Meet the Grand Marshal!
If Kenny sets the tone, the parade should be one to remember. He is known to everyone on Ocracoke as both a community leader and a reliable source of pranks, parties and playfulness.
The oldest child of Lawrence and Vera Ballance, Kenny is a youthful 57. He retires from his career with the National Park Service in October, having served for the last dozen years as the Head Ranger for the Ocracoke District. When he began working for the park in 1977, as a campground clerk, Jake Alligood, Wallace Spencer, Shirley O'Neal, Mack Womac, Judy Lawson and his brother, Alton, were all NPS employees. Bill Caswell and Howard Bennink were lifeguards.
Alton credits Kenny's temperament and listening skills with alleviating the tensions felt between NPS and locals in other Outer Banks communities. Kenny said maintaining a good working relationship with the community means that situations can be solved without involving law enforcement. He's only pulled his side arm twice in the line of duty, and never fired it.
"People are more scared of my mouth than of my gun," said Kenny. Alton said Kenny has a knack for getting away with saying things that other people can't.
An Ocracoker born and bred, Kenny bridges traditional and modern Ocracoke with ease, as comfortable in a porch rocker chatting with old timers as he is sipping wine at Zillie's with more recent arrivals.
After receiving his degree in Psychology at ECU, Kenny returned to Ocracoke and began caring for Babe Bryant, who was like "a second mother" to the Ballance children. "She used to get in the hall with an old record player and show me, Kathy, and Alton how to Charleston," said Kenny. He also cared for Babe's sisters Mildred and Muzel in the last years of their lives, celebrating Miss Muzie's 100th birthday with a huge party.
In addition to his 35 years with NPS, Kenny waited tables at the Pony Island, Cafe Atlantic, and Capt. Ben's Restaurants. He helped start the Ocracoke Rescue Squad and was an EMT instructor for 12 years. He chaired the Ocracoke Health Center Board, twice. He was also active in the Ocracoke Preservation Society, whipping up wassail for the annual Christmas party, and serving a term as President of the historic society.
Beware the elastic waistband around Kenny, who earned a reputation for yanking down the pants of the unsuspecting. "Lord have mercy. I've pulled so many pants down I can't remember who was the first," laughed Kenny. "I started working at the Pony Island. I pulled down my cousin Nancy Gaskins' pants in front of the bread man."
While he's a master at dishing it out, Kenny is fearless about putting his own ego on the line. He memorably performed in outlandish get-ups in the Variety Shows of the 1970s and 80s, and was goaded into selling himself for a good cause at the WOVV Bachelor Auction last year.
He'll take a breather from work and volunteering when he retires, but not before throwing a whopper of a party. Kenny plans to travel, work in his garden, and looks forward to researching island geneaology.
Be sure to give the inimitable Kenny a big cheer at today's parade.