Navy officer featured as King Turkey Day speaker
WORTHINGTON -- It's been more than 20 years since Andre Kirkwood set foot in Worthington, the city he considers his hometown.
Like many local alumni, he'll return this week to take in the community's King Turkey Day festivities. But for Andre, it's more than just a chance to reunite with old friends and acquaintances. He has been named as the King Turkey Day featured speaker.
Andre came to the attention of the King Turkey Day Board of Directors after he was featured in a January Daily Globe article following his retirement after 30 years in the U.S. Navy.
"My sister gave a copy of the article to me and said he would be a wonderful speaker because of his great success and how he turned his life around," explained KTD President Kari Meyer.
Andre, a 1975 graduate of Worthington High School, excelled in athletics in school, but admits he didn't apply himself academically. He redeemed himself in the Navy, rising to the rank of Master Chief -- the highest achievable for enlisted personnel. Now retired from military service, Andre is employed by Cubic Defense Applications -- a company that provides realistic live combat training systems and other training-related services for military forces -- as a joint training analyst assigned to the Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Va.
Traditionally, the KTD speaker has been a political figure, with past notable speakers including Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In recent years, however, it's become more difficult to secure prominent political figures, and the KTD board has somewhat shifted the emphasis away from politics, although still staying open to possibilities.
"We gave all three (political) parties a chance to submit somebody to us by Aug. 16, and nothing was submitted," Meyer said. "So we went with Andre."
Andre was astounded when Meyer called and asked if he'd be willing to speak.
"A little surprised? I was real surprised," Andre said via telephone from his home in Virginia Beach, Va. "I thought about it a little bit, but I basically called her right back -- 'Are you sure, Kari?' But I knew I wanted to do it."
Accompanying Andre on his sentimental journey from Virginia to Minnesota will be his wife, Debbie, and parents, Hannah and Joseph Kirkwood. His sister, Pam, lives in the Twin Cities and will also attend the celebration, and there's a slight chance that his brother, Michael, will show up, too.
The Kirkwood family moved to Worthington when Andre was 9 years old. Although Worthington is now culturally diverse, back then, it was a predominantly white community, and the Kirkwoods were some of the first black residents who came here to work at what was then the Armour packing plant. Hannah and Joe left Worthington in the mid-1980s and now also live in Virginia.
The last time Andre remembers being in Worthington was shortly before his parents moved. But he has many fond memories of his growing-up years in Worthington and King Turkey Day in particular. He recalled the weekend's traditional football game as well as attending the parade as a young boy.
"I remember sitting in front of Bishop's (clothing store) -- that's where we always sat -- and, as a young kid, jumping up to try to view the parade," he recalled.
During his speech, Andre plans to conjure up some of those memories as well as offering some food for thought to area residents. Although he didn't want to divulge his entire speech, he said, "I'm going to talk on some issues I've been finding in the paper, talk about some different things going on in the community, touch base on that, with my upbringing and how people were treated, and then put a twist in comparing Worthington to the military service, and then I'm going to sum up my thoughts."
Andre looks forward to showing his wife his hometown as well as reconnecting with the people and places he used to know. He said his parents are also excited about coming back.
"You get so wrapped up in your own career that you forget about things" he reflected. "People in that town know me. They knew me in my younger days. I can't talk to anybody here about that, because they weren't there.
"In the military, my name wasn't Andre. It was Chief Warrant Officer or it was Sir. It's kind of nice getting to be Andre."
The featured speaker presentation gets under way at 1 p.m. Saturday on 10th Street, in front of the Nobles County Government Center. The Great Gobbler Gallop will follow.