Ken Kesey, the older of two sons, was born on September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado. In 1946 the family moved to Springfield, Oregon, where Kesey spent several years on his family's farm. He was raised in a religious household where he developed a great appreciation for Christian fables and a Christian ethical system.
Kesey also enjoyed physical sports like boxing and racing, and was active in both wrestling and football at Springfield (Eugene's adjacent city) high school. His classmates voted him most likely to succeed. Kesey's accomplishments and interests expanded far beyond the outdoors and physical sports. Kesey decorated sets for assemblies and plays, wrote skits, and won an award for best thespian. He also had a fascination with magic that extended to ventriloquism and hypnotism.
Kesey was an active student at the University of Oregon, participating in the theater, sports, and fraternities. Academically, his major directed his energies toward acting and writing for television and radio. He won a second thespian award at college, and wrote several drama and documentary scripts for a course offered by Dean Starlin. Kesey simultaneously pursued his love of sports, eventually earning a Fred Lowe Scholarship in wrestling.