CHEROKEE, Iowa | Kenny Bern awoke on Sept. 23 to find Janet Lucas standing at the foot of his bed.
Keep in mind, Lucas mows the lawn for Bern. She blows the snow, picks up his leaves, and, generally, works with her family to help look after their happy-go-lucky next-door neighbor.
"Oh, I wouldn't know what to do without Janet and her family," Bern said.
Still, he wasn't sure what to think when he noticed her in his house around 8 a.m. that day.
"Normally, he's up by then," Lucas explained.
Bern had gotten out of bed around 4 o'clock that morning. He sat for a while, did some reading while battling a cold, then headed back to bed. He admitted this much: It's unusual for him to still be asleep around 8 a.m.
"So, Janet's at the foot of my bed and I look at her and say, 'What the hell is going on?'" Bern remembered.
Lucas politely told Bern that a group of friends in Cherokee had gotten together in the hopes of roofing his home that day.
"Re-roof my house?" Bern asked. "My house doesn't need a new roof!"
Lucas begged to differ. She persisted and won the argument. And, in minutes, Kenny Bern pulled a chair from Lucas' garage and sat and watched while Nate James, Levi Griffin, Bob Griffin, Brandon Lucas, Cody Lucas, Wayne Todd, Austin Todd, Andy Todd and more scaled his home on Willow Street to start the project. With a group like that -- and Bern said he probably forgot a few volunteers -- the job was done in no time. (Lucas said she had many more volunteers who offered their help, but weren't needed.)
"I sat there in disbelief," Bern said. "I finally said to Abby James, Nate's wife: 'What the heck is going on?'"
Abby James explained to Bern this was their 90th birthday present to him, a gift worthy of Cherokee's biggest fan, who blew out 90 candles on May 29.
Kenny Bern is a bit of a legend around Cherokee and Northwest Iowa. The 1944 graduate of tiny Larrabee High School moved away for just two years, time he spent sweeping for mines with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater, his duty during World War II. He came back to Cherokee County and, on Dec. 27, 1947, landed a job with the packing plant in nearby Storm Lake, Iowa, an enterprise known as Kingan & Company, then Hy-Grade Food Products. He worked there for 34 years. (Today, the pork plant, Storm Lake's largest employer, is operated by Tyson Foods.)
In 1949, Bern married his sweetheart, Olga. And, while the couple didn't have children, they kept close tabs on seemingly every high school and collegiate student-athlete and coach in a 70-mile circle around the Cherokee County seat.
Olga died on Oct. 24, 2008. Kenny sat in his house for two weeks until a family member stopped by, insisting he return to his practice of finding an athletic contest to watch nearly every afternoon or evening. This "man of the people" couldn't retreat to his home on Willow Street, not full-time at least.
"These kids are my life," Bern said, noting the encouragement he got that day probably extended his life. "I just love watching kids play sports, games of any kind. I always arrive early and try to get the same seat. The kids come up after their games are over and offer to walk me to my car. They invite me to their pregame meals and their banquets after the season."
Does he attend the meals and banquets? "Oh, you bet I do!" he said. "I couldn't make it without these kids."
The walls of an addition to his home are lined with photos of local high school and collegiate athletes and officials. Bern can sit on his couch and share a veritable Who's Who of Northwest Iowa sports off the top of his head. His recall for events in the 1950s and 1960s is just as clear as those involving a contest featuring junior high squads from last week.
Bern played basketball, baseball and ran track at Larrabbee High School. He became one of the state's top bowlers in the 1960s. And while he's never wrestled, it remains one of his favorite sports. He's a constant presence at nearly every Iowa high school state tournament. He drove over and back to Cedar Falls last week for the state football finals.
"Oh, the ushers all know me," Bern said with a laugh. "I sit in the same place at every event I attend. I suppose I'd be the easiest guy to kill."
He certainly loves his Braves and cannot imagine residing anywhere else but in this community, the place he's known since coming home from World War II.
