The Marni Kaner Trail: path to a lasting tribute
Photos: Courtesy Kaner Family
Marni Kaner, right, with her daughter Elizabeth and husband Joey, on one of thousands of treks the family made on the proposed Marni Kaner Trail (not pictured, Brian Kaner)

By Deb Silverthorn

The path from Meandering Way through Campbell Green and behind Brentfield Drive to Davenport Road is expected to reign brighter than the “yellow brick road” as family and friends of Marni Berkowitz Kaner, of blessed memory, are planning for the stretch to be renamed the Marni Kaner Trail.

Close to 630 petition signatures of the 1000 required have been collected in just three weeks. The petitions and application for the name change are planned for submission to the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department by the end of June.

“Marni touched everyone’s life — absolutely every single person she ever met,” said Kaner’s husband Joey. “Naming this trail in her memory is just the right tribute.”

The idea to rename the Preston Ridge Trail Extension after Kaner came from longtime friend and PTA-arena peer Cara Mendelsohn to Joey. The prospect is sponsored by the Richardson ISD PTA Board. Mendelsohn is now the Dallas City Council Member for District 12.

Petitions are being circulated by family and friends, among community members and at events including the Parkhill Athletics Banquet and National Junior Honor Society induction, District 12 Town Hall meeting, early May meetings of the Pearce Community Women’s League, the RISD Council of PTA meeting and the ribbon cutting of the Campbell Green Park’s pickleball courts. Any City of Dallas resident over the age of 18 can sign (or circulate) a petition.

“Marni exemplified the best in our community: selfless, caring, hard-working, friendly, accepting and dedicated. She should be celebrated and remembered for her contribution to thousands of adults she impacted and tens of thousands of students,” said Mendelsohn, who knew Kaner for more than 30 years. “I hope her name will inspire anyone walking the trail and perhaps motivate others to serve.”

For Mendelsohn, in whose district the trail is set, this project is personal.

“Marni’s steadfast commitment, never seeking the limelight and always one to be counted on, always impressed me,” said Mendelsohn. “That’s where leadership makes the biggest difference. Marni and I shared the message of focusing on the ‘Every Child, One Voice’ mission.”

One of Kaner’s many legacies was, in 2013, co-founding with Liz Gluckman the RISD Council of PTA’s Angel membership program, through which the organization has added over 11,700 members. Just days before she passed away, the RISD Council of PTAs renamed that program Marni’s Angels.

Kaner helped PTAs across Dallas, and throughout Texas, to increase their membership and support — her last service as Texas State PTA membership chair. This summer the State PTA’s first “Lead Like Marni” award will be given to a volunteer of exemplary service in her memory.

The RISD Council of PTA’s President Lalita Howell and its 2nd VP of Programs Meredyth Childress echo one another, saying Kaner was respected and adored by everyone she met and worked with. “Marni always had her heart out, bringing us all in,” said Howell. “She impacted many and that impact lives on.”

“She was never without a smile,” added Childress. “She walked this trail every day and always ran into someone she knew: a friend, her children’s teachers, principal or a neighbor. There was always a selfie post — and her smile.”

The daughter of Faye and Herbie Berkowitz, of blessed memory, and sister of Shelly (Mike) Bracken and Ron (Barbara) Berkowitz, Kaner was raised in Fort Worth at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. She was a member of Alton Silver BBG and graduated from R.L. Paschal High School.

A BBYO event is where Marni, then Berkowitz, met her future husband, Joey, a member of BBYO’s Morton Lewis chapter. It was while she was studying education, and he mathematics, at the University of Texas at Austin, that the two reconnected and began dating. They were married July 5, 1992.

The couple moved to North Dallas, to the RISD area, where Joey and his sister Julie (Greg) Spivey were raised by their parents Janet and Gary. Joey is a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School, and the family were and still are members of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Before the couple’s children, Elizabeth and Brian, were born, they were BBYO advisers and Kaner taught fourth grade at Neil Burks and Reuben Johnson elementary schools in McKinney. The home the couple raised their children in is just feet from the trail.

Once she was home with her children, Kaner’s dedication went to many roles of local and state PTA organizations, as founder of the Bowie Elementary Girl Scouts troop and more. When her children graduated from J.J. Pearce high school, Kaner remained devoted.

“Mom brought the P (parents) to the T (teachers) to the A (association) and the outreach of people honoring her is incredible,” said Elizabeth. Kaner’s children are living her career and passion to help others; Elizabeth is a math teacher and volleyball coach at Parkhill Junior High School and Brian is a development associate at Community Homes for Adults, Inc.

“Mom never stopped giving, trying, hoping and loving. Her influence on us is something we’ll always hold on to,” added Elizabeth.

Supporting Kaner’s passion for education, Bracken founded the Texas PTA Marni Kaner Faculty Scholarship, $500 awarded annually to two teachers, in her sister’s memory.

“Marni was the best of both of our parents in the way she gave back with such passion. For them, it was B’nai B’rith, the synagogue or Hadassah. For Marni, it was everything education-related,” said Bracken. “Nothing Marni did was ‘a little bit.’ She was a fabulous cook, incredible hostess, mah jongg player — whatever she did, she gave 200%.”

Kaner, who died on Sept. 15, 2020, battled breast cancer for two years. After she tested positive for a harmful variant of the BRCA2 (BReast CAncer) gene, it was important to her to reach as many family members as possible — around the country — so that they could be tested. To her credit, a number of relatives did test positive who wouldn’t otherwise have been tested. They owed their lives to Kaner.

“Marni felt if she could save one person from disease, that would be her legacy,” said Bracken. “She wanted to reach as many relatives as she could.”

Bracken and her brother both spoke about how they were really a second set of parents to their sister — 13 and 15 years their junior.

“Having Marni as a little sister was so special. Although I went to college, when she was just a toddler, she really reenergized our family,” said Berkowitz, who remembers taking Kaner to the zoo, to the park and on other trips. “As an adult, she was an excellent hostess — Sukkot was ‘hers.’ Everything about her was kind and special and really truly remarkable.”

The Kaner family walked miles and hours along the proposed Marni Kaner Trail — many throughout their children’s younger lives, and many while Kaner was ill.

“Marni was the most positive person always, and she never gave up,” said Joey, noting she renewed her driver’s license and passport just weeks before she passed away. “She’d walk this trail and, when she was sick, walking gave her hope. Hope that never stopped.”

To secure a copy of the petition, visit tinyurl.com/Marni-Kaner-Trail-petition. Completed forms should be emailed to district12@dallascityhall.com.

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