Dubes Jewelry owner Ken Corey dies at 93
Red and blue neon glowed atop a three-story building in downtown Janesville for generations.
On the ground floor beneath the Dubes Jewelry sign, Ken Corey ran the jewelry store for 66 years.
For many, the sign became a landmark and unofficial symbol of the city. Three stories below on West Milwaukee Street, the store was a place where young couples bought engagement rings, people brought watches for repair, and many just came to chat.
Corey, who was arguably as iconic as the neon sign, died Friday at age 93.
Corey was known for his open-mindedness, generosity, humility and sense of humor, friends and family said.
He had no problem being featured in a newspaper ad last year when the Milwaukee Street Bridge project blocked traffic to his store.
He wore a construction worker’s reflective yellow vest and and promoted his store as open for business.
He walked to work every day from his home on Prospect Hill, about four blocks, for at least 30 years, said his son, Bob Corey. He never retired.
“My sister and I both retired, which he chided us about because we retired before he did,” Bob said. “I think he liked people, and I guess that’s what kept him going.”
Corey joined the Marines at 17 and served in the Pacific during World War II. He returned home, got a degree from the University of Notre Dame, and in 1950 married Ardis, a Christian minister who was with him until she died in 2015.
He bought the jewelry store with his father’s help in 1952.
Corey didn’t talk about the war and declined Bob’s offer to arrange a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the WWII memorial, Bob said.
Corey was stationed on the light cruiser USS Santa Fe and told an interviewer from the Rock County Historical Society that he witnessed death when the aircraft carrier USS Franklin was attacked.
Corey joined the Santa Fe in Guam. As he stepped off the plane, his brother, a Navy lieutenant, happened to be there.
A third brother died in an airplane crash in France. Both surviving brothers named their first sons in his honor, Robert Corey.
Bob said Ken and Ardis were wonderful parents, taking them on vacations, making sure he and his sister, Sherry, broadened their educations with trips to Europe.
Ken was a “soft touch,” giving people in need money from his own pocket or telling a customer that he could pay for the engagement ring hwhenever e could, Bob said.
Longtime friend Kathy Witzack remembered times Ken would hear at church about a person losing a job or having surgery and offered money.
Kathy’s husband, Bob Witzack, was Corey’s timepiece repairer for 10 years. He said Corey became a like a father to him.
“I didn’t feel like he was a boss. Ken made everyone feel at home,” Bob said. “Ken was one of the most nonjudgmental people I’ve ever met. He accepted people for who they were. … That was the marvelous thing about him.”
“Some of us felt that he was being taken advantage of at times, but in spite of that he still gave help to people, I think kind of knowing a little bit what was going on,” Bob Witzack said.
Corey’s love of people extended to Sundays, when he appointed himself the greeter at the door of First Christian Church.
Kathy Witzak was a nurse in Corey’s doctor’s office for 25 years, and late in life, she took him to church every Sunday, but she would arrive early and read to him for 20 minutes or so.
He loved being read to, she said, and she was glad to have the time to spend with the dear man.
The Dubes sign was taken down after it was damaged in a storm in 2001, but Corey kept on running the store until about a month ago, Witzak said.
Ken was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer three years ago and given six months to live, Kathy Witzak said, but he seemed to ignore the diagnosis and kept on being the funny people lover he had always been.
“It’s his love of people and his compassion for people that kept his interest,” Witzack said. “… “That’s what kept him going, his interest in life.”
It was also about three years ago that a Gazette reporter asked him how long he would keep working.
He replied: “My days are limited, but I feel good. The help is good. Eyes are good. Hands are good.”
He rarely missed a day of work, often worked weekends, and that included doing the books and writing the paychecks, Witzack said.
Longtime friend Lorraine Homan and her husband, Donald, would go out on Sundays with Ken and Ardis, always to an out-of-town restaurant, and invariably they would run into someone Ken knew.
Homan would sit with Ken in church after Ardis and Donald died. She sat in the same spot Sunday, feeling the loss.
“He was wonderful,” she said. “I’m missing him already.”