Sept. 12, 1952 – June 14, 2020
Kenneth Jacob, known simply to friends as Kenny, died Sunday, June 14, after suffering a fatal stroke. Jacob was well-known and much beloved in Metro Detroit’s LGBTQ community as the longtime manager of Chosen Books.
Long before there was an Affirmations LGBTQ community center in Ferndale, there was a Chosen Books. The gay and lesbian bookstore was opened in 1981 by personal partners John Cook and Bill Ashley and business partner Paul Bruce. It was located first in Palmer Park and then, after several years, in Royal Oak. The store served as an unofficial LGBTQ community center and was, for a long time, just about the only place people could learn more about the LGBTQ community. The store even operated a hotline for some time.
Jacob started working at the store in 1985, and after Cook’s and Ashley’s death and Bruce’s departure, he became the manager under the ownership of Cook’s father, Joe Karasinski. He ran the store, took care of its longtime mascot Miss Kitty — a cat that wandered about the place — and doled out a naughty kind of humor that his customers loved.
“He was quite a comedian,” said John D. DiDonato, his friend of many years and caregiver for a time. “He had a wonderful sense of sarcastic humor.”
For a 1999 piece on the store, Jacob told Between The Lines that the best part of working at the store was “meeting new friends.”
“I’m very blessed. I have an inner circle of friends in the dozens,” Jacob said. “They threw me a surprise party and there were over 200 of my friends that showed up. They did a roast for me a couple of years ago.
“Getting laid is easy,” Jacob continued. “But making a friend is hard. And I’m blessed that I get to meet a lot of people.”
Jacob, a lover of all things “I Love Lucy” and Lucille ball, had a huge collection of memorabilia, and he was also active with the Forum Foundation. He served on its board for several years, helped sell tickets to the Foundation’s events at the store and he enjoyed attending all of them — especially the group’s annual summer boat cruise on the Detroit River.
But the same year as the BTL story, Jacob suffered a major stroke. At first, he recovered quickly, but it was to be the start of a worrying trend. Several years later, in 2004, Jacob was at home when he experienced a strange pain that he felt did not warrant a trip to the hospital. The next morning, he was unable to walk. Tests revealed he had suffered a series of five strokes within the prior six months, including another major one the day before his hospital visit.
The damage from the latest stroke overlapped with the damage from the previous strokes and, as a result, Jacob was paralyzed on the right side of his body. He had limited motor skills, and, having lost the use of the left side of his body, he had to learn to feed himself with his right hand.
Jacob was left unable to work. He lived with his mother for some years before she passed. And then he lived in an independent senior apartment for some time before his condition worsened.
“He was there for three or four years, and I took him to the doctor and the grocery store. And then it got to the point where he would fall out of bed, and my partner and I would have to go pick him up,” DiDonato recalled. “Finally, I told his brother, ‘You have to do something because we can’t keep picking him up.’ It was a very challenging life for him but he was a strong little bugger.”
Jacob’s family moved him to a care facility in Maysville where he suffered and succumbed to yet another stroke earlier this month.
“Kenny had a marvelous sense of humor,” said longtime customer and friend BTL columnist Charles Alexander. “He was most helpful and he was just fun. He made you feel good.”
“He was a very strong individual,” he said. “Even with all the challenges God put in front of him he never complained He kept his sense of humor and he just continued on. We all miss him terribly.”