Sunday, August 6, 2017

Kay Vanston, A Local Icon Remembered

The Time Has Come

Kay Vanston

A Local Icon

Speaks Out

 Kay Vanston was raised in a low-income family. Her father was a factory worker and he worked hard to put bread on the table.  Kay’s maiden name is Doutre and she was born on December 7th, 1939

She learned quickly about the value of hard work and perseverance. Kay was one of five girls in the family and she was raised mostly on the Southside of Saginaw. She attended Washington Elementary school, Webber school, and then Saginaw High School. She and her classmates were the first class to graduate from Saginaw High School in 1957. At this point in her life she had a distinct presence, an awareness of her own experiences and a quality of being present and open. She could be present without judgment and fear. It gave her the emotional freedom to appreciate all and to love. This is an exclusively social period for Kay or  anyone who can form attachments that involve being with the other. The embrace of her paradoxes included a struggle with body and soul versus human and divine. It is not an easy dichotomy to reconcile.


Kay remembers the good times as well as the bad. She had a clear vision about her life and came to understand that her life is no longer the sum of other’s prescriptions. Yet, she is sentimental and to this day she still wears her class ring. Kay recalls, “Those were excellent schools and we had wonderful educators. I absolutely loved school. I can not think of a day when I didn’t like school. I wasn’t shy, but I was really into studying and my mother and father were both very strict. I didn’t have much of a social life when I was young I had a lot of great experiences with sports. I went to places where no one imagined a woman would be a part of.” Her developmental task as a young adult included love, sex, marriage, and career;  To be close yet to be free. Kay also had a deep interest in moral choices and it shone brightly in her career in television.


At around this time, Kay was doing stock car races as the starter/flag person. She was the first woman starter in stock car history. She would open the race up with a clarion call “show your pictures”. “She was dressed in a black and white shirt and white pants. Jack Goodwin and Alan Stockton were the owners of Raceland Speedway and they hired Kay to be the starter for the season. The race track was located between Tawas and Oscoda off Old US23 (Wilbur Road).  Kay was unique in the state if not the United States as the only woman track official. At the time, Kay was a mother of six children and had been active in racing for more than eight years.  She picked out an all-girl staff to keep things going when the local track begins the season. Kay Recalls, “I didn’t think anyone at the races knew I was a girl for a long time because I wore a baseball cap. I was able to go around the race track with Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. The cars were a lot of excitement.”

Kay was involved with the stock car racing circuit in Raceland in Oscoda. It was a quarter mile dirt track like the one in Flat Rock. It was very loud and very dirty. The staff was great to me. I ran a good track, giving a yellow flag, red flag etc. It was my track!

Within one or two years at the track, Ms. Wyman hoped to get into driving and gain credibility. She was adamant, “I don’t want any of that powder stuff either, I want to race superstocks!”Kay’s relationship with the drivers at the track had been one of mutual respect.

“I just didn’t want to be hired as a sex symbol or to be judged differently because I am a female. Maybe it’s because they feel they can’t punch me but I’ve received complete cooperation every race I’ve worked.”

Kay took on the role of flag person without any hesitation. She understood that the flag person’s duties were varied and that her decisions controlled the choices she made. Kay would start the race, decide when to throw the caution flag and when to black flag (disqualify) someone from the race either because of poor driving or because of a malfunction of the car. It was another spectacular.


At the time Kay’s full time job was advertising manager for Markey-Eliot, Planned Business Interiors and Georgetown Manor. Kay served as the ad manager for all three firms for four years and had been doing weather for seven years. Her energy was incredible. In 1975 she was named the Channel 25 Sports Director. It was a bold move but it paid off as the ratings hit the roof. There were also some pretty tough times with the good old boys would not give her access to certain events. She was told she could not sit ringside with the rest of the “boys” in the press corps. The Michigan State Boxing Commission rules would not allow women ringside. It was truly an archaic rule. Kay did not make a fuss about it, only to comment to her peers that she couldn’t understand why she was different than anybody else. Sports writer Jim Buckley championed her cause. He understood very well that other sportswriters had cracked the locker room barrier and time proved that Kay was a natural and her day would come. She became a pioneer in women’s sports broadcasting despite the double standards. She broke the barriers and spoke frankly about women’s rights and the ongoing liberation between the sexes.

Don Steele was the principal of Nelle Haley when Kay’s children were in school. He had a great career throughout his life. He helped introduce Kay to John Bradshaw, a motivational speaker and at this point in her life she devoted herself fully to that and the real estate people.

 “II wasn’t there eight hours a day though. I worked 6 o’clock to 11 o’clock at night. I auditioned for a role with Weather girl’s news and there was nothing to prepare for. I would call-in and say, “Hey, what’s it gonna do tomorrow?”  So I  put on the mini-skirt and stood up and smiled for the camera. She was popular with many but not all the viewers and Kay was painfully aware of all this. She had a deep interest in moral choices and she could harness logic for behavior that is irrational. It was a way for Kay to develop her career without anger. She continued to work at Channel 57 as well as working gigs with WKNX and Bob Dyer. Kay recalls, “The Yankee store sponsored me forever. They furnished all of my clothing. I think that was really good for them for that day and time and I got to keep all the clothes.  I believe I was earning $200 a week which was good money then. I’m talking about the sixties and all I had to do was to look good and pass it around; I got paid separately for all the advertising that I did!”


 Kay was an anchor at Channel 57 for a few years and received a lot of fan mail. For two months, Howard Wolff would only film her from the waist up because people were complaining about the mini-skirts. The Christian side of our fans was effective in keeping the status quo – skirts were too short!

