How an 80-year-old Navy vet from Mahtomedi became a TikTok sensation – Twin Cities


When Kenny Jary first talked to Amazon’s Alexa, it did not go well.

Jary, of Mahtomedi, had a pressing question for the world’s most popular virtual assistant: “Alexa, how about sausage-and-pepperoni pizzas? Are they good for you, or not?”

“Sausage added to your shopping list,” Alexa responded, her robotic voice reverberating through the kitchen.

“I can’t — what’d you — shopping list?” Jary said. “I don’t want shoppa — underwear?! I didn’t say that!”

The exchange, shared on the video app TikTok, has been viewed over 23 million times.

@patriotickenny

80 year olds use Alexa for the first time, Pt 1. 🤖🩲🍕 #technology #alexa #amazon #alexatransforms #3dprinting #kennycrew #kennyscooter #kennydoeslife #fyp

♬ Relaxed everyday loop BGM – Milk

Nine more videos featuring Jary’s Alexa antics soon followed. In one, he asks her to play 20 questions. In another, he asks her to make fart noises. All have been featured on the 80-year-old Navy veteran’s TikTok account, @patriotickenny, which has 1.8 million followers.

Jary, who rolls through Mahtomedi on a mobility scooter decked in red, white and blue streamers, takes his TikTok celebrity in stride. He waves to everyone in town, whether he knows them or not. “Hey there! How you doing?” Jary said last week as he saluted a man driving past on Mahtomedi Avenue.

His mission, he says, is to “do good and spread kindness.”

That mission grew last year after meeting Amanda Kline outside the Wild Bean Coffee Shop in Mahtomedi. A mutual friend, who knew both frequented the coffee shop, had suggested they look out for each other.

Kline, 37, of Willernie, was so taken by Jary’s mission that she offered to set him up with his own TikTok account. She came up with the @patriotickenny handle.

Their first video featured Jary sitting on his scooter and saying “Thank you” and “Hello” in American Sign Language. It debuted in August.

“This is Kenny,” the caption reads. “He’s a 79-year-old Navy vet. He’s hearing, but trying to learn ASL to communicate with his Deaf buddy Jerry.”

@patriotickenny

Meet the sweetest guy you’ve ever know. #fyp #senior #seniorcitizen #asl #veteran @didyouknowthatasl

♬ Here Comes the Sun – Relaxing Instrumental Music

More videos followed. In one, Jary scoots past a red Tesla, yelling, “My electric car is better than your electric car.” In another, Jary talks to his friend, Jerry Cooper, over the FaceTime calling app, which Jary calls “SpaceTime.”

“Kenny’s personality is contagious, and he’s so genuine and authentic,” said Kline, who teaches at the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul. “Everyone who meets Kenny loves him.”

FOLLOWERS GIVE BACK

Kenny Jary and Amanda Kline talk about how they first met at this location in front of The Wild Bean Coffee Shop in Mahtomedi. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

A month after Jary’s TikTok account debuted, his mobility scooter broke down. Jary, who didn’t have the money to repair it, was devastated. Kline helped him shared the news on the TikTok account.

“The whole point of showing it was to highlight to the world that this joyful guy isn’t always happy,” she said. “He goes through hardships, just like everyone else, but he doesn’t give up. As Kenny says, ‘We have to struggle on.’ ”

The response was overwhelming. TikTok fans set up a GoFundMe fundraising page and raised $5,000 within the day — more than twice the original goal.

Jary’s emotional reaction to the news was shared on TikTok on Sept. 19, getting over 12.5 million views.

“Within 24 hours, people on TikTok, strangers who have never met you, but love you, donated $5,000 for a scooter for you,” Kline tells Jary in the video.

“No! You’re kidding! $5,000? On TikTok? That is so wonderful,” Jary says, as he breaks down in tears. “I’m sorry for being so emotional, but I can’t help it. That is so nice, Amanda. That’s the nicest gift I’ve ever had in my whole life and then some.”

@patriotickenny

@TikTok family came through with a $5,000 donation for Kenny’s scooter. Here’s his reaction. Grab your tissues. #fyp #fypシ #viral #veteran #senior

♬ Loving Strangers – Russian Red

By Sept. 22, Jary’s followers had raised over $101,000.

The money allowed Jary, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to move to a two-bedroom apartment in Piccadilly Square, a senior-living apartment complex. He paid off his medical bills and back taxes and got some much-needed dental work done. He also was able to buy a new scooter, a portable oxygen tank, a 2011 Ford Escape and furniture for his apartment.

Kline and Jary, along with Jerry Cooper and his daughter, Jenny, started a second GoFundMe fundraiser to help other veterans who need mobility scooters. That fund has raised over $50,000.

Jary, who served on the USS Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis, said it’s an honor to help fellow veterans.

“I know personally how they feel because I was without one, and I couldn’t do nothing. Period,” he said of his scooter. “I was very depressed because I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go out around the neighborhood and around town and to the coffee shop and talk with people, you know.”

The friends so far have given away about 50 scooters.

SHARING REGRETS

Jary grew up in St. Paul, joined the Navy Reserve in 1959 and graduated from Monroe High School a year later. He then went on active duty, serving as helicopter refueler on the USS Okinawa until 1963.

Serving in the military taught him to work hard, be respectful of others and “how to make a bed and do laundry,” he said.

“In America, we got freedom, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “The military gave us our great freedom, and everybody in the United States should be so proud of that.”

Jary later worked at the Ford plant in St. Paul for 32 years. He married Carol Marsh in 1965 and had three children. The couple divorced in 1988 but remained close until her death in 2018. Jary’s longtime girlfriend, Barbara Sanz, died in 2017.

In a Sept. 30 video post, Jary talked about his regrets.