1959 – 2022
R. Kent Berkley, 63, died at home in Sturgeon Bay after courageously battling pancreatic cancer for two years.
He is survived by his cherished wife of 37 years, Michele Munson; daughter, Gabriella; son, Isaac; granddaughter, Luna; father, Bob; brother, David; an impressive number of sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law inherited from Michele’s side of the family; a remarkable number of nieces and nephews; and a considerable number of friends from around the country who became part of his family by choice over the years. He loved and was loved by them all.
Kent was born in Ironton, Missouri, to Rosalie (Bay) Berkley and Robert Wesley Berkley Jr. He grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, where he excelled in critical thinking and in the game of baseball, which became a lifelong passion.
His passion for baseball began before kindergarten in Missouri, where daily whiffle ball games with his brother were played year-round on the backyard lawn, where five perpetual bare spots served as bases and the pitching mound. This kept him busy even after he started Little League at age 5, where his dad was his coach for many years. He played nonstop throughout his childhood and elevated his game at Lindbergh High School, American Legion and William Jewell College varsity baseball, where he competed as both a catcher and pitcher.
After earning his B.A. degree from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Kent entered Vanderbilt Law School, from which he received a J.D. degree in 1985. While pursuing his law degree and interning at the Vanderbilt Legal Clinic, Kent developed another lifelong passion of advocacy for the most powerless and vulnerable children and youth impacted by juvenile-justice and child-welfare systems in states across the country. He devoted his professional life to working on behalf of young people, beginning his career as an alternative sentencing specialist for juveniles and as an assistant public defender in the Juvenile Court of Nashville, Tennessee. He subsequently played a leading role in juvenile-justice and child-welfare–system reform efforts, both in Tennessee, as deputy general counsel of the Department of Children’s Services, and nationally, as a senior associate director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunity Initiative in St. Louis, Missouri. After moving to Door County in 2017, he remained a much-sought-after consultant and advisor to both child advocates and state officials around the country who were seeking to improve outcomes for young people in the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems.
While at Vanderbilt Law School, Kent met Michele, and together they built a meaningful and genuine relationship that eventually expanded to include their two children and grandchild. His family became the third and overarching passion in his life. Kent loved his family, delighted in being with them and sacrificed himself many times over to ensure that they were healthy, happy and secure.
It will be no surprise to know that Kent kept his hand in baseball by balancing it with his professional career and family life. As a player, he caught in an adult league in Nashville at age 42, where he played against former college players and high school ballplayers nearly half his age; started a 34-and-older “wood bat” baseball league in Nashville, where he coached and caught for two teams; and cofounded the Saint Louis Baseball Forever league in Missouri, where he played and coached until he was 56 years old and finally started listening to his body shouting, “Enough already!”
He found coaching youth baseball to be a form of therapy and joy as he aged, so he coached at a college in Nashville and a private high school in Colorado. Without a doubt, the coaching experiences for which he is most proud were creating and coaching the Webster Thunder select baseball organization over a five-year period that targeted boys in elementary and junior high attending public schools in Webster Groves, Missouri; and serving for two conference championship years (2018 and 2019) on the varsity coaching staff for Sturgeon Bay High School, where the team played in the sectional championship game the second year. He had the special gratification of coaching his talented son, Isaac, throughout both of these endeavors.
Plans to celebrate Kent’s life are being formulated and will be announced soon.
Kent’s family wants to thank members of their home church, Hope United Church of Christ, and family and friends from all over the country for the steadfast love and care they have received during these difficult two years. They also want to thank Dr. Ben George and his oncology staff at Froedtert Hospital’s Center for Advanced Care in Milwaukee.
In lieu of flowers, Kent would appreciate it if donations are sent to the nonprofit organization Foster Forward in his name (c/o Lisa Guillette, 55 South Brow St., East Providence, RI 02914). fosterforward.net
Huehns Funeral Home & Door County Crematory in Sturgeon Bay are assisting the Berkley family. Expressions of sympathy, memories and photos Kent can be shared through his tribute page at huehnsfuneralhome.com.
ARRANGEMENTS ARE PENDING
c/o Lisa Guillette, 55 South Brow Street, East Providence RI 02914