Janesville63.6°

‘Community icon’ serves hungry

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Carla McCann
January 20, 2008
— Marilyn Kienbaum is a little woman with a big heart and engaging spirit.

She worries about families who are struggling to make ends meet, and she spends countless hours as director of the Whitewater Community Food Pantry making sure they have food on their tables and roofs over their heads.


When Kienbaum isn’t working at the food pantry, she serves the city as a councilwoman. She currently is council president.


At 81, Kienbaum is a widow, who has raised her children. She is a grandmother and a great-grandmother.


She has earned the right to kick back and take life easy. But that’s not a consideration anytime in the near future.


“People need to have someone look out for them,” Kienbaum said.


It’s a role she accepts with an open mind and heart.


“Marilyn is a community icon,” said City Manager Kevin Brunner. “Whitewater is so fortunate to have her working so hard for all of us.”


During the seven years that Kienbaum has served on the council, she often has been the voice of the city’s senior citizens and poor people.


“I’m not going to have anyone stepping all over them,” Kienbaum said.


Today’s seniors live on fixed incomes that can’t keep up with hefty tax increases, Kienbaum said.


“When these people worked, they didn’t make the kind of money it takes to make a living now, and their Social Security benefits are set according to their take-home pay,” Kienbaum said.


As a councilwoman, Kienbaum believes her job is to represent the needs of city residents from all walks of life and economic status.


“Marilyn loves the city,” said City Clerk Michele Smith. “She is very caring about people who are not so fortunate. She’s always very friendly and personable. She stands up for personal convictions.”


Few people can say they haven’t needed a helping hand at one time or another in their lives, Kienbaum said.


During the 20 years that Kienbaum has volunteered at the food pantry, she has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of low-income families.


“They are all good people, struggling to make a life and living,” Kienbaum said.


Her commitment to the pantry started with a request from a former pantry co-chairman who asked for “just some moral support,” Kienbaum said.


Three weeks after offering her help, the man moved to Texas. But not before he handed Kienbaum the pantry’s keys.


She suspects he planned on turning it over to her from the beginning, Kienbaum said.


He obviously made a wise choice.


Kienbaum enters the pantry with a heartfelt compassion for the people she is serving.


“She is very concerned about people,” Smith said.


Kienbaum has no trouble, either, relating to the juvenile offenders sentenced to community service at the pantry.


They all have been perfect gentlemen in working with her, she said.


“I tell them all that I don’t watch the Texas Ranger every day (on TV) for nothing,” she joked, in reference to the character’s karate moves.


MARILYN KIENBAUM
Age: 81.
Community: Whitewater.
Occupation: Retired.
Family: Four sons, Kenneth, John, Jimmy and Leonard; two daughters, Janice Kienbaum and Nancy Thelen; 16 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren.
Favorite hobby or pastime: Reading.
Favorite CD: “Crazy,“ by Patsy Cline.
Favorite movie: “White Christmas.”
Favorite book: “S is for Silence,” by Sue Grafton.
Role model: My husband’s father. “He didn’t have a lot of education, but he was one smart cookie.”
Three words that best describe you: Compassionate, responsible and fun-loving.

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