HOLT, MI — Friends of this week’s Good Neighbor, 72-year-old Williamston resident Ken Dagner, say he is an anomaly. He is always smiling and passing kindness forward even though life has continuously thrown him curve balls.
Ken says he doesn’t have any time for dwelling on the negative. That’s because he is too busy helping other people and trying to make them smile.
“I love to make people smile,” he said.
And Ken makes a lot of people smile even though he has experienced his share of tragedy.
Ken is a Vietnam veteran and says he will never forget the men who served alongside him, including his sergeant, Jim Monroe, who died on Memorial Day in 1970. Ken has a picture of Jim on his desk.
“You know, it still bothers me that he will never be a father. He never married, will never be a grandpa and never experienced the things that I do,” he said.
When Ken returned home from Vietnam, he says the hits just kept coming.
“My mom died within the first year I got home," he said. "Then my three younger siblings all died just a matter of couple years after that. I think going through that makes you appreciate every morning when you wake up. You're supposed to do good! You're supposed to make the world a better place!
And that's what Ken is doing. He says he is here to make a difference, no matter what happens to him, even when life throws him curveballs.
“I had a son that was addicted to heroin," he said. "He quit breathing in my home. I had to resuscitate him. I ended up having him locked up in jail. I had another son who just got hit on a bicycle a year and a half ago and had a traumatic brain injury.”
Ken says both his sons are doing great now. One of the ways he celebrates is by being grateful every day.
Ken retired a few years ago, but he isn't slowing down. In fact, Ken says he is speeding up.
He has two part-time jobs, volunteers at numerous non-profits, manages a 180-acre farm where he grows his food and loves to bake and give the goodies away in his spare time.
One of Ken’s part-time jobs is at Paper Image Printing in Holt. Co-owner Missy Trudell describes Ken as a living angel.
“He is the man who is always stopping off to help someone on the side of the road," she said. "He is also very well-known at Aldi’s. He is always paying for the groceries for people in front of him or behind him. He is just always doing good. He's constantly delivering sunshine all around him.”
Ken says it makes him feel good to be able to help other people, especially buying other people’s groceries when he can.
“I started probably six years ago, and I've probably spent tens of thousands of dollars on other people's groceries," he said. "When you see elderly people who are putting just their sugar and their basics like bread and some eggs on the counter you know that’s all they are eating, and they are probably hungry. I don't have a problem paying $10 or $12 for their groceries and you know, and I get lots of hugs and lots of thank you and lots of smiles and lots of tears.”
Julie Thomasma, CEO of Child and Family Charities, says Ken is always stopping by to help out.
“One thing that I love about Ken is he brings people together and he does a really great job about telling people about our mission," she said. "He goes out in the community and finds other people to support us and then brings them back to us especially when we are doing a drive, for example during the holidays or when we are looking for food and supplies for families. He is spreading the good word about our mission to make sure that we get more support and more awareness for what we do.”
Missy agrees with Julie. She says once you meet Ken, you don’t forget him.
“Ken has never met a stranger. Whenever he meets somebody, they just automatically become family. Ken is everything I think of when I think of a good neighbor,” she said.
We want to say thank you, Ken, for having a positive outlook on life and sharing your positivity with all those you come across. You are this week’s Good Neighbor.
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