Ken Falhaber, who received the grim diagnosis of pancreatic cancer four years ago and used his garrulous car-dealer personality to raise money for research and to nurture hope in other patients, died Saturday at his Finneytown home. He was 58.
His wife of 36 years, Meg, and the couple’s three children surrounded his bed at the end. The word of his death radiated from the family’s business, Falhaber Nissan on Colerain Avenue, and from the pancreatic-cancer community in Greater Cincinnati.
“He never stopped. Not even the chemo make him sick,” said Danielle Gentry-Barth, Cincinnati affiliate director for the national Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Ken would just pick up and keep going. He was amazing.”
Mr. Falhaber’s second son, Brian, the dealership’s sales manager, said Tuesday that a large part of his father’s legacy was in heightening awareness of the deadly cancer.
“It was extremely important to him to be like an ambassador for it. It really drove him,” Brian Falhaber said. “So maybe this was what he was destined to do.”
Ken Falhaber was the second son of Bill and Marlene Falhaber of Cincinnati. He graduated from Finneytown High School in 1973 and attended Bowling Green State University, where he pledged Sigma Chi. But he realized that college wasn’t for him, said his sister, Lori Viola, and came back home to join his father in the car business.
The Falhabers worked at Behler Oldsmobile, and Ken fell in love with the boss’s daughter. Ken and Meg married in 1978 and had three children: Ken Jr., Brian and Chrissy.
Mr. Falhaber’s father then opened Falhaber Nissan in 1980. Ken signed on, as did his older brother Rick and his younger sisters Lori and Cindy. They all are still there.
Mr. Falhaber’s family vacationed regularly in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he golfed and walked on the beach. For years from April to September, Ken, Rick and Brian played a round every other Sunday at the Fairfield Golf Course.
Mr. Falhaber held season tickets for years to the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football and basketball teams, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was a past member of the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association and a past member of the Nissan National Dealers Advisory Board. He was past member and president of the Greater Cincinnati Automobile Dealers Association.
The burning sorrow in Ken and Meg’s life came six years ago when their oldest granddaughter Gretchen died nine days after birth. Since then, three more grandchildren have arrived, Ellie, 5; Jack, 2, and Alexis, 1½. Another grandchild is due in April.
Mr. Falhaber was in good health until October 2010 when he saw his doctor and learned he had pancreatic cancer. The disease can kill with breathtaking speed, often within months of diagnosis. But Ken Falhaber put up his dukes.
“He had setbacks along the way,” said Gentry-Barth. “But he was just so tough. Many times he picked himself up. And he said, ‘I’m not taking those boxing gloves off.’ ”
Despite chemotherapy and lengthy surgeries, Mr. Falhaber got involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and served as sponsorship chairman for the annual Purple Stride, a 5K race in September to raise money. His warm energy conveyed to other patients that they could live with pancreatic cancer. Through his contacts within the car community and throughout the city, he raised about $500,000 for research.
“He was a force, just a real force,” Gentry-Barth said.
In November 2011, more than a year after his diagnosis, Mr. Falhaber was invited to speak to a symposium at UC sponsored by the local GiveHope Pancreatic Cancer Research and Awareness Fund. Director Susan Pavlech remembered his icebreaker.
“He said, ‘You’re handing a microphone to a car salesman; we could be here all night!’ ” Pavlech said. “When you are trying to sell somebody a car, you want to make them feel good. But Ken didn’t do it for that reason. It really came from his heart.”
Mr. Falhaber spoke at many GiveHope events and gave one-on-one coaching. “Whenever anyone got diagnosed, we’d give them Ken’s number, and he’d talk to them,” Pavlech said. “I saw him at the hospital last Sunday, and he was talking to someone else, and he was telling that person to keep fighting, keep putting on the boxing gloves.”