Ken Porwoll, a former Brainerd resident and survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II, was honored again Thursday, but this time for his volunteer efforts with the homeless in St. Paul.
The 1938 graduate of Brainerd's Washington High School and veteran of the Company A, 194th Tank Battalion was one of six Minnesotans who received the 2009 Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service. The award, given to Minnesotans who try to improve the lives of others, came with a $10,000 check.
Bataan Death March survivor Ken Porwoll, who spoke on the state Capitol grounds at a 2002 plaque commemoration ceremony, was honored Thursday for his service to the homeless. Porwoll grew up in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch
Porwoll, 89, of Roseville, was singled out for giving free haircuts for the past 25 years to clients at the Listening House, a homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul.
Contacted Friday by phone, Porwoll said he thinks the volunteer work is important and it makes him feel good.
"I was treated so shabbily in the service (as a prisoner)," he said. "No one wanted me. Even the Japs didn't want me. I was pushed from pillar to post. Then they sent me to Japan on one of those hell ships. People went crazy (on the ships).
"And those (homeless) people down there, they get chased from pillar to post too and nobody wants them around."
He cuts hair about once a week, standing for about three hours each time he volunteers. In between customers, he tells them it's his turn to sit in the chair. He said his clients are appreciative of the free haircuts.
"I feel sorry for them because they're all damaged in some way," Porwoll said.
Born in St. Cloud, Porwoll moved to Brainerd when he was about 2. He remembered his motivation to join the National Guard before World War II.
"I joined that group when they had a New Year's Eve party," he said. "They wanted $25 a head to get in to it. I'm a high school student, I don't have any money. My father died when I was 10 years old. If you joined the Guard you got in free and you got a uniform."
This is the second time he's been honored for his years of giving free haircuts. In 2004 he was selected to meet President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush, shortly after Air Force One touched down in the Twin Cities in 2004.
Although he said it was a memorable experience, he put it into perspective in a 2004 interview.
"You know, when you get to be 84 it takes a hell of a lot more to thrill you than it did before," he said in 2004.
Porwoll also continues to volunteer at the medical library at the Veteran's Administration Hospital. Asked what he would tell people who claim they don't have time or are too old to volunteer, Porwoll said, "If it is to be it's up to me."
Porwoll has made plans for the award money. He plans to give $200 each to his nine children, donate $5,000 to Heiffer International and probably donate money to the Listening House and Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis.
The 89-year-old World War II veteran was asked if he planned to use any of the money to treat himself?
"I doubt it," he said.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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