dwin Dean Pepper, Jr.–known to almost no one by that name, because to the world he was Shaker–passed away unexpectedly Sunday, Nov. 24 at his home in Concord, NC.
It will be hard not to get sentimental here but I don’t want to make Shaker’s story about me. Shake became a friend to nearly everyone he met. He had a gift for that. The man was uninhibited and didn’t know a stranger. I’ll just say Shaker and I had developed a friendship that began in my first months on the job here at The Landmark 37 years ago and it was a connection that carried on until his death last month.
Just two weeks before his death, we both were in Nashville, Tenn. for a Chiefs game and were able to meet up in a downtown Nashville honky tonk for an hour or two of conversation and fun. Obviously that night means even more to me now based on the circumstances. Thankful that on that night our wives finally had a chance to meet. Thankful that we had a pic snapped of the two of us standing on that busy downtown Nashville street with, appropriately enough, a Chiefs flag hanging in the background. Thankful that our final in-person conversation ended with the mutual parting of “Love you, buddy.”
That was another great thing about Shaker, one of the many traits that endeared him to so many people: When he cared about a person he made sure that person knew it.
My first encounter with Shaker went like this. It was August of 1982, just a couple of months after I had arrived to work at The Landmark at the age of 19, not knowing a soul. I was snapping a team picture of the Platte County Pirates football squad. I asked the players not to move after the photo so that I could go row-by-row to get their names for the cutline to go with the picture. I’d already covered many high school sports teams so I knew this name-gathering process could often turn into goof-off time. I was young but it wasn’t my first rodeo, and since these players were aware I was the new guy in town, I was staying mentally alert for the possibility somebody would give me a fake name just to see if it would make it into print. As I went down the line scribbling the spoken names into my notepad, the next Pirate in line gave his name as “Shaker Pepper.” Convinced he was jacking with me, I offered a polite chuckle and said, “Come on, man, what’s your name?” His buddies standing near him quickly came to his defense, telling me Shaker’s name was in fact Shaker. (Still not totally convinced, I remember asking coach Doug Hedrick to confirm it before I left the scene).Little did I know at the time that I had just had my first conversation with a guy who would become a longtime pal.
Shaker was a receiver and the placekicker for that 1982 Pirate team. And he was good at it. One of my first columns under the heading of “Platte Sports Scene” was a piece on the Pirates’ special teams featuring kicker Shaker Pepper. His success at kicking would lead me in future columns to dub him as a Pirate placekicking legend. I later shortened it to The Legend, and that reference was made in print dozens of times. His late father, Ed, president of the Pirate Booster Club at the time who also became a friend, fell in love with the nickname. Shaker did as well.
Late one night a couple of years ago, Shaker called my cell from North Carolina. When I sleepily answered I could tell he had me on speaker, which can be dangerous. “What name was I known as back home?” he asked, waiting for my answer to come for the benefit of whoever else was listening in with him. “The Legend,” I responded. “Thank you,” Shake said, and he immediately hung up. I hope he won a bet over that.
One of my favorite Shaker stories: In the 90s I was often credentialed for two sideline photographer passes for Chiefs games. One week I asked Shake if he wanted to go with me as a working member of the media. He showed up carrying a disposable camera.
Still not sure how we didn’t get kicked out.
His job took him to a home in North Carolina many years ago but his heart was always in KC and specifically Platte County. Shaker enjoyed Twitter and made many friends through that medium. He would often send me a text right before or right after he had tweeted something he felt was particularly clever. “Get ready for my next tweet!” or “Incoming!” or “I’m about to unleash Twitter Gold!” were text messages I received many times through the years. He didn’t want me to miss his social media home runs. He had a lovable child-like enthusiasm for such things.
When he was back this way he often stopped in The Landmark to chat. In the 90s, he was one of about 5-10 guests who would take part in a Christmas time gathering in the back of The Landmark office, long before that party grew into a large public event at a local hotel. He even got to be buddies with Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart, because again, Shake did not know a stranger.
We texted weekly, sometimes more often than that, but always every Sunday during Chiefs season. On Sunday, Nov. 24 about 11:30 a.m. Kansas City time, I picked up my phone intending to shoot Shaker a text to talk about that day’s upcoming NFL games. But I never sent it. The Chiefs were on a bye that particular Sunday so I figured Shake might be getting in some family time. When I crashed for the night about 10:30 p.m. no texts from Shaker had come in that day, which I thought was weird for a Sunday but attributed it to the Chiefs not playing. Unable to go to sleep, I checked my phone a little over an hour later. A text from a law enforcement friend had come in at 11:07 p.m. “Any idea what happened to Shaker?” the friend asked. Taken aback by the question, at 11:44 p.m. I responded: “What do you mean?”
A memorial service for Shaker Pepper was held Nov. 30 in North Carolina. Shaker’s sister Sissy (I love the way the Pepper family keeps names simple and fun) tells me a celebration of his life will be held for the many Platte Countians who knew, loved, and admired Shaker, on Saturday, Dec. 21 at the Platte Purchase Building on the Platte County Fairgrounds beginning at 5 p.m. Details in the announcement on page A-6.
(Follow Foley on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter @ivanfoley. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)