In 2014, while pursuing an interest in genealogy, Brenda Kuensting identified a relative who served as a "patriot" in the American Revolution. She was soon accepted into the Daughters of the American Revolution and embraced creative opportunities within her local chapter to support veterans, earning a state level award in recognition of her voluntary efforts.
Graduating from Jefferson City Senior High School in 1974, the former Brenda Thompson married William Kuensting in 1979. After high school, she was hired by the Missouri Department of Revenue and remained in state employment for 32 years.
"After I retired from the state, I worked a couple of years in the billing department for Capital City Medical Associates," Kuensting said. "But I had always been interested in doing work that supported children and was hired by the Missouri Alliance for Children and Families."
The company subcontracted with the Missouri Division of Family Services and helped address the needs of foster children who were experiencing more difficult circumstances. Throughout the next seven years, Kuensting began researching family histories to help foster children "aging out" of the system identify family members they might be able to contact for emotional support.
"I really enjoyed my work helping these kids, many of whom didn't have anybody to call for support or encouragement," she said. "Little did I know that research I was doing would inspire my own interest in genealogy and be of benefit when I joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)."
Kuensting soon began tracing her own family history back to a soldier in the American Revolution. Using the experience and interest she garnered assisting foster children, she found her own direct line of relation to a Revolutionary War patriot and qualified for membership in the DAR.
The local extension of the group, she said, was named the Jane Randolph Jefferson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, honoring the legacy of the mother of President Thomas Jefferson. The chapter has a rich legacy of community service dating back to its charter in Jefferson City on March 12, 1897.
With her signature sense of humor, she noted, "When I went to the first meeting, I thought I might be around a bunch of old rich ladies drinking tea, but it was nothing like that. I really enjoyed it, especially when I learned that their focus was 'God, home and country.'"
She asked what she could do to be of assistance to the chapter and soon became an officer in the organization. Initially, she was elected to serve as the librarian for the chapter, working to collect books for the Missouri DAR Library and the National DAR Library that could be used by individuals researching family members and patriots.
"One of the positions I served in was chaplain for the chapter," Kuensting said. "Part of what I did in that capacity was send birthday cards out to chapter members, prepared prayers for our meetings and helped coordinate an annual memorial program for members who passed away."
But for Kuensting, who proudly listed those in her immediate and extended family who served in the military, recognizing and honoring veterans has become her greatest passion through the DAR.
"We do a lot for veterans at the chapter, state and national level," she said. "Every year, I plan a Veterans Day program at Primrose Retirement Community in Jefferson City. We have a guest speaker and provide the veterans living there with gifts and certificates of appreciation."
The local DAR chapter also coordinates the collection and distribution of Christmas gifts to veterans at the VA hospital in Columbia in addition to those who are residents of the state veterans' homes in Mexico and St. James. Additionally, chapter members collectively write more than 450 Christmas cards for veterans each year.
In her position as the chapter DAR service for veterans chairwoman, Kuensting has assisted in the annual "Wheeling for Healing" event. The Jane Randolph Jefferson Chapter works with other DAR chapters throughout Missouri to sign up riders for an annual bicycling and walking event on the Katy Trail that helps raise money for different veteran- related charities.
"One year, the money we raised went to the Wounded Warrior Project. But most recently, it was donated to the Fisher House," she said.
The Fisher House provides homes where military and veteran families can stay while a loved one is being treated in a hospital. According to the Fisher House website, these homes are located near military and VA medical centers worldwide.
"Prior to the biking event, I helped plan a fundraising chicken dinner at the American Legion Post 5 in Jefferson City," she said. "Statewide, the DAR was able to raise $150,000 for the Fisher House."
A single-spaced, six-page document was submitted in 2019 by the chapter to the state DAR highlighting Kuensting's efforts in supporting veterans. The document was a nomination for the DAR Service to Veterans Award and, among submissions from throughout the state, Kuensting was chosen for the coveted honor.
"My father-in-law served during the Korean War and was separated from his family for quite some time," she said, explaining her inspiration for serving veterans. "He missed the birth of his son and didn't get to see him until he was walking."
She continued, "It makes you think about the sacrifices that have been made by veterans and their families — sacrifices that are still being made to this day."
With a smile, she concluded, "When you go to the VA hospitals and homes and see the sweet faces of those veterans, it touches your heart. I was raised to do things for others, and I am pleased that the DAR provides me an outlet to help honor our veterans and military."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.