May 18, 2022
Before Mark Zuckerberg gathered the largest online community in the world, Ken Whitley, quietly behind the scenes, kept the most active digital community in Florida, the FS Fishing Forum, alive and clicking.
Whitley, who would go by the handle “Griz,” was an early leader among the Florida Sportsman Forum community and quickly became a moderator. According to Forum data, Whitley personally approved over 100,000 members.
Whitley, 70, of Palm Beach Gardens, passed away unexpectedly Saturday, May 14, 2022. He is survived by his ex-wife Jeannine, children Ken Whitley, Marietta, GA and Kelly Whitley Borjas and grandchildren Mason, Samantha and Jazlynn. Also, we couldn’t forget to mention his current dog, Rowdy.
“After starting the Forum in November 2000, we quickly formed a great team of moderators and Griz rose to the top,” commented Eric Wickstrom, digital editor for Florida Sportsman at the time (“CanePole”). “We adopted quite a few styles of forum management that Griz has carried over to this day. When I think back and try to wrap my brain around what he did for FS and this Forum, the countless numbers of hours he spent here, captaining the ship, it’s just hard to put into words.”
Other Forum members were equally affected by Ken’s passing. “It feels like the torch of past generations just went dark,” said Mark Wilson, a longtime Forum member under the handle “Docked Wages.” “Ken was our anchor and one of the founding members of the FS forum family, an online fishing community that preceded social media as we know it today. I always respected Ken as the grey beard of our family and a symbol of knowledge, patience, and guidance. Under Ken’s guidance, FS created online regional communities within communities that touched all of us for more than 20 years.”
Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom (“FS Blair”) recalled the time he tried to pay Griz for the amount of work he was doing for the Forum. “He told me that I couldn’t pay him enough for the time he spent, plus if I did begin to pay him then he’d be obligated to toe the company line.” Wickstrom followed up by saying, “Toeing the company line was never a problem with Griz; he and I were always on the same page. We both wanted what was best for the community. Always.”
Dave Arm (“nuevowavo”) also an Administrator as well as moderator, who has been with the Forum for decades commented, “Ken was the level head that kept the forum afloat through all the format changes and kept us moving forward even when it got a little nautical around here. He was the moderator of the moderators. Ken was a wonderful family man and certainly one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet.”
Speaking of family, “Ken and I spoke often, mostly via late night texts,” said John Cone (“JohnnyBandit”). “Our conversations circled around three things: his children, his grandchildren and his dog. He was extremely proud of all of them. He never hesitated to share any achievement of any of them.”
And like most families, the Forum family was a constant balancing act. And not everyone always agreed on things. “Ken did a fine job of balancing the various personalities that have served as mods on this board for many years. Diplomatic, fair and the king of second chances,” Tim Fletcher (“Fletch”) commented.
“Triple Threat” Rich Ruggieri, commented, “His heart was in the right place and I respected him for that. He was definitely the glue that held this place together for so long.”
“Up until his passing Ken was still personally approving every new member of the Florida Sportsman Forum,” said Blair Wickstrom. “It was an incredible commitment to the community. Not only was he always there for the members who needed a password changed, he was there to counsel new moderators on how to best address a sticky situation. But more than anything he was always there for me, even representing me with our company and Forum software contractors.”
“It’s hard for me to fathom the idea that Ken won’t be there for the FS Family the next time we need him,” Wickstrom said. “But, I’m sure as he would have wanted, the community will carry on.”