“I wasn’t into saying anything off hand. I really wasn’t thinking about saying much of anything. I was busy making money and raising kids; that’s when I married Paul Vanston. He had two kids, so we had a total of six children that were less than eight years of age when we got married, and I worked two jobs. In a bizarre way, we didn’t come from a family that had money! That’s just how it is. Paul played music and worked. He was a system analyst for General Motors.

I really loved the creative end of my career. I loved taking pictures and the way I thought about advertising would make people stop and pay attention. A whole room of furniture standing in a box car in a junk yard demolished; I set up a whole room of furniture and I’d be dressed to the T. Of all of my ads you wouldn’t be expecting to see a furniture ad.  I won the biggest award for my work about a dining room chair and four buckle galoshes on all four legs.  The caption stated, “Don’t wait for the Spring season, Our prices are low Now!” It was just an isolated chair!



As far as people I’ve met, Gordie Howe is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met – ever. He’s just a wonderful man. I recall the different people that have come through my life like Dick Wagner and Don Steele. I could go on and on about people I’ve met. I picked up Sonny and Cher at the airport. They came into Saginaw. I was at the radio station. They were just different. They had their own language. Glen Campbell was soft spoken and very religious. Jim Branster was a mountain of a man.  I did the radio for WKNX. He was a sweet kid and he loved sports. We would listen to the Lions when they were on the radio. We also attended the U of M football games. At the time, I was 34 and he was a robust guy. He picked me up and held me up and filmed the entire game. It was a U of M game.

Mark Fidrych was one of my favorite interviews. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. He said the “F” word every two words or so and I said, “Mark, this is going to be on television”. He said, “Ok”, and then went on to say “f” and “I had that effin Ball”etc. I interviewed Charlie Sanders and Gordie Howe. They were good people. Once Barry Sanders was in town, I wasn’t on television at the time but Mark helped arrange 20 minutes of pictures and an interview with Barry Sanders for my daughter Beth. He was so kind; Good times!

Kay is a confirmed music lover and In the mid-sixties, She got tickets for the Beatles of Olympia. She took her 14-year-old sister. It was a gift of a lifetime and it was the first time the Beatles played in Detroit. Kay was thrilled, “I had second row seats and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I loved the Beatles. When I tell people I went to the first Beatles concert in Detroit and that they were one of the greatest bands ever.  Kay acknowledged that there are a lot of great artists that performed here in Saginaw.

 “I loved the harmonies of the Four Freshmen – I still have a poster! That was at the old Saginaw Auditorium. Paul Vanston was playing his jazz stuff. Before Four Freshmen came on with Joe Fryer opening – they all put on shaggy wigs and started playing those Beatle songs. That was just when the Beatles were coming out and before they became a phenomenon and people were making fun of them. They didn’t realize what brilliant musicians the Beatles were. Paul travelled with them for awhile. They were one of the greatest groups ever and I am a total Beatles fan. The musicians were up there and they played their hearts out. Paul would play a Treasure Island and everybody there was just getting drunk, not paying attention to the music.”

 Whites Bar was also part of the story.  Kay remembers when her dad drank beer and mom would call White’s Bar a Beer Garden. “If he stayed too long mom would say to us, “Go get your dad”. We lived on Morgan Street. I and my three older sisters would walk over to get my dad and bring him back home from White’s.”



Kay never thought of herself as a pretty girl. “It was interesting to me when I was in school that I never ever thought of myself as attractive. I just wanted to be smart. Being smart was more important to me. No one was ever unkind or pushy to me. It just came out now – my parents were very strict and I was not allowed to do anything, but they supported my activities. I was not allowed to go anywhere – not to any dances, though I did get to attend the prom in the 9th grade and later I was crowned Miss Anderson pool.  Perhaps it was kay’s early learning about relationships within the family that helped her sense of security in her adult life. Kay is modest yet confident. “I’ve had no problems of any kind with anybody.  In my adult life, especially with this last election with all the groping and blah, blah stuff with Trump and hitting on women; it happens all the time. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve swatted someone’s hand away. I didn’t go on to report it but that is part of an ingrained sexism. That is what happens if you are a woman and you’re the only woman that’s with hundreds of men. You’re going to get that kind of thing. It went on a lot and it help keep me on my guard.. No one attacked me or raped me, it was just the old hitting on you stuff and trying to give you a big fat kiss with big wet fat faces. It was part of the game. I never had a drink until I was 42. I didn’t drink in High school. I wasn’t a goody-goody, I just didn’t like it.”


 After her work in television, Kay spent her next 37 years in Real Estate and she sold seven million dollars in commission. Like always, Kay learned her craft through hard work and a winning personality. She would never sell deficient real estate. She won plenty of commissions during her career. She was confident as a seller and she always negotiated with the buyer. “It made me happy that there was a lot of work that went into the sale and it gave me a lot of immense pleasure.”

Kay was the Dodge Girl and she did the printed advertisements for Saginaw Dodge. She was the queen of airbrushed ads. “I also got to know Bob Dyer, he was a mentor, a good man. He was extremely intelligent and he always encouraged me. He knew that sometimes it got rough; things that I had to say or do or go out on. He was really the reason I could sustain the pressure. My family was always primary.” Kay recalled lamenting that she was not able to balance income with financial stability. “I gave it all away because somebody needed it; they needed it more than I did.”  Kay charted a path in a male dominated industry and came back out with her head held high. The roar she experienced was the other side of silence wherein the good old boy network was shut off from awareness until pioneers like Kay Vanston began to jump into uncharted waters. At this point in her journey, Kay and other Zen architects know that we can get along better and love better because we don’t try to convert others. She has multi-perspective narratives and an appreciation for deeper relationships and appreciation of a history that looks beyond one’s own life. She realizes that one can love in many different ways and she can sense that art, music, sports and love are all part of the same thing. Kay Vanston is her own inner witness and it is felt as love and serenity

The Peace Train is calling.

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