Dowd YMCA employee keeps smiling – even after tree demolishes house

02/23/2014 4:41 PM

02/23/2014 4:42 PM

After a tree crashed into Kenny Wilson’s Charlotte home, splitting it apart, he didn’t miss a day of work at the Dowd YMCA, where he cleans the men’s locker room.

It was a close call at the residence he rented on Glenrock Drive: The roof caved in shortly after he’d gotten up from a couch in the living room.

City fire officials didn’t know what caused the tree to fall on Feb. 15, but they said weather conditions that snowy week may have contributed. The American Red Cross provided temporary accommodations for Wilson and three other family members.

Despite the shock of losing furniture, appliances and other possessions, Wilson showed up as usual for the job he’s had for two years. Y members noticed he still smiled.

Wilson, 38, is considered the friendliest guy at the Y – someone who cares about others, listens to their problems, and prays for and with them.

Now members are asking how they can help Wilson financially. Chris Orr, executive director of the Dowd YMCA, is compiling a list while he tries to identify Wilson’s greatest long-term needs.

“We’ll definitely do something for him,” Orr said. “He’s a phenomenal person – super friendly, sincere and humble. He works extremely hard and has never had a bad day. And that includes a tree falling on his house.”

Organized in 1960, the Dowd YMCA has 17,000 members. Wilson, who works for a company contracted to do the housekeeping, looks after the busy Men’s Health Center.

Early on, he established a reputation for not only keeping things tidy and seeing that stacks of fresh towels are available, but also taking an interest the members.

“He speaks to everyone,” said member Bo Proctor. “He’s positive and upbeat, and says things like ‘Have a blessed day.’ ”

Wilson reminded Y member Doug Carter of the late Jimmy Justus, a fixture at the Dowd Y for six decades, first as a volunteer and later as a staffer who welcomed patrons. A 1999 Observer feature story was headed “Mr. Nice Guy at the Y” and “Attendant is called the kindest man in Charlotte.”

“Kenny is like Jimmy,” said Carter. “He’s a life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries kind of guy.”

In 2012, Wilson invited three relatives whose Long Island, N.Y., home was devastated by Superstorm Sandy to stay at his residence in Charlotte until they recovered. They told him how frightened they were during the destructive hurricane.

On Feb. 15, Wilson also encountered fear. Alone at home, Wilson got up from a couch and opened the front door. Outside it was sunny and quiet. Not feeling well, he went to a bedroom and had just dozed off when the house shook. He heard a loud noise that “sounded like a car exploding.”

Stepping into the hall, Wilson saw the front part of the house had been demolished by an oak tree.

Since then, Wilson has been a little edgy.

“Every time a door slams, I jump and my heart starts racing,” he said.

But his friendly spirit remains the same.

“Making people feel better is the only thing I know how to do,” Wilson said. “It makes me feel good when people smile.”

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