As a child, Jerry McKinney knew what it was like to be in need. That's what led him to adopt a life of service, in which he poured himself into helping the less fortunate find a better life.

McKinney was a human resources administrator by trade, but he deeply touched the lives of countless people he met while off the clock during his 25-year involvement at Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP) and over 40 years as a volunteer at Amicus, a program that helps inmates make the transition from prison to life in the community.

McKinney drove them to appointments, made sure they had life's necessities and served as a valued friend, family members said.

"He grew up in poverty and had empathy for people who were living in poverty," said his wife of 50 years, Shirley. "He got involved in people's lives and helped."

Final act of giving

McKinney, of Edina, died of cancer Sunday at the Lodge on Summit Oaks hospice in Burnsville. He was 79. In his final act of giving, his body was donated to the University of Minnesota for cancer research, said his son Mark, of Glen Ridge, N.J.

McKinney's life of service began in the Iowa National Guard as a flight mechanic in the 1950s and '60s.

He got involved with Amicus after he moved to the Twin Cities to take a job as a human resources administrator at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. During visits to the state prison in Stillwater, he met a man who was about to be released. McKinney got him clothes and a job at Methodist and for 40 years looked after the man, who was disabled.

"He really did a lot for him," Shirley said. The man "never returned to prison, and he credited Jerry for that. The friendship meant so much."

McKinney eventually took his personnel experience to Northern Natural Gas and to Northern States Power (now called Xcel Energy) and to VEAP. From 2003 to 2004, he was president of the organization, which operates a food shelf, transportation services and social services for residents of Bloomington, Edina, Richfield and south Minneapolis.

He led VEAP's capital campaign from 2006 to 2009, and as a six-year board member helped establish salary schedules and benefits for its employees. Afterward he continued to volunteer, driving people to dialysis and taking them to doctor appointments.

"It is because of your respect for all that you were drawn to VEAP, and we are all better off because of it," said Executive Director Susan Russel Freeman. Jerry "represents all that is good about our community. You stand out as a role model for all."

McKinney also served as president of the Edina Lions Club and did work with Urban Homeworks, a faith-based organization providing housing for low-income families.

McKinney was an ordained elder at three congregations: Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington and most recently at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. He also was involved with missions and personnel matters with the Presbytery of the Twin Cities.

Loved touring capitols

In his off time, McKinney had a passion for golf, a sport he played while attending Des Moines Tech High School in Iowa. He enjoyed attending University of Minnesota women's and men's basketball games and traveling to and touring state capitols. He also enjoyed biking and in recent years took up metal sculpting as a hobby, his wife said.

Besides his wife and son Mark, McKinney is also survived by three other children, Kevin, of Storm Lake, Iowa, Anne McKinney, of Bogota, Colombia, and Michael of New York, N.Y.; a sister, Evelyn Torres, of Dallas; a brother, Roger, of Mesa, Ariz.; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib