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Jake Kennedy’s inspiring journey, generous heart inspires marathon participants

Hitting the tape in front of 45 Franklin Street are, from left, Zack Kennedy, 32; Chip Kennedy, 26; and Menwon Krua.
Hitting the tape in front of 45 Franklin Street are, from left, Zack Kennedy, 32; Chip Kennedy, 26; and Menwon Krua.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Mike Toomey said he met Jake Kennedy in 2008, when he and his wife moved to a cul-de-sac in Scituate. Toomey said Kennedy asked if he and his wife had children. No, Toomey replied. Jake Kennedy, a father of four, told him they better get started.

The new neighbors quickly became friends.

Jake is best known for creating, with his wife, Sparky, a magical holiday party for homeless children called Christmas in the City. The party grew from an event hosting 165 mothers and children in 1989 to a grand production hosting more than 6,000 children, in which kids got to watch live performances and received gifts and medical services, including dental screenings and flu shots.

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Another Scituate neighbor described Jake, a longtime physical therapist, as a mix of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Peter Pan.

Last fall, Jake was diagnosed with ALS.

The disease had already taken his father, Chris Kennedy, and youngest brother, Jimmy. Another brother, Richard “Ratt” Kennedy, is living with the condition.

Jake was 64 when he was diagnosed. Less than a year later, he needs round-the-clock care that his insurance does not cover. He lives in the couple’s lake house in Salem, N.H., a home where he and Sparky moved permanently when they left Scituate a few years ago — in an area he jokingly called “The Kennedy Compound” near Canobie Lake.

Peter Barbadoro grew up in Quincy, a childhood friend of Jake Kennedy.  He flew in from Hilton Head, S.C. to run.
Peter Barbadoro grew up in Quincy, a childhood friend of Jake Kennedy. He flew in from Hilton Head, S.C. to run.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

But after his diagnosis, the home needed renovations to make it more accessible.

Friends worried about the mounting costs. They remembered Pete Frates, who raised millions for research when he helped launch the ALS ice bucket challenge in 2014 and by the end of his life required care that cost $70,000 to $95,000 a month, not covered by insurance.

“We can’t let that happen,” said Joe Baerlein, a friend and former physical therapy patient.

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So Toomey and Baerlein decided to organize a fund-raiser for the Kennedy family.

In honor of Jake’s love of the Boston Marathon, which he had run 37 times, they decided to do their own marathon and mapped a relay route from the Kennedy’s longtime home in Scituate (where the Toomeys, now the parents of three, are living) to the downtown Boston offices of Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy on Franklin Street.

The baton.
The baton.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

“It’s hard to ask people for money in a situation like this, with the pandemic. And it’s certainly hard for people to say yes. But they did,” Toomey said Sunday, when the GoFundMe for the Jake-Athon reached $40,000 toward its $50,000 goal.

The roughly 50 runners who participated in Sunday’s relay — family, friends, patients, people who Jake had helped in one way or another — would each run half a mile to 2 miles, carrying a blue baton. Toomey rode his hybrid 10-speed mountain bike behind them, making sure they were safe and capturing baton handoffs on a GoPro camera clipped to his handlebars.

Jake himself was home Sunday, watching videos from the relay route playing on a television screen. Sparky and two of their sons, Chip and Zack, were at the finish line. Chip and Zack ran the last blocks.

Carol McKean walked a mile through Hull, with her foot in a protective boot because of two broken toes and a stress fracture. Jake had helped her with an injured knee and became a friend.

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Compared to his experience living with ALS, she said, “a mile is not that hard.”

“He’s made so many people healthy through his work,” McKean said.

Ann Marie Horan, who ran a mile down Quincy Shore Drive, said she was Jake’s first employee at his physical therapy practice in 1986. He gave her a job, hosted her wedding at his home, helped her with a down payment for her first house, mentored her, and helped her daughter through physical therapy needed for a basketball injury. He was one of the first people she called when she discovered she had cancer.

Ann Marie Horan took the baton from Harry Bacon, as he and Caroline Fitzpatrick barreled down Quincy Shore Drive.
Ann Marie Horan took the baton from Harry Bacon, as he and Caroline Fitzpatrick barreled down Quincy Shore Drive. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

When she last saw him at the end of June, he gave her a thumbs-up.

“He couldn’t communicate any other way, other than — you just saw compassion in his eyes,” Horan said.

Peter Barbadoro flew to Boston from his home in Hilton Head, S.C., to run 2 miles from Quincy to Dorchester. Barbadoro met Jake when they were students in Quincy’s Montclair Elementary School. They stayed close through high school and college, playing with the Quincy Rugby Club.

“He’s always been an incredible person. A caring, loving person, always helping people,” Barbadoro said. “We just hope there’s a miracle.”

The finish line was near Downtown Crossing, at 45 Franklin St., where Jake had seen physical therapy patients for years in a second-floor office.

“My father would always tell us how blessed we were,” Zack Kennedy said at the finish line, with one arm around his mother and the other around his younger brother, Chip. “And today we know how blessed we are.”

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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of the route was free of cheering spectators. But a small group gathered at the finish line in downtown Boston to watch the end of the race and unveil a small blue sign christening the area in front of 45 Franklin St. as Jake Kennedy Square.

Amid cheers, the family’s dog, an Australian shepherd named M.T. Nestor, let out a few excited barks.

“I look at my dad and I wonder what it’s like to serve different communities so well that they’ll show up for you when you’re in need, and you’re all embodying that right now,” Chip Kennedy told the group. “I’m going to try and live my life so that communities show up for me when I need it, and I’ll keep showing up for every community I need. And I hope you all do the same.”




Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.