‘Jeopardy!’ wizard has nearby kin

By William Thompson: Freedom Newspapers

Ken Jennings, the man who has won more than $1.3 million on the game show “Jeopardy!”, has family ties to the Muleshoe and Lubbock areas.

In Lubbock a group of about a dozen women regularly refer to themselves as the Ken Jennings Fan Club. And news that Jennings is related to a member of a Muleshoe church has drawn the curiosity of its congregation.

Jennings has steam-rolled over opponents on “Jeopardy!,” winning his 38th consecutive game on Friday, the season’s final day, when he set a single-day record for money earned by taking home $75,000. His jackpot is now $1,321,660. He will attempt to add to those earnings in September when the “Jeopardy!” season begins again.

Kathleen Hamilton of Earth, Texas, a second cousin to Jennings, said she has been in contact with Jennings’ father.

“I haven’t actually met Ken, who is actually Ken Jennings III, but his father, Ken Jennings Jr. has called me to keep in touch with the Texas relatives,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said fellow worshippers at Trinity Christian Fellowship in Muleshoe have congratulated her on being related to the “Jeopardy!” whiz.

“Now everybody comes up to me at church to hug me and talk about Ken,” Hamilton said. “There is a buzz around Muleshoe as more people learn about the family ties.”
Hamilton said her dad and Jennings’ father both had a knack for learning.

Hamilton said her dad James Jennings used to watch “Jeopardy!” all the time.

“He was a real trivia buff, and Ken’s father was fluent in five languages during high school,” she said.

Betty Jennings, Hamilton’s mother and Ken’s great aunt, has started an impromptu fan club in Lubbock.

“I get together with about a dozen ladies every now and then here in Lubbock,” Betty Jennings said. “We always talk about Ken and how he’s doing on “Jeopardy!” I e-mailed Ken and told him we started referring to ourselves as the Ken Jennings Fan Club. He was flattered. He e-mailed me back and said he should start a fan club for me.”

In another e-mail, Ken wrote about all the national attention he’s received of late.

“One time he wrote that he was getting ready to appear on ‘Good Morning America’ and the ‘David Letterman Show,’” Jennings said. “He signed the e-mail, ‘Officially Overexposed.’ In his first e-mail to me he wrote, ‘Dear Aunt Betty. You might not remember me. I’m that nerdy little guy on ‘Jeopardy!.’’”

Betty Jennings said fame and money have not gone to Ken Jennings’ head.

“Ken told me that he is going to tithe his winnings,” she said. “He said that he feels very strongly that 10 percent of his winnings should go his church, the Mormon Church.”
She said the “Jeopardy!” champ had a unique childhood growing up in Seoul, Korea.

“I think the Asian insistence on high-quality education had an effect on his abilities, but he was already gifted at an early age. He said he always loved ‘Jeopardy!,’” she said.
Hamilton echoed her mother’s view of Jennings’ precocious intellect.

“He apparently began reading at the age of 2,” she said. “Everyone in the family is so proud of him. My son attends the University of Texas at Houston. He said classmates talk about Ken Jennings all the time and he always tells them, ‘Hey, that’s my cousin!’”