Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 15, 2013

Kokomo has had its share of famous personalities

By Scott Smith
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Tod SloanIf Kokomo has ever had a truly international celebrity, the kind of guy who would be hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Jay Z these days, it was the legendary jockey Tod Sloan, the original Yankee Doodle Dandy.Immortalized by songwriter George M. Cohan and played by Jimmy Cagney in the 1942 classic movie about Cohan’s life, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", Sloan was a high-living, flamboyant and, most importantly, winning jockey from back in the days when the only three sports that mattered were horse racing, boxing and baseball.Traveling from coast to coast in his own passenger train car, sailing to England and winning races there, hanging out with famous gambler Diamond Jim Brady, with a personal valet and gorgeous women at his beck and call, Sloan, a Bunker Hill native, was living like a king from about 1895 until 1900, when accusations of betting on his own races ended his career. He died on Dec. 21, 1933, and was part of the first class inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame, in 1955. This year he was inducted into the Howard County Athletic Hall of Fame.Misch KohnArtist Misch Kohn was born in 1916, in Kokomo, to Russian immigrant parents.Kohn became a master printmaker whose murals, painted on the walls of WPA-built post offices, captured the public's imagination in the 1930s. He shared studio space with Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall while studying at the Guggenheim in France and was the first artist to take wood engraving from standard, book-size illustrations to a large scale. His work is in more than 100 museums internationally and the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library is home to several Kohn prints. Kohn spent 22 years teaching printmaking at the Institute of Design in Chicago. He died in 2002. In 2010, his youngest daughter traveled to the U.S. from Australia to help honor her father."If he were here, he would probably talk about his days in Kokomo, including how he used to jump the fence at the Country Club to pick mushrooms," she said.Steve KroftJournalist Steve Kroft, a fixture at CBS News’ 60 Minutes program, received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 2003, one of 10 Emmys to his name. He's also won the George Foster Peabody award three times.As a correspondent, he was the first to document the involvement of the Russian mafia in the smuggling of nuclear materials out of the former Soviet Union and Cuba's practice of quarantining people infected with the AIDS virus, among other reports.His father worked at Stellite/Cabot in Kokomo in the 1950s, during Kroft’s formative years. While on a summer break, Kroft worked for the local gas company, and, in 2009, he came back to Kokomo to accept his induction into the Howard County Hall of Legends.

"I used to think it was incredibly cool,” Kroft said of the old Kokomo gas tower in a 2003 interview. “But then I got to a certain age where I actually thought it was pretty ugly. I'm going to miss the fact that it's not going to be there.”Ryan WhiteRyan White, who has perhaps the saddest and yet most uplifting story of anyone who ever called Kokomo home, gained international fame before succumbing to AIDS at age 18.White, who lived on South Webster Street, was denied entry into Western Middle School after contracting the HIV virus from his clotting treatment for hemophilia. With support from a cast of A-list celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John, Ryan became the humanizing face of the AIDS epidemic.He and his family left Kokomo, claiming they’d been subjected to prejudice both in Kokomo and in Russiaville, where he went to school. Rightly or wrongly, Kokomo became synonymous with bigotry in the national media at that time. He moved to Cicero, where he made friends and wasn’t subjected to the kind of vitriol he’d received from Kokomo talk radio.It was only five years between when Ryan was diagnosed and his death, but his life permanently changed the way people look at HIV.Rupert BonehamRupert Boneham ran as the Libertarian candidate for Indiana governor in 2012, ditching his trademark tie-dye shirt for a suit but keeping his shaggy beard, his longish hair and the crazy glint in his eye.The Haworth grad, known in school as kind of a quiet kid, blossomed in his time on the Pearl Islands of Panama, becoming the most popular cast member in the history of the "Survivor" television show.Boneham, 49, will be taking part in an unprecedented fourth season of "Survivor" this month, along with his wife Laura, as the show does a “friends and family” competition. He won $1 million on "Survivor All Stars" in 2004 after winning a fan popularity vote.After high school, he left Kokomo to study nursing at Cisco Junior College and San Angelo University in Texas. He lives in Indianapolis, where he is a vocational and clinical mentor for troubled teens.Tavis SmileyTavis Smiley, who grew up one of 10 kids in Bunker Hill, turned an internship with the Los Angeles mayor’s office into a connection with syndicated radio talk host Tom Joyner, who helped him on the path to becoming an award-winning author, journalist, political commentator and talk show host. He has worked for "BET Tonight," National Public Radio, and currently hosts the late-night television talk show "Tavis Smiley" for the Public Broadcasting System and "The Tavis Smiley Show," which is distributed by Public Radio International. He is the new host of "Tavis Talks" on BlogTalkRadio's Tavis Smiley Network.

In addition to his radio and television career, Smiley has authored 14 books. In 2009, Time Magazine named Smiley one of "The World's Most Influential People."