A positive influence for 38 years: Kenno Shoaf retires from YMCA

Published 12:05 am Monday, June 5, 2017

Rebecca Rider


SALISBURY — Kenneth “Kenno” Shoaf can’t open his hand for a handshake, so he greets people by bumping fists. And at his retirement celebration Sunday, there were a lot of people to greet.

Kenno, as he’s known to most, zipped around one of the courts of the JF Hurley YMCA Sunday afternoon saying hello to old friends, pausing for pictures with a big smile and leaning into hugs.

After 38 years with the Salisbury branch of the YMCA, Kenno has decided to seek a different adventure. The journey that led him here, to a basketball court on a rainy Sunday afternoon, began in 1973. Just a teenager at the time, Kenno dived into a pool and struck his head against the bottom. The accident left him paralyzed.

“I wasn’t happy with the direction my life was going,” he said of the years following the accident.

Six years later, in 1978, Kenno went to work for the YMCA.

“And he’s been here ever since,” Stan Osteen, former programming director for the YMCA, said.

Osteen was Kenno’s orderly, taking care of him the day after his accident — he was also the one who hired him to come on board with the YMCA. Kenno always had an avid interest in sports, he said, and soon rose through the ranks to become the gym’s adult programs director.

Over the years, Kenno’s been an irreplaceable face at the YMCA. He’s run after-school programs, played fooseball with teens, refereed and coached volleyball, basketball and softball teams.

Kenno said he felt like it was time to retire.

“I worried, ‘Am I making the right decision?’ ” he said.

In his years with the YMCA, Osteen said Kenno has been a positive influence on thousands of adults and children, and described him as “one of the toughest people I know — I’ve never heard him complain about anything.”

Dozens turned out for the afternoon reception, held between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., including Mayor Karen Alexander, who called Kenno “an ambassador of goodwill” and a “treasure and well-respected citizen.” Alexander issued a proclamation naming Sunday, June 4, as Kenneth “Kenno” Ray Shoaf Day. The basketball court used for the reception has also been designated “Kenno’s Court” — the name is emblazoned on the floor in “true” Carolina blue.

Others spoke during the reception, remarking on Kenno’s loyalty, his enthusiasm, his kindness and his tenacity. Local attorney James Davis called him the a “bedrock of this YMCA and this community.”

“You stand taller than the rest of us,” Davis said. “Your shadow looms large, and you will be remembered for 1,000 years.”

“The YMCA has been my passion all of these years,” Kenno said, “and now I will focus on my future.”

Kenno has plans to stay involved with the YMCA, and Osteen said he’s leaving the organization with an important legacy.

“Don’t give up — don’t ever give up,” he said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.