Originally from the east coast, Kenny now lives in West St. Paul, and has been married to Angie for 34 years. Though now retired, Kenny worked as a Podiatrist at the Minneapolis VA for over 30 years. Much more on that subject below. Kenny and Angie met at the VA in the late 1970’s, where she worked in Admissions. In later years she returned to school to complete the nursing degree that she had begun in the early ‘70’s, eventually finishing that in 1995.
Son Eric works in accounting for the reinsurance company RGA and is engaged to Sarah, while younger son Keith lives with girlfriend Brenna in Andover, and is also a podiatrist (I can’t resist – he followed in his old man’s footsteps).
We met recently at the kitchen table in their home, in the same spot where not that many years ago Kenny and Angie mixed up Plaster of Paris to take molds of my feet, which were sent off to make the custom orthotic inserts that I use to this day.
I’ve put up with Kenny over the years in spite of his bad jokes. In years past, it seems he would often call me for little or no reason other than to share more jokes he had learned. Witness the very first thing he said as I walked in the door to their home recently.
Why can’t they keep Jewish people in jail?
Oh, you’re going to start right off aren’t you. OK, why can’t they keep Jewish people in jail?
Because they eat lox.
That’s actually pretty good! But before you get started, let me turn this recorder on, and we need to begin with the basics. Tell me all about your growing up years.
I was born in Washington DC, and my parents were Maurice and Janette (nee Kirsch). My father was an accountant with the Government Printing Office, and his father was a cigar maker (though the name was presumably spelled Cantor at the time). My mother’s father worked as a barber and had his own shop on 14th Street in DC for many years. But my father was quite sick for many of his final years, so my mother became his caregiver, even though she didn’t have a car, so it was quite a burden. About a year after my father died, my mother married his cardiologist, who had lost his own wife about the same time. And my mother lived to the age of 96.
Tell me about high school, what activities were you in?
I went to high school in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Goldie Hawn graduated the year before me. But I was only active in AZA (the Jewish youth group, BBYO). I was Godol of Chapter Sracas.
That’s pretty impressive! (Aleph Godol being essentially the president of his chapter) I only made it as high as Aleph Sopher (newsletter editor). Are you still in touch with your AZA buddies?
Yes, Joel Hertz, Drew Fonoroff, Stephen Shapiro, Forrest Malakoff and others, and several still come to visit us here.
Do you remember your Bar mitzvah?
I do, it was January 30, 1960, at Shaare Tefila. My father paid some guy $4 a week to teach me haftarah.
Do you remember what your haftarah portion was?
(though an easy Google search these days reveals that the Parashat that week was Va’eria, meaning that his haftarah was from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.)
How about college?
I went to Montgomery Community College for one year, then transferred to the University of Maryland for three more years and got my degree in Animal Science. I lived at home through college, since it was only 15 minutes away. After college I wanted to go to veterinary school, but Maryland didn’t have one, so I applied to Georgia, but they only took ten students from out of state.
That sounds just like my story. Actually that’s how I ended up in Minnesota. It seems like not getting into vet school has made for some pretty good alternate careers.
I had to choose between podiatry and optometry school, but I met with an optometrist and didn’t like that, so I ended up in podiatry school in Philadelphia, for a three year program. It was about that time that President Nixon signed into place a draft deferment for health care professionals, including podiatry students. Before that happened, I was classified A1 and had just received my induction notice, but I appealed it and eventually got the deferment.
What did you like most about podiatry school?
It kept me out of Vietnam.
Angie: He was very dedicated in podiatry school. He didn’t have a car, or a TV, or a phone. He just studied all the time.
Where did you go from there?
After I got my degree I went to DC, and worked about six years for a podiatrist partnership that had offices in DC and Virginia. One day I saw an ad in the podiatry journal for positions at the VA, and there were spots in Seattle and Minneapolis. They were starting a new program to place podiatrists in VA’s at the time. But I thought Seattle was too rainy, so I interviewed for the job in Minneapolis (Minneanapolis, as his mother would say), and they hired me that very day. I was the first podiatrist at the Minneapolis VA, and for several years I was the only one there.
The day I interviewed with the Chief of Staff, Dr. Robert Petzel, I had poison ivy from working outdoors with my brother, and I was scratching my arms throughout the interview. But they offered me the job on the spot.
Angie: they felt sorry for him I think.
When did Angie come into the picture?
Angie: I was working in Admissions, and my girlfriend was his secretary. One day she told me she would bring Kenny through Admissions and said ‘see what you think’. And afterwards he told her “she’s cute’ and I told her ‘he’s handsome’. And soon after that he called me up at like 8 or 9 one night, and said ‘I’d like to take you out sometime”. And I said ‘when?’, and he said ‘how about now?’. So he picked me up that same night and we went out – to a sandwich place. We met in 1979 and were married by Rabbi Lerner at Mount Zion in 1981 – in the Lipschultz Lounge.
Ken’s life these days revolves around his continuing battle with Ataxia, and its many complications and set backs. Ataxia is typically caused by damage to the cerebellum, and can include symptoms that affect movement, speech, eye movement, and swallowing.
Angie – It was diagnosed in 1997. The first thing we noticed, he was playing left field in a softball game one day. He always played left field. And Kenny had always been athletic, like lightning, he never missed a ball. But that day he missed two balls in the outfield. And I asked him after ‘what’s wrong with you?’, and he said ‘I saw more than one ball, I didn’t know which one to catch’. That was the first indication. So he went to see the eye doctor, who told him ‘its not your eyes, its your brain’.
Fast forward to today, recent bouts with pneumonia have landed Kenny in the hospital, always with Angie at his side, sleeping on the couch in his room, and serving as his personal nurse, caregiver, and advocate. During another stay just last month (there’s been yet another one since), Angie asked the doctors if they would let Kenny leave for the day, to take part in the annual Walk, Stroll n’ Roll for Ataxia Awareness event – an event they’ve taken part in each September. It was either that, she told them, or he would go AWOL for the day. Fortunately, after monitoring his many vital signs (or perhaps just knowing Angie), the doctors saw fit to give him leave for the day – on oxygen. This photo shows the family, each wearing shirts that a friend designed for Kenny’s supporters, who are known as “Team Left Field” .
While all of the thoughts above are Kenny’s, speech itself doesn’t come easily these days, so many of the actual words were provided with the ample and loving assistance of Angie.
But certain other words speak for themselves, and in fact are framed on their living room wall, in a plaque containing a page from the US Congressional Record dated July 28, 2010, entitled “HONORING THE CAREER OF DR. KENNETH CANTER, D.P.M.” It is authored by Representative Betty McCollum, in which she states:
Madam Speaker, today I rise to honor the service of Dr. Kenneth Canter, Director of Podiatric Medicine, who recently retired after 32 years serving our veterans at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.
(in addition to reciting his educational background and accomplishments, including scientific articles he has written and the many students he has mentored, the Record goes on to conclude)
Dr. Canter cared for Minnesota veterans with compassion and respect, always taking additional care to render the finest and most effective treatment … Dr. Canter’s dedication to outstanding medical care and sincere concern for our nation’s veterans are the qualities of a truly great VA doctor, and I am proud that he is a resident of my Congressional District.
As I rose to leave, Kenny reached out to shake my hand, and wanted to be sure that I saw that plaque on the wall. He is justifiably proud of it. And as I began to leave, it was clear that he just won’t give up, calling to me again from across the room as the door closed behind me – though all I could make out was …
Why did the chicken ….