There are people at the inflection points of our lives who,
by dint of their personalities, change our future. Jim Kennedy was one of those
people for me, as he was for many others. I met Jim when I was a newly-transferred undergraduate at
His enthusiasm was infectious, and influenced me to become a biology major. That led to a post-graduate degree, and ultimately brought me back to Ohio Dominican as Jim's colleague. For 5 years I taught with him, and experienced his enthusiasm from a different perspective altogether. Jim was so popular with students that the college instituted what I always thought of as the 'Jim Kennedy Rule' (you could not be voted the Teacher of the Year in consecutive years). He was tough to match.
We lived a block apart for some years, and when our first-born came home, it was to Jim and Betty's that we set out on Mathias’ first social call. Their delight and satisfaction matched our own. For as long as our children deigned to celebrate their birthdays with us, Jim and Betty never missed them. They were surrogate grandparents to our children, they were friends to us, and their presence punctuated most every important social event in our lives for many years.
Jim lived a life rich in the admiration and gratitude of family, friends, and students. You couldn't suppress his pride in all of them, even students gone many years. He beamed at their every success. He would speak of their achievements years later with a satisfaction that could have been no greater if they had been his own progeny. Of course, they were. We are.
Jim was a voracious reader -- books overflowed his presence, talus slopes of his curiosity and interest in the world (not an unalloyed blessing to Betty at times... he could have run a used bookstore out of their house). His delight in a postcard from a far-off place was effusive. His appreciation for a vicarious experience was generous and enthusiastic.
Those who know Jim well may know that he had to deal with the loss of both his parents… his mother in childbirth, and his father from the bitterness of having lost his wife to Jim’s birth. He survived these things, and the deprivation of the depression, and went on to serve his country in World War II, a handsome young blue-eyed corpsman in the Navy. His notes about comrades who did not return make evident how grateful he was for his own life. Jim not only survived, but found in these trials an optimism and dedication and passion for helping others that endured his entire life. Jim recognized that you cannot do better in life than to help others achieve their goals, and this he did with generosity and modesty.
Fifteen years ago Jim faced a life-threatening illness that almost took him from us. I recall seeing him in the hospital, and not recognizing him. I did not believe he would leave that hospital. But he survived once again, and lived to see his grandchildren thrive, and to be grandparent to ours as well. What a wonderful rebirth for all of us as well as him.
Jim lived for and was sustained by a large extended family, but above all, Betty, his wife of 49 years. She is a pillar of quiet grace and strength who Jim loved joyfully his entire life.
Jim is lost to our present, but he inhabits the best of our past, and is indelibly part of the future of all who benefited from his grace. Would that we all lived life so well.
Image: Jim at one of our childrens' baseball games, 1994