KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Locally famous for waving at each passing vehicle in his Rocky Hill neighborhood of Knoxville, Army veteran Kenny Neely has been told by his doctors to get his affairs in order. He has lung cancer and is expecting just four to six more months of life. All treatments have stopped, but he says he feels OK, so he continues to sit at the end of his drive and wave.
Neely waves, that is, unless there's a Tennessee Vols football game on TV. Then he watches with his neighbor, Betsy Norris, who has helped him get to doctors' appointments, fill prescriptions and does other neighborly acts of kindness.
His goal now, aside from waving at his many friends who pass by, is to live until Sept. 10, to see the Vols play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. "It's supposed to be the biggest football game ever played," he said. "I hope I get to live to see it."
Neely's life is simple. He likes to eat Cheetos, drink iced tea, sit under his favorite tree at the end of his drive and wave at passers-by from the lawn chair that one of those passers-by gave him. He usually takes up his place to wave about 11 a.m., unless it's too cold, or raining. But if it's hot, he insists there's a breeze right where he sits, even if there's no other breeze around. So he waves, and people wave back.
"A lot of people stop and thank me for waving at them," he said. He waves at kids on the local school bus and at the bus driver. He waves at those from the assisted living facility down on the corner. He waves at the mailman, who usually comes by about 11:30. He waves at everyone, and most wave back. They've also brought him gifts of food, extra lawn chairs and cold colas.
He started waving back in 1998, while he'd wait for a ride to pick him up for work. He had a career laying flooring back then, before he had a stroke. Since then, waving has been his primary activity, aside from watching the Vols. When asked why he waves, he said, "Why not? . Someone told me people come all the way from North Knoxville just to drive by and see me wave." He seemed very pleased with that idea.
"A lot of people come back and ask if I'm OK," he said. "I tell them yeah, pretty much," he shrugged.
He's a well-known personality around Rocky Hill, at Butler & Bailey grocery on Northshore, as well as at the laundromat, the Marathon gas station, Weigels, BB&T and CVS, where he said "(the pharmacist) Kathy is real nice there."
Norris and Scott Davis have set up a GoFundMe account in Neely's name to cover final expenses and clear the driveway, which is too overgrown to allow an ambulance in to transport him when the time comes. The page has had over 1,100 shares. For those who would like to help, visit https://www.gofundme.com/KennyNeely .