Marnie MacKenzie at the birthplace of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia

Marnie MacKenzie at the birthplace of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia

Walking in Helen Keller’s footsteps

Marnie MacKenzie

Marnie MacKenzie remembers hearing about Helen Keller for the first time when she was about 15 when the film, The Miracle Worker, first came out in 1961.

“She showed me how to make the best of what you’ve got, despite your disabilities,” said MacKenzie, who has had sight and hearing issues since childhood and lost her sight due to retinitus pigmentosa when she was in her 30s.

She was inspired by Keller, who was deaf and blind since before she was two but went on to become a famous speaker and advocate for people with disabilities.

“Just because you are blind doesn’t mean you can’t do anything,” said MacKenzie, who worked in the family business in Vernon, MacKenzie’s Menswear, for 34 years. She was also active in skiing and is an enthusiastic supporter of the Do It for Dad fundraiser.

She was delighted last Christmas when her niece, Sanci Solbakken of Victoria, offered to take her to the Helen Keller Festival in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller’s birthplace. The three-day festival in June attracts thousands of people for an outdoor performance of The Miracle Worker, a variety of music, tours and a market. They also enjoyed the southern hospitality and regional specialties like ribbon fries and deep-fried dill pickles.

“I thought that instead of thinking we should do this someday, we should do it now,” said Solbrekken.

They enjoyed touring the area, with Solbrekken explaining where they were to her aunt.

“Because I was sighted, I can visualize,” said MacKenzie.

“I got so much enjoyment. We heard Helen Keller’s great-great-great-nieces and nephews sing in a church and there were a lot of music performances.”

Solbrekken said they particularly enjoyed Little Elvis, a man who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and was born with no legs and partially deaf, who is a singer and inspirational speaker.

“It was all inspirational. I remember that my mom and dad, Bette and Bill MacKenzie, went to an International Lions Convention in Chicago and heard Helen Keller speak. They were very impressed. Helen Keller was the one who challenged the Lions Clubs to work to help the vision-impaired in the 1920s and they still do,” said MacKenzie.

“Helen Keller showed me that there are many ways to learn, so it was a pleasure to be there where she was born. She taught me that you accept what you have and make the best of it. That’s what Helen did and that’s what I do. I can’t thank my niece enough that we got to go while I could still hear.”

The trip was a gift for Solbrekken as well.

“For me, it was special to be able to share that time with Marnie, knowing it was such a big inspiration in her life, to see that big grin on her face and to spend that time, just the two of us,” she said.

“Of course, I have known her all my life and been inspired by her but traveling together gave me the opportunity to see how she copes on a day-to-day basis and how capable she is.”

MacKenzie is already planning the next trip to the Helen Keller Festival and hopes to be able to take the rest of the family with her.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hillview Elementary students Emma Li and Mina Nadeau were awarded by the Premier’s office for winning the annual holiday card contest. (Karen Rogers photo)
Vernon students’ art featured on Premier’s cards

Hillview youth chosen for annual holiday card contest

COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

A portion of 34th Street will be closed to through traffic as of Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, while sewer upgrades are underway. (City of Vernon)
Sewer upgrades to close Vernon road

Motorists are to expect some delays around portion of 34th Street starting Wednesday

This dog is going to the SPCA if its owner isn't found. (RDNO Dog Control photo)
Owners sought after dog ‘dumped’ near Vernon school

Pup is now either getting adopted or going to the SPCA

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun in Salmon Arm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccinations underway in Salmon Arm

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun

This is the location, 3240 Skaha Lake Road, of where BC Housing plans to build a four storey supportive housing project for the homeless and at risk of being homeless. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton mayor and MLA concerned about new BC Housing project

‘Penticton already has its fair share’ of BC Housing projects

Interior Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place long term care home over Monday, Jan. 18, 2020. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place care home declared over

‘This has been one of our most challenging outbreaks so far,’ says chief medical health officer

Penticton Bylaw officer Glenn Smith, as well as resident Zak Laycock (not pictured), received the Governor General Award from the Royal Canadian Humane Association to recognize their heroism in a summer 2019 incident. (Contributed)
Bylaw officer and Penticton resident given awards for intervening in sexual assault

Bylaw officer Glenn Smith said he was simply in the right place at the right time

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

An Abbotsford man was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 3 on Monday, Jan. 18. (Black Press file photo)
Abbotsford man killed in Highway 3 crash near Hedley

Fatality was discovered by passing tow truck driver

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Most Read