Vermont Business Magazine Kenley Dean Squier, owner of the WDEV (Radio Vermont Group) in Waterbury, the founder of Barre’s Thunder Road, the Motor Racing Network, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, a sports broadcaster (including the Daytona 500, world golf and regional sports) and auto racing impresario, died Wednesday at 88.
Governor Phil Scott, who has often raced at Thunder Road, today issued the following statement: “Today, we mourn the loss of a true Vermont legend and dear friend to me and so many others.
“Much will be made in Vermont and across the country of the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s extraordinary contributions to racing – from his time in the booth at CBS, where he coined the phrase ‘The Great American Race’, to his founding of the ‘Nation’s Site of Excitement’ at Thunder Road in Barre. His impacts on the sport are too numerous to count, and he deserves every one of those recognitions and many more.
“But for me, what I will remember most was his friendship and deep devotion to his community, which was the entire state. Ken was always looking for opportunities to give back and help those in need. He instilled those values as the backbone of Radio Vermont, which has been an essential part of the fabric of Vermont since its creation – always finding new ways to support more and more Vermonters.
“I will always cherish the memories of all the time we spent together, and be thankful for his mentorship, humor, creativity and passion. From the booth, he often described those racing as ‘common men doing uncommon things.’ But in reality he was describing himself — because Ken was indeed a very common man who did extraordinary things.”
Kenley Dean Squier of Waterbury, Vermont, died from a sudden illness after several years of health struggles, on November 15, 2023. He was 88. Born on April 10, 1935, Ken was the oldest child of Lloyd Ellsworth Squier of Waterbury, and Guila Alice Rowell Squier, of South Albany, Vermont. WDEV, the radio station that first Lloyd and then Ken would own, was founded less than four years before Ken’s birth.
Ken graduated from Waterbury High School in 1953, and from Boston University, with a degree in broadcast journalism, in 1957. His broadcasting experience began as a child. During World War II, he was the lead voice of a local plea to collect bananas for a child suffering from Celiac disease. He began regular on-air duties at WDEV at age 12. He believed, as did his father, that radio was the glue to the local community, that it existed to provide a platform for all voices to be considered, and for essential, relevant information to be shared. Ken also believed in radio as a vehicle for entertainment, evident in the show he began during the 1960s, “Music to Go to the Dump By.” Originally a showcase for silliness designed to accompany the Saturday morning chore of taking trash to the dump, the show eventually became a weekly feature of hilarious songs and commentary, launching the career of Buster the Wonderdog, Ken’s border collie companion.
Ken’s lifelong love of car racing began with childhood family jaunts to county fairs. While his parents attended the harness racing events, young Ken was lured by the rumble and pageantry of men and machines. The daring bravery of the drivers of those screaming automobiles fascinated Ken. Their bravery inspired him to discover their stories, the telling of which would define his career as a motorsports broadcaster on radio and television. Ken co-founded the Motor Racing Network which continues to broadcast NASCAR races on radio stations around the United States. His television career as a broadcaster for both Formula One and NASCAR included work on the ABC, CBS, TBS, Fox, and NBC networks, and included the famous flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 in 1979, which is credited for popularizing NASCAR. With his dear friend Fred Rhinestein, he founded World Sports, expanding his role to that of producer for not only the races themselves, but also magazine-format weekly shows about motorsports, such as Motorweek Illustrated.
Ken founded two Vermont racetracks. He secured funding and assembled a team to build Thunder Road on Quarry Hill in Barre, which opened in 1960. In 1965, he established Catamount Stadium in Milton. Cars ran on the one-third mile oval at Catamount until the summer of 1987. The beautiful quarter-mile oval of Thunder Road, sold to new owners in 2017, thrives to this day as one of the country’s premier short tracks.
