This biographical profile about the career of the illustrious and colorful Kay Vanston first appeared in issue #849 of The REVIEW on August 24, 2017.
Kay Vanston was raised in a low-income family. Her father was a factory worker and 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 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 Kay 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 and 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 cannot 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 with 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 US-23 (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.”
“Don Steele was the principal of Nelle Haley when my children were in school. He had a great career throughout his life. He helped introduce me to John Bradshaw, a motivational speaker, and I devoted myself to that and the real estate people. I wasn’t there eight hours a day, though. I worked 6 o’clock to11 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 Kay put on the mini-skirt and stood up and smiled. She was popular with many but not all the viewers, though 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 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 pretty good money then. I’m talking about the 1960s and all I did was pose; I got paid separately for all the advertising that I did!”
Kay worked at Channel 57 for a few years and received a lot of fan mail: “For two months, Howard Wolff would only film me from the waist up because people were complaining about the mini-skirts,” she recalls. “The Christian side of our fans was effective in keeping the status quo – skirts were too short. I wasn’t into saying anything. I really wasn’t thinking about saying 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 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 how it is. He 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; the way I thought about advertising would make people 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. All my ads – you wouldn’t be expecting to see a furniture ad. I won biggest award for my ad about a dining room chair and four buckle galoshes on all four legs and the caption stated, “Don’t wait for the Spring fall, our prices are low Now!” It was just an isolated chair.”
“As far as memorable people I’ve encountered, 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, U of M and the Lions were on the radio. 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 Kay’s favorite interviews. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live. He said the “F” word every two words 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!”
“In the 1960’s, I got tickets for The Beatles at Olympia. I took my 14-year-old sister. It was the first time The Beatles were in Detroit. I had second row seats and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. There’s a lot of great people that come here. The Four Freshmen – I still have a poster. The was at the old Saginaw Auditorium. Paul Vanston was playing his jazz stuff. Before Four Freshmen came on with Joe Freyer 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.”
“My husband Paul Vanston 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 at Treasure Island restaurant and everybody there was just getting drunk, not paying attention to the music. Whites Bar was part of the story. Dad drank and mom would call it a Beer Garden and say to us, “Go get your dad”. We lived on Morgan Street. I and my three older sisters would walk to get my dad and bring him back home.”
“It was interesting to me when I was in school that I never ever thought of myself as a pretty girl. I just wanted to be smart. Being smart is so important. 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 I was Ms. Anderson pool.”
“In my adult life, I’ve had no problems of any kind with anybody. In my adult life, especially with this last election and all the groping and blah, blah stuff with Donald 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 it. 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 - that went on a lot. 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 $7 million in commissionable sales. 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. There was a lot of work that went into the sale. It gave me a lot of 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, who 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 our journey, Kay and other Zen warriors know that we can get along better because we won’t try to convert others. The Peace Train is calling.
16th November, 2023