Marie Kenney is a child of The Depression.
Born in 1920, she grew up in a time when the United States was figuratively dark and literally dusty, but she found a strength inside her to rise above.
“I know what she was born into,” says her only daughter and now close friend and confidante, Karen.
She goes on to explain the strength it took, and what she saw her mother have in some of the darkest of times.
“Incredible effort, mother, to be the matriarch of the family and keep everyone together.”
“Mother” is the endearing term Karen uses to address Marie. But seeing them sit and chat, laugh and tell stories, you might mistake them for lifelong friends rather than mother and daughter.
“She has a resilience, that even though there are circumstances that are different or frustrating, it doesn’t stop her from moving onward and upward," Karen says.
Together, Karen and Marie, along with plenty of the rest of the family, have moved onward. Marie enjoys travel, especially with her family. She has been to New England, Washington, D.C., New York City, as well as birthday excursions to North Carolina and a recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with three of Marie’s grandchildren, three great grandchildren, and, of course, a dog.
Marie does, however, have an unfulfilled trip on her bucket list: a visit to Hawaii. The trip was supposed to happen once before, but life got in the way and the plans were cancelled. Marie looks back with no regrets.
When speaking of the early years, the beginning of this family’s story, Marie is to the point.
“All I could do was take care of Karen, which is what I wanted to do,” she said.
Though Karen recalls her childhood home fondly and with an admiration only a daughter can bestow on their mother, “There was always someone in uniform there.”
Karen insists there weren’t the funds or food to make it possible, but her mother Marie always found a way to feed the servicemen, colleagues of her husband, that showed up at their home.
Vincent, though gone since 1983, still holds a place in the lives of this family.
“We were very close,” says Marie.
"He was special,” Karen says.
The reason why was very simple. There was just no one else like Vincent. And quite possibly, no one else like Marie.
Atop of one of Marie’s well dusted mantels, next to just a few strategically placed knicknacks, a black and white photo of an anniversary long gone emboldens the living room decor of Marie's home. It’s clear, without so much as a handful of words, that Vincent was just as remarkable as Marie is today.
Marie spent many a decade at the side of Vincent. But through raising their daughter and the work Marie was selflessly involved in, her identity grew to so much more than a serviceman’s wife.
Marie first started working when she needed room and board for her high school education, a job that subsequently made her a graduate of the 1938 Lincoln High Class — and one of the oldest living alumni today.
She worked at Smith Dorsey Pharmaceuticals, Elgin Jeweler, and Miller and Paine, where she earned several dedicated customers through her passion for customer service.
But it’s the volunteer work that really stands out. In the 1960s, Marie was asked to be the first woman usher at her church, First Evangelical Church. She was the first woman to serve communion there.
“I did everything but sing in the choir,” she says.
She and her companions have created hundreds of quilts for those in need. She’s served countless hours on the election precinct board and she’s contributed to the Lincoln Women’s heritage league.
Though it’s clear, from both Marie and Karen’s outlook and demeanor, there is no recognition needed for such selflessness.
“This is mother’s story, not mine,” Karen said.
But it seems the decades have twisted their stories together. Karen’s story is Marie’s story, and vice versa. Though neither wants the credit for any accomplishments.
Marie, who is sharp minded and full of wit, peers at Karen to finish her sentences when her memory can’t quite keep up with her tongue. And Karen, kindly and calmly, insists that Marie already knows what to say.
And it’s true. Marie has plenty to say.
“If I knew I was going to live this long I would have bought better appliances,” she says. This gem comes from a recent washing machine shopping trip.
Or her life tip: “I finish whatever I start.”
What Marie starts with each day is a bed well made. But there are other consistencies too. There are her long standing appointments at the hairdresser, her one personal splurge according to Karen.
“I get such a kick out of Marie. She is such a special lady. ... Marie is just a hoot!” says Patti Wenz, longtime stylist at Hairingtons Beauty Salon in Lincoln.
Though strong, resilient, and full of perseverance by every account, Marie is still humble about what exactly she brings to this close knit family.
When Karen presses her, perhaps urging Marie to brag a bit about herself and the charismatic way she urged the family to make time for one another, Marie calmly replies with well thought but effortless phrase like, “Well, that’s easy to do, I just do it.”
At the age of 98, Marie has had many milestone birthdays, and their subsequent parties. But both make her uncomfortable.
“I like parties, but I felt like I was overdoing it," she says regarding some of her recent birthday parties.
Overdoing it is an interesting term for this family. They are all overdoing it. They are overdoing it when the simple pet name “mother” means so much more. They're overdoing it when the 98 year matriarch still opens her home consistently for gatherings and family holidays. They’re overdoing it when great grandchildren walk to great grandma’s home just to deliver fresh-cut flowers.
They are overdoing it in the things that matter.
“There’s someone very young in you who is still alive,” Karen says to her mother.
And if any of us should be so lucky as to spend as many years on this planet as Marie Kenney, may we purchase better appliances to enjoy cleaner laundry, longer.