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GREENWOOD - Manson McKenney Sr. was born during a leap year on Feb. 29, 1944, in Shelbyville. He joined the Marines when he was just 17 years old.
“He loved his country. He was so proud that he served,” said Kimberly Roach, McKenney’s stepdaughter.
After two tours in Vietnam, he earned the Purple Heart medal after an accident involving a tank. He returned to Indiana and met Roach’s mother, Deloris Roberts.
The two were married in 1981. Deloris had six children and McKenney was raising three of his own. Roach recalls McKenney didn’t treat her and her siblings any different than his biological kids. The couple had more children after getting married, raising 14 kids all together. While McKenney was Roach’s stepfather, she fondly calls him dad.
“He deserves it,” said Roach.
McKenney was a pilot and would fly small commercial airplanes. He also enjoyed making model airplanes in his free time. But those were just his hobbies, he put in most hours at General Motors.
McKenney worked at the GM plant by the White River for 45 years. Roach says he was a hard worker who never took a day off, even if he was sick. Co-workers gave him the nickname ‘PeeWee.’ Roach believes he earned the nickname because he wasn’t a very big guy.
After a heart attack forced McKenney to retire, he spent the rest of his life watching his 41 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren grow up.
Family members created a photo collage poster of all of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren for McKenney’s hospital room when he got sick. The poster was in his hospital room for six weeks as he battled COVID-19.
Roach says her mother caught the virus in December, and then her dad started getting symptoms too. His were much worse. Roach says her brother was trying to help their dad and couldn’t get him out of his bed. That’s when they knew his case was serious.
“He couldn’t even stand so I said call an ambulance and get him to the hospital,” said Roach.
McKenney was in the hospital for about a week before he was placed on a ventilator. Roach says that’s when everything started to go downhill, “His lungs were just destroyed.”
As the days went on, Roach remembers doctors calling her mom and advising the family to make some decisions. But, every time family members would come to the hospital to see McKenney, and make that final choice, he would become responsive. This gave Roach and her family hope.
“My mom was like he’s alive. Where there’s life there’s god,” said Roach.
The family asked the doctors what was the next course of treatment and they were told McKenney would need a tracheotomy tube to keep him alive and breathing.
Roach says when her mom asked her dad if that’s what he wanted, he nodded ‘yes.’ He wasn’t ready to go just yet.
After he was put on the breathing tube he briefly improved. Roach says one day he was even eating ice cream. The 76-year-old was getting better enough to do a zoom chat with his family.
“We all got to tell him we loved him. He got to see us all. Because we zoomed it probably looked worse than the Brady Bunch did because of all the little pictures,” said Roach.
She’s grateful he fought so they could have that time to say their goodbyes.
At the beginning of February, Doctors called and said it was time and that McKenney would be passing away soon. Family members were allowed into his room two at a time to share a final moment.
McKenney’s wife Deloris was by his side when he passed away on Feb. 2, 2021. He was 76 years old.
Roach says her dad died peacefully and left behind a legacy of selflessness, bravery and pride for his country.
“There’s not many people like that anymore. He was the most selfless, big hearted, man you’d ever meet in your life… he never thought about himself I’m not kidding you never. We know he loved us all,” said Roach.