StoryCorps Shorts: Man of Steel

To Ken Kobus, the steel mill was always a part of his life. His father, John Kobus, dedicated 40 years of his career as a steelmaker. Towards the end of John’s life, he spent it bedridden in hospice care, motioning and manipulating the air as if he was still making steel. At StoryCorps, Ken sits down with his friend Ron Barraf to honor John’s legacy.

AIRED: September 23, 2021 | 0:02:50

The mill was always in my life, even as a baby.

I always heard and smelled the mill,

and it was just ever-present.

My father, he worked there for most of his life.

His nickname was "Crow," they called him Crow.

He was what they call a first helper.

That was a man in charge of one furnace in the plant.

And uh, the first time I went into shop, I just remember it

like yesterday: There were all these things moving back and

forth, and I was afraid I was going to get run over, and my

dad just walked straight through like nothing was going on.

You know, it's just amazing.

And to face a furnace, is just, it's hard to describe

because...you watch cold steel being put into there, and watch

it become more and more red and red and red, and then it

disappears and falls apart, and it's just unimaginable.

I know that it stuck with my father for all his life.

I mean, when he was dying, he had cancer,

we had him in hospice.

And he was a lot of pain, so they were giving him

lots of morphine...

And, um, I was watching him in the bed once, and the doctor

came in, and my dad was laying on his back.

And he like, was - had his hands up in the air,

and he was turning and manipulating.

And the doctor saw that I was looking at my dad, and he says,

"We're wondering what the heck he's doing."

Because, you know, he did it all the time, he'd be laying

on his back and doing this stuff.

And they had no clue as to what he was doing.

And I said, "Oh," I says, "I can tell you.

He's making steel."

He was opening furnace doors, and he was adjusting the gas

on the furnace and the draft.

I could see, I could see what he was doing.

And the doctor was amazed, you know?

Till the day he died that's what he lived,

he lived steel making.


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