Throughout his life, Ken also nurtured a love of music of all kinds. Brought up to enjoy both the country bands who streamed through the studios of WDEV and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra concerts that he attended with his mother; Ken discovered jazz when he worked at the nightclub Storyville as a college student in Boston. In the 1960s, Ken began his business partnership with Thomas Michael Curley to found T-Bones, a steakhouse and jazz club in Malletts Bay, Vermont, and Daytona Beach, Florida. T-Bones boasted its own in-house Dixieland jazz band, the Stanley Steamer. The partnership between Ken and Tom Curley survived the clubs’ eventual closing, as Tom joined Ken as co-owner of Thunder Road and the two founded the American Canadian Tour for late model stock cars in the northeastern US and Canada.
Ken’s work schedule kept him traveling, at the height of his career, for 40 weeks out of each year. Yet Ken chose to keep his life, and that of his family, in his beloved home state of Vermont. Ken married Susan Wilson, a jazz singer from Burlington, in 1962. Together they had two children, Ashley Jane (named for AJ Foyt) in 1965, and Travis Graham (named for the Formula One driver Graham Hill) in 1970. The two divorced in 1985. In 1993, Ken married Elizabeth Bergen, a resident of Stowe and a sheep farmer who hailed from a sheep ranch in Australia’s outback. Their 30-year marriage was rich in books, dogs, sheep, and grandchildren. When Ken’s work on the national stage began to wind down, he took on the helm of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra as its board president. He took great pride in his work to secure the financial future of the organization, with the hope that its music would continue to inspire generations of Vermonters. Remembering those weekend concerts of his own childhood, Ken believed that any time music touches the life of a child, it has the power to become a creative force for that child’s whole life. Just as Ken’s father as the “Old Squier” brought poetry to life for Vermonters, Ken gave his own children and grandchildren a life rich in words and stories. From Uncle Wiggly to Olive the Other Reindeer and Walter the Farting Dog, Ken read books dramatically, often embellishing with his own brand of kid-delighting potty humor. He made stuffed animals come to life at bedtime with “hippo stories,” legendary to Ashley and Travis. Once his children were old enough to accompany him on his travels, he introduced them to production work and took time to explore the world with them.
Ken was a teacher. He believed that all people should have access to literacy, as the power of words to open minds and express thought was essential to human progress. He mentored countless reporters and broadcast journalists, teaching how to paint pictures with words. He believed that all humans (and all dogs) have stories that matter, and that those stories connect us and transform our lives. Though he became famous for telling the stories of race car drivers, “men too brave to die,” he was equally interested in the stories of every person he met, beginning most conversations with questions about their hometown. Ken believed everyone has a story, and he could extract a whole life narrative from that starting point. He thus interviewed almost everyone he met, learning and remembering their stories, making everyone feel that they mattered, because in his mind and heart, everyone did.
Ken lived his whole life in Waterbury and Stowe, Vermont. Preceded in death by his parents Lloyd and Guila, his beloved grandparents Olin and Alice Rowell and Annis Avery Squier, and many dear friends including Archie Blackadar and Tom Curley, Ken leaves behind his wife Elizabeth of Stowe, daughter Ashley Jane Squier and husband Robbie Crouch of Waterbury, son Travis Graham of Lancaster, CA, stepson Sandy Thompson and wife Genevieve of Stowe, stepdaughter Abigail Thompson of Boston, MA, sister Sherol Cooley of South Burlington, nephew Steven Cooley and wife Kara of Ferrisburgh, and lifelong friend Brian Harwood of South Burlington. He lives in the memory of his seven grandchildren, Cicely, Cassius, Nicholas, George, Archie, Rhea, and Hanna.
A public memorial service and celebration will be held the first weekend in May 2024, opening weekend at Thunder Road in Barre. A service of remembrance to the NASCAR community will also be held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC, at a date and time to be determined. Details of these services will be made public as they are available. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to Vermonters United to Help, c/o Radio Vermont, 9 Stowe St. Waterbury Vermont 05676. Funds will go toward causes dear to Ken’s heart, including Race to Read, Wheels for Warmth, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.
The Squier family extends thanks to the Palliative Care group at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont and to Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice, for superlative care during Ken’s final days; and to Tender Loving Home Care of Barre, and especially Winnie and Pam, Dad’s wonderful and loving caregivers right to the end.