"What kind of town is it?" he asked. "Well, probably half the town invited me over for Thanksgiving."
Apparently, just seeing that the Braves' No. 1 fan has got a roof over his head isn't enough.
Kenny Bern shook his head and smiled, glancing at the metal roof his younger pals in Cherokee bought and put in place on a most memorable day in late September.
"It's not every day someone comes and puts a roof on for you," he said. "I had tears in my eyes more than once, I'll tell you. I just love people. I sure can't complain about a thing."
DONOR: EFS Group Wealth Management
ABOUT THE DONOR: EFS Group Wealth Management is a local, independent firm that has been in Sioux City for more than 25 years helping people prepare and transition into retirement. EFS Group provides continuous education on topics that are important to the people in the community, including Social Security, long-term care, creating or enhancing wills and trusts, 401k and pension rollovers and retirement income distribution. EFS Wealth is here to help you and your family move into the next phase of your life.
DONOR COMMENT: "Here at EFS Group, we are honored to be a part of the Mr. Goodfellow charity that is one of Sioux City's greatest traditions, and we are happy we can help well-deserving children receive gifts and books."
For the first time in Mr. Goodfellow history, an online auction will be held to give the winning bidder a once-in-a-lifetime Minnesota Vikings experience.
Beginning today, you can go to siouxlandbidandbuy.com and place your bid for a suite at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the Dec. 17 game between the Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit Mr. Goodfellow, the charity that has provided toys and books at Christmas to needy children for more than 100 years. Last year, more than 8,000 children benefited from donors’ generosity.
Provided by RP Constructors, LLC and Civil Engineers & Constructors LLC, the suite will accommodate 20 guests, giving them field-level views of the game. Although the game starts at noon, the suite will be available two hours before kick-off, giving you a rare opportunity to see the teams warm up and greet the players.
The Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders will stop by Touchdown Suite 4 and attendees will be able to enjoy free food and drinks throughout the game. Valued at $20,000, the package boasts the closest suites to the field in the entire NFL. Better yet, it offers a rare chance to see what the vantage point is before Minnesota hosts the Super Bowl next year.
While Mr. Goodfellow and the Little Yellow Dog Auction Club haven’t offered anything but the Little Yellow Dog on an auction, this was such a unique opportunity Goodfellow officials decided to make it available to help the non-profit raise funds for needy children in Siouxland.
RP Constructors saw the value, as well, in sharing with others.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have a group of talented, dedicated employees who work hard to produce a great product and keep our businesses growing,” President Ryan Callaghan said. “We typically fly more under the radar with our charitable giving, but this is a unique situation since it’s an online auction. Giving back is only possible due to the hard work of many people, from engineers/surveyors to equipment operators/laborers. We are all a team and family and thrilled to be able to help.”
RP Constructors, based in Dakota Dunes, is a heavy civil contractor that completes in excess of $10 million of work annually. Serving both private and governmental clients throughout the Midwest, RP Constructors specializes in challenging projects that includes grading, concrete paving, structural concrete, underground utilities, lift stations, water-wastewater treatment plants, excavations, levees and flood control structures.
RP Constructors’ affiliated consulting engineering surveying firm, Civil Engineers & Constructors LLC, performs civil engineering design work, as well as land/boundary surveys, topographic surveys and construction staking. The two companies are unique combination, with no other entity in Siouxland offering services in both fields, Callaghan said. The “one-stop-shop” approach allows the companies to schedule projects in a more timely fashion, and, more often than not, at less cost than its competitors.
“We can get it done for the client faster and more cost-effective,” Callaghan said.
RP Constructors, which has operated as contractor and subcontractor, has worked on a number of high-profile projects in recent years, including the reconstruction of Interstate 29, the new Seaboard Triumph Foods pork plant in Sioux City and the MidAmerican Energy, CF Industries and Gelita USA expansions at Port Neal.
Photos of the view from the suite are available on siouxcityjournal.com.
To bid, go to siouxlandbidandbuy.com.
The auction will close at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and the winning bidder will be notified by email.