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Reincarnating Big Blue memories

HARRODSBURG — If your Christmas list contains a Kentucky fan with a passion for UK sports tradition, Bobby Halsey can literally put Wildcats history in your hands.

Halsey, 77, is a skilled craftsman (some of his items are sold in Lexington's Artique stores) who works with wood.

Presently, his special project is producing walking canes of a unique interest to both longtime Kentucky football and basketball backers.

For Cats hoops followers, Halsey will turn out a cane made of wood from the old playing floor in Memorial Coliseum.

If your preference is UK football, Halsey will craft a cane from a stash of wood that came from the bleachers at Stoll Field/McLean Stadium.

Halsey — who retired in 1994 as the director of student financial aid after 28 years in the employment of the University of Kentucky — acquired the wood from Memorial Coliseum by chance.

In May 2007, he came to Lexington to watch his twin grandsons play in a youth baseball game. Driving past the UK campus, he noticed a commotion outside the Coliseum.

Workers were removing the original playing floor from "the house that Rupp built" and throwing it away.

It meant that remnants of the court where Wildcats legends — Hagan and Ramsey, the Fiddlin' Five, Rupp's Runts, Issel and Casey — had performed was ending up in a dumpster.

Like a lot of other people that day, "I went dumpster diving," Halsey said.

The Mercer County craftsman came to be in possession of the wood from Stoll Field/McLean Stadium, which was torn down after Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1973, through the recent aid of a friend.

In the 1970s, longtime UK math professor Paul Eakin remembers sitting in his office in the Patterson Office Tower and watching the tearing down of McLean Stadium.

Eakin noticed the wood from the stands was simply being tossed.

With Jim Wells, another math professor, "we went over and filled up a pickup truck," Eakin said.

With part of his stadium stash, Eakin built a fence and gate at his Lexington home.

"For years, people would come by and see if they could find their seat numbers" on his fence, Eakin said.

Not long ago, Eakin ran into Halsey. The latter mentioned that he had started making canes from the old Memorial Coliseum playing floor.

"When I heard that, I told him I still had wood from Stoll Field and asked him if he wanted it," Eakin said.

Halsey did.

In the basement of a home that overlooks Herrington Lake, Halsey — who says he is a seventh cousin of the World War II-era U.S. Navy Admiral William "Bull" Halsey — has a well-equipped workshop.

While turning a soon-to-be cane on a lathe, Halsey explained that the wood from the Stoll Field bleachers (pine) is much easier to work with than that from the Memorial Coliseum gym floor (hard maple).

"It's softer," Halsey said. "After all, it was out in the weather all those years."

Halsey and his wife, Joyce, have two adult children and four grandchildren.

In combining woodwork and Wildcats sports, the canes reflect two of Halsey's life passions. The ex-UK official still has season tickets to both Kentucky men's basketball and football.

So far, Halsey said he has produced "seven or eight" canes from the Stoll Field wood and "15 to 20" from the old Coliseum floor.

(If you are interested, you can contact Halsey at (859) 748-9677).

Those who get the "Coliseum canes" may find a bonus: A hand-written "authentication note" from a much-loved UK basketball figure.

During part of his time working at UK, Halsey's secretary was Hazel Keightley.

During a career that ran from Rupp to Gillispie, UK basketball equipment manager, Bill Keightley, Hazel's husband, became known as Mr. Wildcat.

Before he died in 2008, Keightley wrote notes vouching that Halsey's wood was from the Memorial Coliseum playing floor.

"Before he passed, we gave him one of the canes," Halsey said. "I'm really thankful for that."

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