Longtime Africa U. supporter Kennedy dies

Jonas T. Kennedy, who with his wife provided the first major gift to start Africa University, died March 14 in Bennettsville, S.C. He was 97 years old.

The Kennedys were “the foundation of Africa University,” said Associate Vice Chancellor Jim Salley. Their gift sparked others to give.

“That gift came when a lot of people said Africa University would never happen, and there were many naysayers who were asking why would we want to put that kind of money into Africa,” Salley said. “Mr. Kennedy was a man of action and not many words. He was the most generous person I have known.”

Kennedy was born Feb. 12, 1917, in Bennettsville. He entered United Methodist-related Claflin University, Orangeburg, S.C., in 1933. He transferred to neighboring South Carolina State College to earn a degree in agriculture, graduating in 1937.

“An education in an environment where moral values are nurtured along with intellectual growth is to be highly prized in today’s world,” he once said. “I believe that there is an obligation to make the world a better place for all people to live in. Each must find his or her way to meet this calling.”

Kennedy began his career in education at Black High School in McBee, S.C., where he served as teaching principal, raising chickens and turkeys on the side. He taught agriculture in Clio and Spartanburg and was a soil conservationist in Greenville.

In 1939, Kennedy took over the family farm full time and produced essential crops throughout World War II. He mastered turkey farming and was recognized internationally as an expert in turkey production, serving as a farming consultant to several Africa countries and traveling extensively to observe farming techniques on every continent except Australia.

Kennedy was a member of Bennettsville’s Level Green United Methodist Church. In 1991, the Kennedys began contributing to Africa University. Africa University named buildings after him and his wife, the late Odette Miller Kennedy.

He shared his love for education with his daughter, Deidre K. Hepburn, a schoolteacher.

She described her father as “a man of principles and character and a man of few words. He said what he meant and meant what he said.”

Hepburn added, “He was a God-filled man. If he could help someone along life’s way, he knew his life was not in vain.”

When Africa University celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012, Kennedy said, “I am very proud” of where the university is today. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for people. It helps not only Zimbabwe, but (also) all of Africa.”

The couple’s commitment to the university was so strong that, when Kennedy asked what his wife wanted for her 74th birthday, she said she wanted a female dormitory built for students. Kennedy happily complied.

Seventy-five graduates and 10 current students attended or are attending Africa University through endowed scholarships established by the Kennedys, according to Salley.

Kennedy didn’t want his donation amounts disclosed, Salley added.

Along with being a generous benefactor to Africa University, Kennedy supported his alma mater. “Giving was a way of life for Dr. Kennedy,” said the Rev. Whittaker V. Middleton, vice president for Institutional Advancement at United Methodist-related Claflin.

Funeral services for Kennedy will be Wednesday, March 19, at 3 p.m. ET at Level Green United Methodist Church. A wake service is scheduled for Tuesday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET at Quick Funeral Home, Bennettsville.

Other survivors include a son-in-law, John Hepburn, and a grandson, Alexander Kennedy-Wall.

*Dunlap-Berg is associate editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.

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