Mr. Kenny Atkins | 100 Years



On March 17, 1916, in Paris, IL, at 607 West End Avenue, Mr. Kenny Atkins was born at his grandmother's house to Ona Elkins & Mel Atkins. One hundred years later, on a rainy day at Paris Healthcare Center in Paris, IL, Mr. Atkins, his daughter, Sally Jo, and his son-in-law Skip took a few minutes away from putting together a puzzle to talk about an upcoming milestone birthday. When I asked Kenny, "What do you think about turning 100 years old?" With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face he answered, "Is that how old I am going to be? I didn't even think about it!"

Mr. Atkins is one of five children born to Ona & Mel. He had two brothers and two sisters. One brother died at age four months and the other at 15 months. He grew up with his two sisters, Emma Jane & Ethel Marie. Of his sisters, Kenny says, "They were just the right age between them to have some good fights. Although my mother didn't go much for any kind of fighting!" Kenny & Ethel are the only living children from the Atkins family.

Kenny and his family grew up on a farm and farming remained a part of Kenny's life until he retired. His dad always put in a strawberry patch and Kenny's daughter Sally remembers talk about taking the strawberries to sell all the way to Chicago. When Kenny was a teenager, President Roosevelt's "New Deal" program had just rolled out. Its goal was to get Americans working and bring the country out of the Great Depression. One aspect of the "New Deal" was the creation of the CCC: Civilian Conservation Corps. A young man needed to be 16 years of age to enroll in the program. Kenny, however, decided that being "15 almost 16" was close enough and he did what he needed to do to enroll in the Corps. For more than a year, he worked in the CCC at various assignments that took him from Paris to Ft. Sheridan, IL and Dixon Springs, IL. His paycheck was $30/month. Of that amount, it was expected that Kenny would keep $5 for himself and send $25 back to his family.

For the next 68 years, Kenny was married to his sweetheart, Ruth Campbell. She passed away in 2006. When I asked Kenny how long he had been married he smiled, thought for a moment, and answered, "A long time!" He repeated to me several times that "Ruth Campbell was the best little wife anyone could ever have." Sally grew up seeing the devotion between her parents. Kenny was a telegraph operator for the New York Central railroad from 1948-1978. He mastered every part of this position but had "a little trouble" typing up the billing invoices. Ruth would come to the railroad depot and type these invoices for him. He says she also "worked for me as much as she could" on the farm they shared together raising livestock & putting in crops. On occasion Ruth would take an outside job, but her greatest strengths were as a homemaker/farm wife and "she did it all just right" according to her loving husband.

During their marriage, Kenny & Ruth decided to start a family. Ruth gave birth to twin boys who were born prematurely and died shortly thereafter. Their daughter, Sally Jo, was born 13 years after the loss of the twins and remained their only child. Sally remembers stories from her parents of their love of Square Dancing. Her mother's large family lived in Sanford, IL, in a very large farmhouse. On Friday nights, two circles of dancers would take over the living room until midnight when a carry-in supper was served. Friday night was the night of choice so that everyone could stay out late and not have to worry about getting up early for church since the next day wasn't Sunday! Kenny remembers there was always a "pretty good crowd." He himself wasn't typically part of the dancing. Being an accomplished guitar player, Kenny found himself playing the music rather than dancing to it. In the 1930s, Kenny was even part of a radio show out of Tuscola, IL, on station WDZ. He doesn't recall what songs he played or what his favorite tune was. Sally still has one of his acoustic guitars that is now over 70 years old. It was purchased at the now non-existent Montgomery Ward chain of stores. I asked Kenny if like many guitar players he had named his instrument. He said to me, "No. Not that I remember. But I am sure I called it something when a string broke!"

After Kenny & Ruth retired, they spent a great deal of time traveling and camping. At the time, Sally had been living in California. For 26 of the 30 years she lived on the West Coast, her parents would make the trip once a year to visit her. Sally &Skip now live in Paris, and rarely miss a day visiting with Kenny here at Paris Healthcare Center. Sally has an interest in genealogy and was a great help in writing this story. I asked Kenny what advice he would give to those of us who weren't yet 100 years old. He passes along two gems to which we all can relate: "Behave yourself!" and "Be careful driving a car." He wants the world to know that he has had a happy life mostly because of his wonderful family. Kenny said to remind everyone to remember the good times because in life there are more good times than bad.

It is of little notice to Kenny and his family that he was born on St. Patrick's Day. It was always his birthday that was celebrated rather than the green holiday. Kenny said his best birthdays were spent "seeing the folks" and "eating cake & ice cream." Especially if it was Ruth's homemade angel food cake, his favorite. So this March 17th, if you see a twinkle coming from Paris, IL, it most likely isn't the leprechaun's pot-of-gold, it will be the smile on the face of Mr. Kenny Atkins as he enjoys his 100th birthday at our facility. Paris Healthcare Center is proud to assist Kenny in telling his story. We are thankful to him for choosing an IMG facility.