He was 22 years old when he left this mortal life, on a dusty road in the township of Yusafiyah, a region of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death.
The date was May 22, 2005. Sgt. Kenny Schall, Phoenix-born and Peoria-raised, was riding in his Army Humvee in the thick of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Let the record show that while this was Kenny Schall’s last day alive, his story has yet to end. His parents, Terri and John, his sister Jessica and his brother Matthew, and a patriotic group of Phoenix firefighters have made sure of that.
Thousands of partygoers from around the Valley, attend a Hawaiian-themed charitable event known as “Get Leid For Kenny.”
This year’s version, set for Oct. 19, will be the eighth annual GLFK, to be hosted at Sunbar on Tempe’s Mill Avenue.
Staged by an all-volunteer corps of Kenny Schall fans – most of whom never met this American hero – GLFK8 promises to raise in the neighborhood of $20,000 for the Sgt. Kenneth Schall Memorial Scholarship Fund and the United Phoenix Firefighter Charities.
Terri Schall chokes up as she discusses Kenny and the 50 or so Valley students who have gone to college helped by the scholarship bearing his name.
“There are no words to express how much this means to us,” says the proud mom, whose family also hosts an annual golf tournament memorializing Kenny. “I am so honored that Kenny’s not been forgotten. It’s an amazing thing that he’s touched so many people after the fact.”
Kenny’s capacity to inspire traces back through a Phoenix firehouse, into his childhood in Peoria.
A five-time medalist golfer at Centennial High School, Schall became best friends with a kid named Troy Holtorf, who grew up to be a Phoenix firefighter.
It was Holtorf who told Kenny’s story of sacrifice to Mario Martinez and Ben Lindquist, firefighters with a knack for charitable work.
Lindquist, inspired by the story of a local kid who joined the Army in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, called Terri Schall out of the blue and explained the concept of Get Leid for Kenny.
“She probably thought we were nuts,” said Lindquist. “I told her, “Hey, we’re going to do this party and give you a bunch of money for charity.’ But Terri did her research and people kind of liked the idea and here we are.”
Over time, GLFK has grown from a shindig in Lindquist’s garage to touring musicians filling Sunbar with rock-n-roll, sponsors (including – full disclosure – yours truly) and about a thousand event-goers who will raise a glass to Schall this year.
“I just felt like I could really relate to Kenny’s story and we wanted to pay appreciation to him and everyone in the military, their service,” said Lindquist. “It’s become a kind of family.”
In a time when social media can be toxic, GLFK has gone viral with an odd, positive twist.
The event’s admission ticket is a unique t-shirt, which GLFKers have taken to wearing on vacations around the globe. Kenny fans have posted pictures of themselves and their t-shirts in the Cayman Islands, Cancun, Kauai, Telluride, Buckingham Palace – exotic places Sgt. Kenny Schall might have gone in his life post-Army.
In this way, Schall’s story has transcended his grave in Arlington and those last moments on a dusty road in Iraq.
“I know he’s proud of what we’ve done in his name,” says Terri Schall. “Kenny would be very proud and very humbled. He never wanted to be the center of attention … but I guess he has to take one for the team.”