Monroeville, Alabama—this is your all-American town. Walk the square and take a trip backward on the timeline. Drive around town. You’ll see barbecue joints, a Piggly Wiggly, a Sonic, a world-famous courthouse.
And you might see Kenny.
Kenny is forty-seven. He lives in the upstairs bedroom of his parents’ house. A little about him: Kenny likes dogs, people, food, singing, sports, and hugging anyone within a six-foot radius.
Kenny has Down syndrome. There is a touch of gray on his temples. His face has smile-lines. And, if Kenny were to ever donate blood, doctors would discover he bleeds orange and blue.
He is an Auburn University fanatic.
“I’m Auburn’s BIGGEST FAN!” he says.
There’s no doubt. He gives me the dime tour of his bedroom—a shrine to the Tigers.
There are seventeen thousand orange ballcaps adorning his walls. Bo Jackson autographs, Gus Malzahn posters, stuffed tigers, eagle figurines, and Shug Jordan coffee mugs.
During the tour, Kenny breaks into spontaneous song:
“WAR EAGLE! Fearless and true,
Fight on, you orange and blue…”
He finishes his performance by hugging me. Kenny gives good hugs.
In the corner: an Auburn Christmas tree, weighted with orange ornaments—he keeps it up year round. Auburn bedspreads, throw rugs, drapes, pillows, light-switch covers.
“When we first had Kenny,” says his father. “Doctors told us our baby had issues. Told us we’d better let him go and institutionalize him.”
Kenny’s father informed the doctor they would do no such thing. Instead, the family built their world around the new baby. They loved him.
“Raising him was the big blessing of our life,” says Kenny’s father. “We were never alone, that’s part of life in a small town. You’re never alone. This community raised Kenny WITH us.”
Kenny spent twenty years finishing school. His teachers supported him. His peers adored him. Ask around, everybody and their mother’s cousin loves Kenny.
After Kenny finished high school, he took a job at McDonald’s. He worked as a custodian and greeter for twenty-three years. That’s twenty-three years of grins, Auburn chants, broom-pushing, and spontaneous hugs.
He retired a few years ago.
“Kenny’s a fixture in our town,” one local man says. “Used’a walk into McDonald’s and he’d greet you and give you a ‘war-eagle.’ Sometimes he’d be the only hug I got all day.”
Before my tour ends, Kenny digs through a shoebox. The box is filled with Auburn pins and buttons. He gives me a parting gift—a tiger-shaped lapel pin.
We hug again.
Then, I remove my hat. I ask if Kenny will sign the bill of my ballcap—which bears the autographs of a few baseball greats, and some others I’ve met.
Kenny’s happy to oblige. He grabs a pen. In over-sized letters he writes: K-E-N-N-Y on a well-known short-stop’s name.
“My autograph’s worth a LOT of money,” Kenny remarks.
He admires his handiwork and grins. Then, he sings in a quiet voice:
“War Eagle, fearless and true,”
Fight on, you orange and blue,
Go! Go! Go!
On to vict’ry, strike up the band.
Give ’em hell, give ’em hell…”
Then, we hug. It’s a long hug.
Kenny whispers into my ear. “We’re friends now. You can write about me in your book.”
We shake on it.
“Don’t forget,” he says. “War eagle.”
I won’t forget, Kenny.
Patricia Schmaltz - November 16, 2017 3:06 pm
So sweet.. and enriching story for all. Thank you. HUGS to Kenny!
Brian Heinz - November 16, 2017 3:08 pm
God gives us miracles to watch grow and to teach us that every soul is wanted in heaven. We get to glimpse the beauty of heaven in the life of a child. Thank you
Josh Dewberry - November 16, 2017 3:24 pm
If you could only pick one person from Monroeville to write about, I’m glad it was Kenny.
Jane Henderson - November 16, 2017 3:30 pm
Sean, As a retired educator of 35byears, I saw many mentally challenged students. One that inspires me owns his own business in Flomaton AL. He’s an inspiration to many, just like the young man you wrote about here. This is a great read this morning. Thanks for sharing.
Belinda Pack Stuart - November 16, 2017 3:30 pm
War Eagle, Kenny! And thanks for another great story, Sean!
George Buchanan - November 16, 2017 3:33 pm
War Eagle, Kenny!
Sean, your stories are a treasure every morning. Thanks for starting my day with a War Eagle from a special person.
Connie - November 16, 2017 3:38 pm
And just like that, I’m crying again. What a beautiful story.
Susan Hammett Poole - November 16, 2017 4:18 pm
Ahhh, refreshing story …you’ve made us fall in love with Kenny, Auburn’s biggest fan. Thanks for sharing, Sean. WAR EAGLE!!!
Melanye Rea Wrighton - November 16, 2017 4:36 pm
Well, now I’ve fallen in love with Kenny and wishing I could be your sidekick wandering around all the people you love and write about to us. You’ve become a highlight of my mornings, Sean. Thankful for you.
