butler county mo, kennedy bio

Deem's History of Butler County Missouri
by David Bruce Deem, Probate Judge, Butler County, MO


MR. AND MRS. W. H. KENNEDY -- Obituary

TWO of the most beloved citizens ever to reside in Poplar Bluff were the late Mr. and Mrs. Walter Howe Kennedy, pioneers who contributed much to the development and progress of the city, both educationally, socially and historically. Mr. Kennedy was named after Lord Howe and was a descendant of one of the royal families of Ireland. He was born in Cavan, Ireland, August 24, 1857 and came to America with his parents in 1858. The family migrated west to Ohio when Walter Howe Kennedy was three years old. Two years later they moved to Olney, Illinois. Mr. Kennedy received his school training at Olney where he met Dwight Burnett, the only photographer between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., at that time. Desiring to learn photography, Mr. Kenney worked with Burnett for a year paying him $50 for the knowledge learned in that particular field. Mr. Kennedy was anxious to "make his fortune" behind the camera. He had long heard of Poplar Bluff where he decided to locate. Upon his arrival in the village of Poplar Bluff, he could not find a building for his business. He was not to be disappointed by this condition but immediately purchased a tent and opened his photograph business in one crude room. Mr. Kennedy was the first photographer in Poplar Bluff and his business grew from his early days in the one room in the tent to a two story building where he often made 1000 pictures each week. In the early days, he made his own photograph plates and the paper upon which the pictures were printed. After Mr. Kennedy had erected his building, he moved away from Poplar Bluff and went to Piedmont, iron Mountain, Bismark, DeSoto, Charleston and then Vienna, Ill., where he met Mrs. Clara Thomason who he married in 1883. Mrs. and Mrs. Kennedy returned to Poplar Bluff where he continued in the photograph business for over 40 years. That Mr. Kennedy was an unusually good judge of human nature was shown by his ability to size up prospective customer. Nine time out of ten he could tell exactly how the customer desired to have his picture made, whether full view, sitting, smiling or sober. Mr. Kennedy died on July 27, 1936. * * * * * * (The following account of her life was written in 1931 by Mrs. Kennedy at request of Judge D. B. Deem, for his history of Butler county. Mrs. Kennedy died Sunday, October 28, 1935.)

By Mrs. W. H. Kennedy It affords me great pleasure to be classed among the pioneers of Butler county, and I cheerfully contribute this article to your most interesting "History of Butler County." I shall proceed to divulge my secret by saying I was born in Macomb, Ill., December 25, 1860, reared in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Posey county. My teaching career began very early in life. While a girl in high school I was asked to substitute for a day, then another, and another until I had taught for thirty days and the fifty dollars given me for this work was to me a great fortune. I proceeded through my years in high school much as the girl of today, feeling that at the close of my junior year I had sufficient education. I was married and a widow with a son in my arms at the age of sixteen. Thanks to the God-given Mother - - bless them, I was urged and permitted to re- enter school where I was continuously engaged as a student and teacher until 1883. Mr. Kennedy and I were married in Vienna, Illinois, where I was teaching. Finally, deciding upon a "Little Grey Home in the West," we chose Poplar Bluff, and on November 5th, 1883, crossed "The Father of Waters" for my first time. We threaded our way through a wild, water-covered swampy county from Cairo to Poplar Bluff, much of the time over water-covered tracks, which, not knowing the engineer then as well as I do now, Mr. A. J. Hill, gave me much anxiety. We finally reached Poplar Bluff and were ushered into a gloomy, dimly lighted little depot, and as I peered about the dark corners and into the strange faces of the class of loungers of that day my first thought was, "hands on your pocket book/" I grasped the chubby hand of my little six-year-old son, George Thomason, and followed the leader up what seemed to be an endless flight of rickety steps and picking our way across a muddy, dimly lighted street, reached the office of the Morris House, now the Ducker Hotel. We were son "at home" in two rooms in the building on the corner of Main and Pine streets. The thought came to me - - here is a town to be built and we must help to build it. Teaching, of course, being my only asset I soon found myself busily engaged with music and reading. Poplar Bluff was then, as it is now, composed of wide-awake interesting people and there was never a moment to lag. The Public School System consisted of one frame building with three excellent up-to-date teachers; Mr. George Register of Indiana, principal; Miss Alice Metz of Illinois, better known to us today as Mrs. A. H. Greason, and Miss Ida V. Bedford of Bloomfield, Mo. The old school building was replaced by a beautiful new brick of four rooms called the "Third Ward School," later the "Benton." Thus as time flew by I found my interesting little family all in school and I, too, in 1897, returned to the school room after an absence of fourteen years. I served as music supervisor for two years in the system, then entered fourth grade work which I continued until my resignation in 1923, just on the eve of moving into the new Williamson-Kennedy building which so charmingly replaced the old Benton. In my reminiscence I realize those 25 years were the best spent years of my life. After all, were they not spent in helping to build the town, the responsibility to which I had pledged my efforts so many years ago? During a recent illness when unable to see my friends, one morning about nine o'clock I heard the tramp of many small feet, the halt, and one braver than the rest came into my room with a beautiful blooming plant for me, bearing the card, "From six boys." Later, upon investigation, I found that I remembered all but one of the little fellows. I said to one of the boys, "Jack was never my pupil, was he?" The answer cam, "No, but her loves you." I thought what could be sweeter or more worth while than the love of a child, for Love is the Golden Key that unlocks the world.


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