Stanley Cup the year she died,” said Ken.
The day she passed away was the same day the Blues stretched their winning game streak to 11 games, after being in last place in the NHL a month prior.
Danette told Ken that if the Blues made it to the playoffs he needed to go.
This past Saturday, June 1, was Ken’s fifth playoff game. He was accompanied by both of his daughters and a son-in-law. They all wore shirts in memory of Danette that read: “She waited 49 years for this and now she has the best seat in the house.”
He said every playoff game he’s ever been to, the Blues have lost.
“So the tradition continues,” Ken said. The Blues lost Saturday to the Boston Bruins 7-2.
He noted he would not be attending Monday night’s game and said they would probably win because of it. His prediction became true when the Blues won 4-2 Monday.
Ken said it’s become a running joke that he’s not allowed to attend any more playoff games.
Ken joined the United States Navy after graduating high school and Danette began classes at East Central College. They kept in touch through letters until he was able to return home on leave in January 1977.
Not long after, they went on their first date and of course it was to a Blues game.
Ken remembers lying in bed that night thinking, “I’m going to marry that girl someday.”
By May 1977, Danette graduated and began working at ECC as an accounting/computer operator.
Ken returned home in July 1978 and said they had fallen in love by then. He was deployed overseas in January 1979 and returned for good in August.
By April 1980 they were engaged and they married that year on Sept. 6. The couple used all of their wedding money to purchase Blues season tickets. Ken said they had season tickets for roughly 15 years.
Also in 1980, Danette furthered her career in accounting at Mark Andy Inc., Chesterfield, where she worked for 38 years. However, this didn’t mean that Danette forgot about ECC. Ken said if there was a reunion, Danette was there.
When the couple had their two daughters, Jennifer and Sara, in 1991 and 1993, Ken said it became more difficult to attend Blues games. They still watched every game and in turn, their daughters grew up as huge hockey fans.
Ken said Danette had a knack for getting autographs from players and country singers. There’s a room in their house for the memorabilia that they collected throughout the years.
Ken remembers her running after players for their autographs. Among the autographs they collected are signatures from Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and even Mickey Mantle.
“She was my co-pilot,” he said, noting if he told her he wanted an autograph, she would always find a way to get it.
Ken said their daughter Sara also has a knack for collecting baseballs from St. Louis Cardinal games.
“She is just like her mom,” he said.
Sara went off to play volleyball at Mineral Area College, Park Hills. The team would play against ECC and Ken said it meant a lot to Danette to see her daughter play against her alma mater.
Ken and Danette were together for almost 39 years.
“She was the most resilient, mentally-strongest person I have ever known,” Ken said.