Looking Back: Hometown Hero Ken Gibler
by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Kenneth Gibler was the middle child born to Lottie and Clinton Gibler on January 31, 1931. Ken had an older sister, Louise, and two older brothers, Malcolm and Clint. He also had a younger sister, Linda Kay, and two younger brothers, Denzil and Maurice.
Ken was born in rural Audrain County, Missouri. His father was a section foreman with the steam railroad and at that time Mexico, Missouri was a major hub on the Chicago and Alton line. I imagine the C & A must have relocated him in Grain Valley because while the 1940 U. S. Census shows they were residents of Grain Valley, it also states Audrain County was their residence in 1935.
By the early 1950s I remember Mr. Gibler as the man who met the train in the morning and evening with a wooden cart which he used to take the U. S. Mail from the train to the post office.
But back to Kenneth. He graduated from Grain Valley High School in 1949 and like his siblings, he left his mark. A three-sport athlete, he lettered in football, basketball and track. But, his greatest skill and probably his greatest love was football. In the fall of 1948 he was a team captain and his teammates voted him winner of the Napier Award for team leadership and most inspirational player.
After high school, Ken enrolled at Missouri Valley College, to pursue a degree in education and play football. He was a star at Missouri Valley earning four letters in football and two letters in track and field.
In the fall of 1955, the Missouri Valley Viking’s football team rolled through a tough nine game schedule and ended the season with an 8-1 record. The Vikings were chosen to play in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo., on Thanksgiving Day against the defending bowl champions, the Hastings College Broncs.
Valley ended the competition victorious in a one-sided 31-7 game. Valley then received a bowl bid to play Juniata College of Huntingdon, Pa., in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
When the game ended it was a 6-6 tie, but Valley had broken Juniata College’s 23 game winning streak. The Viking’s lone score in the game was a 10-yard TD reception from the QB to Ken Gibler!
The 1955 team is the only team in the history of Missouri Valley College football to play in two bowl games in the same season. The season earned the team a spot in the MVC Athletic Hall of Fame.
During his senior season Ken was co-captain of the football team and received the Williamson’s first team Little All-American Honors and NAIA All-American Honorable Mention Honors.
Ken graduated from Missouri Valley College in 1957. Following graduation he went to Blue Springs (MO) High School to teach Physical Education and to be the Head Football and Track Coach. Ken went on to Northern Arizona University to complete his Master’s Degree while working as a Professor of Physical Education, Head Track Coach, and Assistant Football Coach.
Ken returned to Missouri Valley College in 1968 as Head Football and Track Coach, and as an Associate Professor of Physical Education. In 1973 Ken was appointed the Missouri Valley College Director of Athletics.
During his 12 seasons as head football coach Ken had a record of 90-27-6; his teams competed in two bowl games and in two NAIA National Championship Play-Offs, won six conference championships, and numerous coaching awards.
In 1980 Coach Ken Gibler was inducted into the Missouri Valley College Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2017, he was inducted posthumously into the Grain Valley High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Note: 1957 was a good year for the Gibler family!
Ken’s brother, Maurice was captain of the football team at GVHS and won the Napier Award.
Ken’s brother Denzil Gibler played basketball for the Viking’s and achieved all-conference first team honors for the 1956-57 season. He was inducted into the MVC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989.
From 1979-83 Andy Gibler (Denzil’s son, Ken’s nephew) was a tight end for the Mizzou Tigers, a starter for two years and a captain his senior year. Andy was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
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