Ken Van Cleve 1950–2019

Ken Van Cleve / Photo by Jonathan Steinberg

Associate National Tournament Director Ken Van Cleve of Traverse City MI died July 9 after battling cancer. He was 68. During his 25-year career with the ACBL, Van Cleve served as a field supervisor, area manager and as director in charge for a large number of tournaments, especially those in Michigan, where he ran almost every tournament for more than a decade.

He was born Oct. 2, 1950, to Claire and Bernadine Van Cleve in Muskegon MI.

Van Cleve started working for the ACBL in 1994 as a local tournament director and moved up the ranks, gaining a reputation for carefully assessing situations and making things work.

“He was one of the pillars of working at nationals,” said Mike Roberts, a TD who worked with Van Cleve at all the tournaments in Ohio and Michigan large enough to have two directors since 2007. “You could always guarantee whatever even he was running was running smoothly. It’s quite a big blow for the directing community.”

Alex Bealles is another TD who knew Van Cleve for the past 12 years. “He had a calming effect on players and directors,” Bealles said. “He was a great mentor to me. He taught me a lot, gave me opportunities to do new things when we were working together.”

As chair of the annual sectional in Traverse City for 10 years, Lynn Larson enjoyed working with Van Cleve. “He was always prepared, kind, thoughtful, helpful and understood the psyche of bridge players,” she said. “Before we began play, Ken would remind us that our partners were our best friends, something some of us forget.”

One of Van Cleve’s closest friends was Jonathan Fleischmann, a young player in the Detroit area who has known him for 20 years and played with him semi-regularly for the last few years. When Van Cleve was directing in southern Michigan, he would drive down a day early to play with Fleischmann, and they often won. “As I got more involved with local directing, Ken became a mentor to me, and I learned how exceptional he was at his job,” Fleischmann said. “It also gave me a chance to enjoy his sense of humor and wit.”

When working a Swiss teams event, directors often call out results to each other using cultural references in places of numbers. For Van Cleve, classic rock was the preferred point of reference. “I had to brush up on Bob Dylan and Alice Cooper,” to decipher the code, Bealles said.

Roberts noted that Van Cleve seemed to mellow and become more cheerful after marrying his wife, Sarah, about three years ago. “He seemed to be smiling and happy a lot more,” Roberts said. “Even during the time his illness was on, he always had a smile and he was cracking jokes.” Van Cleve was diagnosed in December 2018.

Van Cleve is survived by his wife, Sarah; three stepsons, Samuel, Jonathan and Joseph Carpenter; three grandsons; and many friends in the bridge community.