Thomas Kenning told his wife “I love you” for the first time as they walked along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Ten years later, he died saving a teenage girl in the same waters.
Kenning, 38, was visiting Porter Beach with his parents Monday morning when he saw another swimmer in distress, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. He rushed into the water to save a 17-year-old girl from Illinois who was struggling against the lake’s strong wind, currents and 3- to 5-foot waves, DNR officer Nicole Baumann said. Kenning helped her reach safety but then disappeared under the waves.
“He died saving a stranger’s life,” his wife, Jasmine Kenning, 35, told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. “I think if he had the chance, he would do it again.”
Porter Beach is “swim at your own risk,” according to a news release. Lifeguards called to the scene rescued Kenning from the water and performed CPR. He died at Northwest Health Hospital.
Kenning was a middle-school social studies teacher at Plato Academy Pinellas Park and the author of several books about Florida’s history and ecosystems. He was passionate about learning and created a website with free lessons for students around the world. Every night, Kenning gave his daughter a history lesson at the dinner table.
“We talked about Constantine, the Rosetta Stone, what manifest destiny means, all of the stars and planets …” Rory Kenning, 9, told the Times. “No matter what questions I asked, he always had an answer or we looked it up together.”
Kenning’s teaching career spanned from Indiana to China to Washington, D.C., and the Tampa Bay area. He documented his travels on Instagram, often posting photos of his wife and daughter as they explored forts, parks and street markets together around the world.
Kenning was a natural storyteller with a knack for making topics interesting and relatable for students and readers, his wife said. He was working on a book about abandoned boats in Florida at the time of his death.
“He cared so deeply for others, for the planet,” Jasmine Kenning said. “He gave everything he could.”