The 'uncle' of patriotism Quite a resemblance: For almost 20 years, a 76-year-old Brooklyn Park man has been reminding residents of what America stands for.

November 13, 1995|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Around his Brooklyn Park neighborhood, Kenneth Henry England, 76, who sports a well-kept white goatee, is known as Uncle Sam. Or Unc, for short.

It's been that way for nearly two decades -- ever since Mr. England dressed as Uncle Sam to visit the Freedom Train that was touring the country to celebrate the Bicentennial in 1976 when it stopped in Baltimore.

"People thought I was on the Freedom Train," recalled a bespectacled Mr. England. "They were taking pictures and shaking my hand and everything."

Soon, he was making up to 125 appearances a year, in schools and parades and senior citizens centers, he said. But both his knees have been replaced and he isn't as energetic as he used to be.

Still, he put in an appearance at a Veterans Day ceremony Saturday at the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery and plans to ride a float in the Thanksgiving parade in Baltimore.

Mr. England wears the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, good conduct, American Campaign, Pacific Campaign and Victory medals he earned during World War II on the jacket of his Uncle Sam suit.

Tucked inside the lapels, he keeps a miniature American flag pin and two tiny hands folded in prayer.

"I stand for one thing. That's flag and patriotism," said Mr. England, a retired food service manager for the Smithsonian Institution's Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge.

It was at the conference center that he started growing his goatee for a lark, after the director of the center told him she "wanted a continental look in the kitchen," he said.

Mr. England has lived in the same house in the 300 block of Church St. with his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Shirley, for 40 years.

The walls of his bedroom are covered with plaques and pictures of him in costume. There is a framed page from a June 1989 Congressional Record thanking him for brightening his community as Uncle Sam. More awards are stacked in another room.

Friends describe him as a warm, gentle man with a fondness for children.

"He used to give out little flags and buttons at his own expense. Now he's slowing down a little bit. But he's quite a patriot," said Samuel G. Kemp, 75, owner of Cedar Hill Florists in Brooklyn Park and a friend for 50 years.

State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno has known Mr. England for nearly 20 years. Dressed as Uncle Sam, Mr. England visited the classrooms of Mr. Jimeno's children when they were in elementary school.

"I think Ken England has done more to teach children about history and patriotism than any classroom instruction," said Mr. Jimeno.

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