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Lucinda Kenner: Longtime Educator Shares Enthusiasm, Energy With Aiken Community

Lucinda Kenner, a native of Concord, North Carolina, got her first exposure to Aiken County in 1960, when she was living and working in Washington, D.C., as a recent college graduate.

“I was working for a lawyer, in D.C., and he had a son that was in high school, and I helped that son with lessons and so forth,” she recalled.

A phone call came from Sanford Bradby, who was the principal of Martha Schofield High School, to see if she would be interested in a teaching position. Kenner’s background at Livingstone College, in Salisbury, North Carolina, was largely in French (her major) and Spanish (her minor).

It was a match, and hundreds of students who came up through schools in Aiken County got their first major exposure to Spanish by way of Kenner’s classrooms at Schofield and also at Leavelle McCampbell Middle and Second Baptist Christian Preparatory schools. She also taught English and French along the way. 

“I was hired over the phone,” the 98-year-old said, recalling the course of events that led her to more than 50 years of classroom teaching, mainly in Spanish, and several more years of tutoring and educational help in a variety of roles, from a household shared with her husband, the late Belton Kenner, and their two daughters and son.

These days, her family tree includes six grandchildren and 31 more descendants in the great- and great-great-grandchild category. 

She is familiar with the idea of large families, she noted. “My mother had 11 children, and I am number nine, and the only one living.”

“I truly, truly enjoy teaching children and adults,” she said, noting that her last teaching role was at Second Baptist Prep, along with a variety of tutoring positions. 

“I’m not supposed to stop,” she said, when asked about her retirement status. “As long as I’m able to help somebody, I’m not supposed to stop, and I truly enjoy what I’m doing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it.”

“If you see somebody doing something wrong, or about to get in trouble, you’re supposed to talk to them, and try to get them to straighten up, because God is going to hold you responsible,” she said. 

Kenner, an active member of Bell Grove Baptist Church, also mentioned a Bible verse that is particularly close to her heart: Isaiah 53:4, which reads, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

She reads that verse every morning and again at night, just before going to bed. “I don’t care where I am. If I am visiting somebody, I carry my own Bible and I do my own reading,” she said. 

Frank Roberson, one of the Aiken-Augusta area’s most experienced educators, chose the phrase “quiet effectiveness” in referring to Kenner.

Roberson, known to some as a former school superintendent for Edgefield County, Marlboro County and Augusta-Richmond County, recalled his contact with Kenner when he was the associate superintendent for instruction in Aiken County’s school system.

“She was involved in some of the adult education classes, and she would come by my office quite frequently just to have educational dialogue,” Roberson said. 

 
Kenner “just wants to see people do better,” in the words of Charles Matthews, one of her former students who is now a Savannah River Site retiree. He also described her as highly talented, outgoing and kindhearted. 

Al Lamback, who came to know Kenner largely through his years as principal of Leavelle McCampbell, pointed out Kenner’s generous nature.

“She volunteered for me and taught Spanish for several years, working without pay. She wouldn’t take any pay, and she came in and performed the duties. She did bus duty. She participated in meetings.”

One of South Carolina’s most prominent school awards — the “Palmetto’s Finest” prize — probably came to Leavelle McCampbell by way of Kenner’s efforts, “because we were one of the few schools in the state to be teaching Spanish to our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders,” in Lamback’s assessment.

“I thought that was good for our kids, because most of them, when they left and went to the high school, they took Spanish as a foreign language, so that gave our kids an advantage as far as being exposed ... They had a good foundation, and she was excellent in teaching that Spanish.”

“She’s probably the most enthusiastic person that I have met,” said retired teacher Rosemary English, who also has decades of classroom experience to her credit. “She’s just excited about her teaching. She loves Spanish, and that’s what she taught.” 

English, recalling a career highlight, noted that she and Kenner were neighbors at Schofield, when they taught in adjacent classrooms. At the time, English was teaching English and Kenner was teaching Spanish.

“I had an interest in Spanish, but I’d never had the opportunity of taking it,” she said, noting that her high school was quite small and didn’t have Spanish as an option. English, however, wound up having a planning period at Schofield during the same time that Kenner was teaching a first-year Spanish class.

“I went in that class, and I learned like all get-out. It was so much enthusiasm,” English recalled, noting that the first six weeks of Kenner’s class included nothing but drills – repetition galore.

“She spoke. You spoke after her. No writing, just speaking, and it was amazing. It was the most exciting thing. Of course, being a teacher, I couldn’t stay in there every day for the full year, but I will never, ever, ever forget that class, and that was back in the 1960s.” 

Kenner bagged one of her more prominent honors in 2019, as she received the Aiken Award, and the municipal government’s Facebook page shed some light on “Ma Kenner” and her impact on the community, starting at Schofield and moving as far afield as Denmark-Olar High for six years, followed by 21 years at Leavelle McCampbell. 

The tribute also read, “She was the first African-American field director for Girl Scouts, where she took pride in teaching girls how to become ladies and to care for and value themselves. She also mortgaged her home for the first location of the non-profit Children’s Place here in Aiken.”

 


Read the full Aiken Standard article here

Bill Bengtson/Aiken Standard