by Doreen Dykers.
Kenny grew up alone in this world—without parents, siblings, or any other relatives. Abandoned as a baby, he grew up in a psychiatric hospital as a ward of the state. Likely he was sent there because there was no one who would take care of him after he contracted polio.
Kenny’s fierce independent spirit enabled him to survive the ordeals that he underwent in the hospital. But unfortunately he never had the opportunity to attend school or to learn to read and write.
In the 1970s, when Kenny was in his early forties, the hospital closed and many of the patients were released into the outside world to fend for themselves. Kenny was sent to a boarding house here in Regina.
Somehow he found his way to Marian Centre. Joe Seiferling, one of our regular volunteers, remembers seeing him here when he (Joe) first started volunteering in 1980.
Joe’s day to volunteer was Friday, along with Joe Kuffner (the brother-in-law of staff worker Helen Schreiner) and John LeBoldus. This must have been Kenny’s favorite day at Marian Centre, because he so enjoyed the affectionate, teasing company of these three holy men.
Joe Seiferling soon realized that Kenny’s lodgings were a long distance from Marian Centre. So he arranged for Kenny to get his own apartment in the inner city apartment block where Joe himself lived. Kenny was delighted with his new accommodations which allowed for a closer friendship with Joe.
Then one Friday, Joe Kuffner was not at his usual post. When Kenny inquired about him, he was informed that Joe was in the Plains Hospital.
Without a word, Kenny left Marian Centre, went to that hospital, and asked for "Joe" at the reception desk. The receptionist was at a loss since Kenny did not know Joe’s last name. But she was patient and eventually heard Kenny mention Marian Centre.
She phoned Marian Centre and Chuck Sharp, the staff worker who answered the phone, figured out that it had to be Kenny wanting to visit Joe Kuffner.
Kenny excelled at routine, monotonous jobs, and he genuinely liked serving others. At Marian Centre over the years, he must have cleaned hundreds, perhaps thousands, of carrots that were donated from country gardens and inevitably caked with gumbo. Patiently and carefully, Kenny wiped the dirt off each one to ensure a longer storage time.
Another job that Kenny proudly did was to shovel snow off the sidewalks around his apartment building. He often began before 4 a.m.
Kenny’s great love was music. Though polio had left him with a limp and with limited mobility in his left hand, that didn’t stop him from playing the piano.
He was always first on line in our soup kitchen, and after he finished his soup, he would go to the piano. There he would plunk out tunes he’d heard on the radio with one hand and play the harmonica at the same time.
The last adventure I had with Kenny happened a year ago. His hearing was getting worse, making it more and more difficult to communicate with him. Joe S. and I discussed the possibility of getting him a hearing aid.
Since Kenny was terrified of any medical procedure, we expected that the process of getting him to agree to a hearing assessment would be a delicate one. But much to our surprise, Kenny was acquiescent. He went along with Joe and me, meek as a lamb.
But just before the hearing test began, I saw evidence of Kenny’s deep fear. He was repeating to himself over and over, "I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid."
Later on I learned that Kenny desperately wanted to hear music out of both ears, but unfortunately this was not possible. His right ear had gone totally deaf.
He did get a hearing aid for his good ear, and he would wear it whenever Joe or I visited and wanted to talk with him. Most of the time, however, he had it tucked away carefully in a safe place.
Kenny had never been a man of many words. Now with his diminished hearing, he mostly continued to communicate as he always had—with a big smile that lit up his face whenever he saw someone he recognized.
Kenny died recently at the age of 76.
His funeral was extraordinary. The funeral director, who later told me he rarely stays for the service, stayed for this one. When he heard people speaking about their encounters with Kenny, he was drawn in by the tears and the laughter. The common thread in the stories I heard was Kenny’s simplicity, humility, and childlike spirit.
I’m certain that as everyone sang, "A Closer Walk with Thee," with gusto, Kenny heard it 100%, way beyond his wildest dreams.
We miss you, Kenny. Please pray for us.
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