It was the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 that really pushed Joann Kenninger to become even more involved in her community.
She had already been volunteering at the local United Service Organization, Kenninger said, but Sept. 11 shocked everyone. She wanted to throw herself into volunteer work that would benefit the country.
Today, Kenninger still volunteers at the local USO and Brecksville’s American Legion Post 196. She bakes cookies for the troops and helps put together care packages. And earlier this month, she helped put together tiny Christmas trees to be sent to the troops for the holidays, an annual project that she looks forward to.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It really, really is.”
Kenninger was recently honored as the Silver Award winner of Medical Mutual’s Outstanding Senior Volunteer Awards. She was nominated by the American Legion’s local Ladies Auxiliary, and her friend, Dannie McGurk, wrote the nominating letter, highlighting her work for the troops and her selfless nature.
“Joann has spent a lifetime helping others,” McGurk wrote. “… She is the neighbor who is never too busy to feed your dog or pick up your mail while you are on vacation. She is kind and gentle and not afraid to give motherly advice but only if you ask. She is the first one to sign up for the potluck and the last one to leave after cleaning up.”
McGurk, who said she thinks of Kenninger as a second mom, called the nomination form the easiest thing she’s ever written. Kenninger is very compassionate, she said, and always willing to lend a hand.
“She’s never too busy when someone needs help,” McGurk said.
Kenninger joined the American Legion with her husband, Al, who had served in the Air Force National Guard. The two raised four children and were married for 58 years when Al passed away.
She called her recent award “surprising,” and said that she thought any of her fellow volunteers could have taken her place.
“When you have the backing of such good volunteers to help you, it really makes it easy,” she said.