Since it was created in 1986, the Axel W. Carlson Award has been given to 20 outstanding community volunteers. Each recipient was unique in their own right, serving in different capacities for many various causes. However, the common thread between these 20 past unsung heroes has been an anonymous, unselfish dedication to the community and the organizations to which they have given their time. This tradition of selflessness through volunteerism continues this year, as the Community Foundation is proud to announce Kenneth M. Kilburn of Jamestown as the 2006 Axel W. Carlson Award Recipient.
Ken is the purest definition of the phrase “outstanding all-around volunteer,” and where it all starts for Ken is the American Red Cross. For over 15 years, Ken has been a disaster relief volunteer for the Red Cross. He responds, day and night, to all types of local disasters to assist victims by providing food, clothing, and shelter. Most recently, Ken served as one of the chief relief volunteers at the Lafayette Street apartment fire that left 15 families without a home. Yet, Ken’s disaster relief volunteer work is not limited to Jamestown, as he has also been deployed to 15 national disasters, with 4 of the largest being: the Mississippi River floods in Iowa (early 90s); Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew in Florida; and September 11th in New York City, providing shelter and food at a relief center for workers at Ground Zero. Of all his disaster relief experiences, Ken easily recounts 9/11 as the most overwhelming. “All the disasters I have participated in have been on an unimaginable scale, but 9/11 was nearly impossible to comprehend. It has left a large impression on me.”
Ken’s volunteer involvement is not limited to disaster relief with the Red Cross. Ken has spent countless hours in many other roles in the community, starting with weekly responsibilities for Meals on Wheels and WCA Hospital. In 1990, Ken and his wife, Ingrid, began delivering meals to elderly citizens once a week. This is a volunteer role they continue today. Additionally, Ken and Ingrid also began volunteering at WCA Hospital in 1988. Ken has volunteered at WCA, transporting patients in the Physical Therapy department since 1988 and takes part in this volunteer activity once a week.
Ken’s professional background as a former employee of the Jamestown Telephone Company has also come in handy during the course of his volunteer work. Of the approximately 15 build projects Habitat for Humanity has undertaken in Chautauqua County, Ken has participated in all of them. His duties with these builds have included actual construction work to the electrical wiring of some of the facilities. Ken even traveled to India one year to participate in an international Habitat build program.
There are many other activities to which Ken gives his time including: Volunteer tax consulting/preparation for the elderly through an R.S.V.P program; carpool driver for Zion Covenant Church; bell-ringing for The Salvation Army holiday campaign; and many other involvements. It would take a book to outline all of Ken’s service in detail.
Ken was awarded the Axel Carlson Award on a June 2nd ceremony held in his honor. Ken was awarded $1,000 for his personal use and $500 for the charity of his choice. Yet, displaying the virtues of a true unsung hero, Ken donated all $1,500 to area non-profits ($500 each to St. Susan Center, Prendergast Library, and American Red Cross). Ken stated, “It wasn’t money I was planning on having, and those organizations need it much more than I do.”
Through the entire awarding process, Ken remained humble, as he does not view his volunteer involvement as being extraordinary or special. In closing, Ken stated, “I have time to give and what better way to give my time than for good organizations that help other people.”
Published in the June 4th edition of The Post-Journal