Our MyTown Hero for 2012

Kennedy McLellan, MyTown Hero

A young girl with a big heart

Kennedy McLellan, a 7-year-old from Dupree, should have been putting together her Christmas wish list for Santa Claus.  Instead, the pint-sized philanthropist was playing Santa herself, raising nearly a thousand dollars so she could give a Rapid City family their Christmas.

For this massive endeavor, Kennedy is our MyTown Hero.  “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome,” Kennedy’s mother Mariah said.  “That someone noticed what she did is really humbling.”

Kennedy is still a little overwhelmed, having a hard time explaining how she feels about being recognized for her charity.  “I don’t know if Kennedy realizes what she did and the impact she’s had.  I hope some day she realizes how many lives she’s touched,” Mariah explained.  ” I think she’s touched a lot of people.”

Arleigh McLellan, Kennedy’s uncle

What prompted Kennedy was, unfortunately, a family tragedy.  Her uncle, 18-year-old Arleigh McLellan, was killed in a car crash in October.  Kennedy’s mother, Mariah, says the entire family was struggling with Arleigh’s death.  That’s when a school counselor suggested Kennedy do something to honor her uncle’s memory.

With the holidays coming, Kennedy decided it would be her mission to help the homeless or help needy children have a happy Christmas.  Kennedy’s mother Mariah was surprised at what her daughter was going to attempt.  Her mother was especially concerned about how much money Kennedy could raise in a small community in Zeibach, a relatively poor South Dakota county.  “I hoped her dreams weren’t smashed,” her mother said.

Kennedy McLellan and her mother Mariah pick up the $500 prize. Kennedy says the money will help her continue the Christmas charity next year. Photo by Jack Siebold

Kennedy started small; an old box for people to plunk in change at a family gathering.  This netted $76.  Another $80 was raised at a small-town craft fair and soon, Kennedy was receiving hundred-dollar checks from churches.  By the middle of December she had $945; enough to give a family a memorable Christmas.

Even as Kennedy was picking out gifts, donations came in. Two shoppers saw what she was doing and donated $100 on the spot. Video Capture by Chris Davis

Then Kennedy took it to another, more personal level.  Instead of just giving the money to a charity to buy gifts and distribute them anonymously, Kennedy’s mother found a deserving family through Church Response — five children who live with their grandparents in a small apartment.  “She did good.  She picked out everything, she knew what kids that age would like,” Mariah said.

Edgar Bear Runner, the grandfather, said “She’s a little girl with a big heart.”

Because of her big heart, Kennedy receives a $500 check she can use to continue her holiday charity next Christmas.  “This will be a good jump start for next year,” Kennedy’s mother said.  “We want to stay in touch with the family, see how they are doing.”

Here is the original KOTA TV News story about Kennedy; reported by Chris Davis:

About Jack Siebold

Jack Siebold began his journalism career in 1973 as a sports reporter for a weekly military newspaper at Keesler AFB, Miss. This was followed by a stint as a reporter at another military paper in Texas; then jobs as a weekly newspaper editor in Turkey, Italy and England. Jack finally landed in South Dakota to finish his military journalism career at Ellsworth AFB. Jack shifted to broadcast news when he retired from the military in 1993 and was hired by KOTA TV News as the assignment editor. In 19 years with KOTA, Jack was the assignment editor, general assignment reporter, senior reporter, a producer and finally assistant news director before retiring in 2012. After a short retirement (spent working at Black Hills Harley-Davidson due to his love of motorcycles) Jack returned to KOTA as the online media specialist for MyTown. Jack’s journalism honors include two awards from the Associated Press for investigative reporting and a documentary series. During his military career, he earned 13 awards for editorial, news and sports writing; photojournalism and newspaper management. During the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), Jack was assigned to the Central Command public affairs staff where he helped develop plans, policies and procedures as well as providing guidance for public affairs officers in the Persian Gulf Theater. Jack’s military honors include the Bronze Star for service in the Persian Gulf War; two Meritorious Service Medals, three Commendation Medals, Achievement Medal, Liberation of Kuwait Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, and two National Defense Medals; the Air Force Public Affairs Outstanding Senior NCO for 1992. Jack and his wife Margaret (a Rapid City special education teacher) spend as much time as they can on their Harley, on the open road.

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