GROTON -- Affable, friendly and always ready to share his time and experience, everyone who knows Kevin McKenzie, the town's energetic representative on the School Committee for the Nashoba Valley Technical High School, agree that he is "a great guy."
Sadly however, that fount of enthusiasm for the technical school's virtues and tireless booster of its students to whom he was dedicated, has been forced from the scene by forces beyond his control.
Diagnosed with lung cancer, McKenzie has been in declining health for months. His condition has deteriorated to the point where he has had to leave home for a bed in a Rhode Island nursing home where he can have full-time care.
Although that was bad enough, his family has been placed under the added burden not only of finding a facility willing to take in a dying patient, but the means for paying for its round-the-clock services.
"This guy has been deemed terminal and no one will take him," said Berta Erickson, who has taken the lead in a new fundraising effort to help pay for McKenzie's medical expenses. "The man has been given no dignity. It's an affront to anyone who has worked their whole life and given to their community, raised a family and paid their insurance premiums. Kevin did everything he needed to do and now here he is, left out between the cracks of the insurance company or the state or whatever. It's just awful.
Alarmed to learn that the family must pay $11,000 a month or an average $400 a day for McKenzie's care, Erickson and other concerned residents quickly established the Kevin McKenzie Medical Support Fund. Students at Nashoba Valley Tech have created a logo "Care for Kevin" to help spread the word.
"The insurance industry has failed him," said Erickson, controlling her temper. "In fact, the whole system has failed him big time. This effort is just trying to help Kevin's family and give them a boost because at this time, it is all out-of-pocket for them."
Erickson said that McKenzie requires a ventilator to stay alive. But because the insurance company will not cover a person who is dying, the family is on its own. Even hospitals will not take a person who is expected to die. In McKenzie's case, there was only a single hospital in Massachusetts willing to do so but it was more expensive than a nursing home the family found in Rhode Island where McKenzie currently resides, an hour and half drive from Groton.
Once she made the decision to help, Erickson had little trouble finding others to join the effort.
"I got the group together after talking to Kevin's wife," revealed Erickson. "I got together people who I knew were key in the community and who I knew could help out with this kind of effort."
With little planning, once word was out that a fundraising effort was in the works, people seemed to take up the challenge with little direction from the group. Nashoba Valley Tech took the lead with a pre-planned event for the school held at the Bull Run Restaurant on June 20.
"It started out to be a fundraiser for Nashoba Tech's athletic department but they converted it to a fundraiser for Kevin instead," said Erickson. "It's a comedy hour. The switch came as a pleasant surprise to us. It wasn't on the horizon when our group got together to begin planning. Our own initial event will be the town's Fourth of July celebration, which takes place on the eighth of July. Don Black, who organizes it, is going to get the Police and Fire departments and Boy Scouts together to pass the boot for Kevin."
Still in the talking stages are such fundraising ideas as holding an auction and dinner at Groton Country Club, a concert at Nashoba Valley Tech and a golf tournament in the fall.
On a separate front, Erickson said state Rep. Sheila Harrington is working on the state level to see what can be done for people in McKenzie's position who, after a lifetime of paying taxes, paying his insurance premiums and asking for nothing from the public coffers, find themselves completely abandoned by the society they helped to support.
Also at the state level, McKenzie's fellow School Committee member Samuel Poulton is said to be using what influence he has to get something done.
"There are people who are concerned and working on the issue in different ways," confirmed Erickson.
Those interested in helping the McKenzie family or participating in the fundraising on a monetary level can mail a check to the Kevin McKenzie Medical Support Fund, in care of North Middlesex Savings Bank, 489 Main St., P.O. Box 1250, Groton, MA, 01450.
More information can be found on the town of Groton or Nashoba Valley Tech websites or by reaching Erickson by telephone at 978-448-6629.
"Kevin is highly regarded in Groton," said Erickson. "Without doubt, he has been the most contributory school representative on the Nashoba Valley Tech School Committee in the history of the town and I've lived here for 40 years.
"He brought communication between the town and Nashoba Valley Tech," she said. "Also, as a former selectman told me the other day, Kevin gave invaluable advice and guidance to the Board of Selectmen.
"He certainly helped me as a School Committee member," Erickson said. "Basically, he gave me advice on things Nashoba Valley was doing that led me to do things with my own School Committee that was ahead of their time. Things like trying to get a stabilization fund started to help cover unanticipated expenses without affecting the regular budget, something that Nashoba Valley already had.
"He was always coming forward with ideas that helped promote the school district in town," she continued. "In fact, the current chairman of the Nashoba Valley Tech School Committee told me how much she missed him because of his invaluable advice. So as far as I'm concerned, he and Nashoba Valley Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz worked so well together that they had a symbiotic relationship. He was great guy for the town of Groton."