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Meet Patriotic Kenny, the 81-Year-Old Minnesota Navy Vet with 2.6M TikTok Followers

'I love every minute of it,' Kenny Jary says of his social media stardom, which has been spun off into a nonprofit.


Amanda Kline, teacher/TikTok pro, next to her friend Kenny Jary.

Whether you're meeting Kenny Jary by phone or watching his hundreds of TikToks, the lone adjective included in his bio—kind—jumps through your speaker. Jary speaks with a crackling enthusiasm that overrides any weathered notes to his 81-year-old voice, all of it undergirded by warm, affable earnestness. And a lot of people are listening to what the U.S. Navy vet from Minnesota is saying: His TikTok account, @PatrioticKenny, has racked up 6.2 million followers.

Jary grew up along St. Paul's West Seventh Street, and from early on felt pulled toward Navy enlistment because of his favorite uncle's service in World War II. After boot camp, the young Minnesotan sailor launched into the Atlantic from Philadelphia aboard the USS Okinawa in the early 1960s. Virginia's Norfolk Naval Shipyard served as homebase for the amphibious assault ship, and soon Jary, a helicopter refueler, was running missions deep into the Caribbean Sea during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (We told Jary, to his great amusement, about the Duluth bear that almost started World War III around that same era.)

"Tensions were high," Jary says of sailing near Cuban waters, waiting for orders. "We didn't know what was going to happen, and we were scared; it's not a fun situation to be in. But you gotta serve as well as you can—what happens happens."

After his tour of duty, Jary returned to St. Paul where he worked for 33 years as a union car builder at Ford's former Twin Cities Assembly Plant off Ford Parkway, now the site of a prohibitively expensive housing development. (He was pleased to hear that his ol' UAW brethren scored "a good contract" following this fall's strike.)

Which brings us to the elephant in the octogenarian's life: How did a humble, hardworking Navy vet and union man become a star on the social media platform defined by Zoomers doing wacky dances?

"Because of TikTok, everything has drastically changed in my life," says Jary, who was something of a Mahtomedi celeb before becoming an internet one. "It brought so many things back, Jay, I could talk for hours and hours about what TikTok has done for me."

Educator Amanda Kline, Jary's neighbor and eventual social media ace, introduced him to TikTok in the summer of 2021, a few months after they'd met.

"When I met Kenny and I saw how much everyone absolutely loved him, I thought, you know, it's not right to keep it just to Mahtomedi, it's gotta go beyond that," says Kline, who works at St. Paul's Metro Deaf School. "We just started talking and we never stopped talking."

Adds Jary: "Until Amanda showed me, I didn't have the slightest idea what TikTok was about!"

At first, the account was just for yuks—Kenny learning sign language to communicate with a pal, trying new foods, experiencing new technology, telling stories from his past. And it took off in a major way, attracting almost 2 million followers.

Things took a dark turn when Jary, whose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease prevents him from walking long distances, slipped into a COVID-isolated depression that was made worse when his mobility scooter broke down. With Kline's help, he launched a GoFundMe that soared well past the $5,000 required for a new one, eventually reaching triple digits. The old fella wept with gratitude to his followers. A visit to The Today Show and The Kelly Clarkson Show followed, as did tens of thousands of additional fans.


79 year old disabled veteran, Kenny, calls his son to tell him about @TikTok getting him a scooter. 😭😭 #fyp #fypシ #viral #fypage #fypp #veteran

♬ Stories 2 - Danilo Stankovic

That experience planted the seeds for the Patriotic Kenny Foundation, which has so far purchased 78 mobility scooters to veterans. Jary is president of the nonprofit foundation; Kline is his trusty VP, plus author of the just-released children's book, Kenny's Bright Red Scooter.

"This project… I mean, I love everything about it," Jary says. "But one of the most profound things is when we donate a scooter to a vet, it really hits home because they can do so much with that scooter, like I can with mine."

And you better believe the buddies behind @PatrioticKenny plan to keep posting. A couple weeks back they recorded a clip of Kenny reacting with befuddlement to a Moxy Hotel that boasted inflatable chairs and wacky showers (300K views), followed by a clip of him lovingly reviewing his namesake book (19K). Don't miss his recent encounter with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (4.2M).

"I love every minute of it," he concludes. "Because of TikTok... it impowers me, I feel like I'm a younger man. It does so much for my life."

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