Melon man makes many mouths happy

By Joe Stumpe | September 1, 2023

Kenneth Simons

When Kenneth Simons says he’s been raising watermelons all his life, he’s only exaggerating slightly.

He started helping his dad raise them when he was 5 years old, or 85 years ago.

“All I could do was walk around and be under his feet,” Simons, of Haysville, recalled. Within a few years, he was driving a tractor and horse-drawn wagon on his father’s 100 acres in Oklahoma.

Simons kept up the family business as a summer sideline after moving to Kansas. During the hottest days of August, he was out selling watermelons in his usual spot on South Broadway just north of Colonial Heights Church. Motorists might have missed a small hand-lettered sign pointing the way, but longtime customers knew where to look for the short, wiry, overall-clad Simons and his yellow 1954 Ford pickup with its bed piled high with melons.

“I’ve been coming for years,” one woman said before leaving with a medium-size melon, which Simons was selling for $12.

When a young first-time buyer told Simons he hadn’t brought enough money, Simons told him to take the melon anyway. The teen carried the melon to his truck, found two dollars in quarters and brought it back to Simons.

Working in the season’s hottest, driest weather was no coincidence. Simons said the vines on his melons were shriveling up, so it was time to get picking. “After you’ve raised these things, you better get out here and get something for them.”

That, he concedes, is not as easy as it used to be, which is why he has a helper. He can still pick a 25- or 30-pound watermelon, but he can’t pick all of them.

In recent years, Simons has raised two varieties — the round Sweet Crimson and oblong Legacy. Both are noted for their firm, sweet flesh. Both take about 85 days to grow — with lots of hoeing of weeds required — and average about 25 pounds, although they can get bigger. And both have seeds, the only kind he grows.

Of seedlesss varieies, he said, “They’re good if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said.

His customers seem to agree. “Best watermelon I ever had,” one customer said. 

“If it’s not, come on back,” Simons replied.

It’s possible that this will be Simon’s last year to raise melons. But don’t think for a second that he’s tired of them.

“I eat one about every day.”