Pat Byers - November 16, 2017 4:59 pm
my chest lunges forward in one large swoosh of released air as i feel emotion forced out of it. our small town had a K E N N Y, too, when i was growing up. he belonged to the town. his grandma lived behind my grandma’s house. he rose his bike everywhere. kids could do that then. he would do odd chores to fuel his Pepsi habit. i think of Larry now and again.
and now, the tears come…
Sandra Berry, Glenwood AL - November 16, 2017 5:01 pm
I draw closer to you every day, reading your stories and your world becomes my world. Thank you for touching my heart.
Jack Quanstrum - November 16, 2017 5:57 pm
John Croft - November 16, 2017 6:30 pm
Thank you for your warm words about my cousin Kenny. He is living proof that blood is thicker than football as even we University of Alabama cousins love him and are so proud to claim as the best of our clan.
Cathryn Corbin Richburg - December 14, 2017 12:09 am
John, I wasn’t crying yet… I often do, when reading Sean’s work. That is, until I read your loving comment about your family! Roll Tide!
Jackie Darnell - November 16, 2017 7:03 pm
I like Kenny! I even know a Kenny! Good stuff. Kennys make a small town good!
Jackie Darnell - November 16, 2017 7:05 pm
PS: But My Kenny’s name is BJ in a small town in Florida!
Jan - November 16, 2017 7:22 pm
Like Kenny, I bleed orange and blue! I am so proud and happy to know that our beloved Auburn is represented by such an awesome person. Thinking of Kenny singing “our song” makes me smile and thank God for Kenny and his parents! It also makes me thank God for you, Sean, for introducing me to them and so many other wonderful who are true blessings! War Eagle, Kenny!
CKD - November 16, 2017 7:22 pm
We have a Kenny in our church. He is a wonderful young man and is in church every Sunday with his family. He comes to our line dancing classes and attends the church youth groups. Plus, and this is the best, he gives great hugs!
Barbara J Schweck - November 16, 2017 7:56 pm
Don’t know Kenny, h others like hime. Cheerful, piositive, dedicated to ther passions, and great huggers. I love Kenny, I wish I could ride around as your side kick n these towns and get to know a little bit about all of these amazing peope that you meet. How do you do it? Just sit down by a stranger and start talking?
Frieda Borntrager - November 16, 2017 8:35 pm
The world would be a much better place if there were more Kennys –and — Seans!
Rita J. Naftel - November 16, 2017 10:39 pm
Oh Sean, this is right down our alley! My husband’s sister had Down’s and we raised her after her parents died in ’91. She was born and raised in Auburn and was also a die-hard Auburn fan! She bled orange and blue too! We had her for 21 years. She died at the age of 66. . . . to think the doctor said back when she was born she’d not make it past her teens! Thank you for this “walk down memory lane”.
Elaine Karrh - November 16, 2017 10:46 pm
Even though I am an alumni of the University of Alabama,I can’t help but love thinking about Kenny singing the Auburn fight song. Thank you for sharing Kenny with us.I wish I could meet him because I know I feel like I am a better person just from knowing he is making this sometimes cold,bitter world a better place with his warm hugs,and his friendly smiles.Thank you again,Sean,and thank you,Kenny.
Barbara Mc - November 16, 2017 10:53 pm
The world is a better place with folks like Kenny in it. I’m sure he enriches everyone’s life that knows him. He’s a smart fella to decide to be Auburn’s biggest fan. Auburn’s luck he is. War Eagle and love to Kenny. Enjoy every single post Sean. They make my day!!
Wes Kelly - November 17, 2017 2:55 am
Monroeville is blessed to have Kenny. I believe people like Kenny give us a glimpse of unconditional love and God’s love for us and I’ve never known anyone with a smile as big as Kenny. Also, I might add that God blessed Kenny with a special family as well. War Eagle, Kenny!!
Michael Hawke - November 17, 2017 4:03 am
And a War Eagle for Kenny. Thanks.
Carolyn Kent - November 17, 2017 1:32 pm
Reminds me of how nice Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was to a special needs fan everyday after practice. Jim gave him his signed cletes & Ronnie would wear them!! Other fans would display them in a glass case! Jim is the Bear Bryant of Buffalo! He would take Ronnie into practice sometimes on Saturday!
Terressa Black - November 18, 2017 1:56 am
I LOVE ME SOME KENNY he used to work with me a t Mc Donalds a long time ago and he has never forgotten me. If you see Kenny out and about your gonna get a hug!! Seems like your having the worst day of your life and out pops Kenny truly a BLESSING TO US ALL..
Betty Campbell - November 20, 2017 12:06 am
Kenny, we loved reading your story. Sean wrote it but you are living it. We loved you from the minute we saw you…yep it was 47 years ago. All the Campbells
Pam - March 17, 2018 12:57 pm
Sean, I love your writings but this is my absolute favorite….my Down Syndrome brother died at the age of 50 a year and a half ago. Oh, how this brings back memories. I could right a book about him telling how country and gospel music, his family and God were his loves. He could read only a few names and everyday words but everywhere he found God’s name in his Bible, that he sat with for hours at the time, he underlined. My husband preached his funeral using the 23rd Psalm from his Bible. The last phrase of the last verse was underlined…”I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” And he is. 🙂