Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Friday, November 5, the City of Hattiesburg’s Veterans Committee and Mayor Toby Barker announced Joseph E. Kinnan as the 2021 Veteran of the Year.
Kinnan, 84, served in the United States Air Force from 1962 until 1988, spending the latter part of his career (1983 – 1986) as the Commander of Detachment 423 for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) at The University of Southern Mississippi.
“No stranger to many in Greater Hattiesburg, he has served the military faithfully since 1962 and at the age of 84, Colonel Kinnan continues to lead from the front,” said Dr. Sehila W. Varnado, Colonel (US Army, Retired). “Humility is his calling card and service is his passion. He is a true servant leader, and the Veterans Committee is proud to call him our 2021 Veteran of the Year.”
Assigned to Hattiesburg during his service as Commander of the AFROTC, he and his wife Sandy began to provide service to the community through several endeavors across civic engagement, mental health advocacy and other life-and-health-sustaining services to those in need. They include, but are not limited to:
- Serving as a member of the Governor’s Challenge, a partnership between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the United States Veterans Affairs to help implement statewide suicide prevention practices through a public health approach.
- Serving as a board member of the Mississippi Region XII’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Advisory Board. He also serves as a CIT trainer for public safety, school resource officers and law enforcement departments throughout the Pine Belt.
- Service to the Hattiesburg Veterans Committee as it was reformed in 1985, helping establish the Veterans Day Ceremony that continues to this day.
- Being directly involved with the City of Hattiesburg through serving as an Election Commissioner, as both president and a member of the Police Advisory Council and the Civil Service Commission.
- Establishing the Jamestown-Lincoln Road Neighborhood Association, serving as its first president – a position he held for 18 years and is currently serving in the interim while its incumbent president is serving in the military.
- Establishing the Mississippi Leadership Academy for the MS Department of Mental Health to assist persons challenged by serious mental illness. He was also appointed by the executive director of the Department of Mental Health to serve on the State of Mississippi’s Department of Mental Health Planning Council.
- Serving as a member of the Human Rights Advocacy Committee while employed at Ellisville State School.
- Serving with and leading the local chapter of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVDP), serving as president since 1984. Through this endeavor, he assists with services to the poor and hungry in the community. Under his tenure, he helped organize the annual Thanksgiving “Turkey Basket” deliveries for 200 families. To date, he can be found each Tuesday morning at the Broadway Drive location assisting those in need with food, utilities, fuel, prescription medication and temporary shelter. Through this organization, he connects others with key services provided by local churches, Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources and the city’s Homeless Coordinator.
- Advocating for mental health services, he also serves as a leader in the Mississippi National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Since 2018, through both in-person and virtual events, he has helped more than $30,000 to help families and individuals challenged by serious mental illness.
Overall, Kinnan has lived out the three core values of the Air Force – integrity first, service before self and excellence in all things. His commitment to his community, advocating for mental health and helping provide other life-and-health-sustaining services to those who need it is exemplified through his many involvements over his 84 years of life.
“We fell in love with Hattiesburg when we moved here so long ago,” said Kinnan. “I think about all of those who have been at the podium before, and it’s a real blessing for me to have this opportunity in this community that fosters collaboration among many to make life better for everyone.”
The Veteran of the Year program began in the early 2000s and each year’s recipient is selected by a committee of past recipients. This year, Kinnan joins a list of approximately 17 other veterans. Vernon F. Dahmer, Jr. served as the 2020 honoree.
“Whether it’s advocating for policies, helping with the City’s behavioral health court or providing services to those in need, Joe and his wife Sandy lead,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “There couldn’t be a more humble and gracious individual than Joe Kinnan to receive this honor this year, and I’m proud to witness him receiving this award.”
Kinnan will be presented with a proclamation for this honor during the City of Hattiesburg’s Annual Veterans Day program on Wednesday, November 11 at 11 a.m. Presented by the Hattiesburg Veterans Committee, the ceremony will also feature a keynote from Major General (Retired) Larry Harrington.
Additional Veterans Day activities include a 24-Hour Vigil beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10, the reading of names at 7 p.m. on that Wednesday and a parade beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday.