Weekend celebration marks Kennedy Home’s centennial
    July 17 2014 by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

    A century of history and memories, shared by those who call this special place “home,” was celebrated at Kennedy Home on July 5-6 for its 100th anniversary. The “Centennial Celebration” saw the Kinston-based campus filled with faces from both past and present as all came together to pay tribute to Baptist Children’s Homes’ (BCH) second oldest location.
    Dubbed the “Star of the East” by BCH president Michael C. Blackwell, Kennedy Home’s sprawling grounds pulsated with activity throughout a commemorative weekend of live music, free food, family games, worship, and most importantly, the sound of laughter.
    “At the 75th anniversary in 1989, I promised that we would orchestrate a major celebration at the 100th,” recalls Blackwell. “I cannot imagine a more fitting anniversary event. At its core, the celebration was about family, and we were reminded throughout the weekend just how far the branches of our family tree extend.”

    For the Centennial Celebration’s public festival July 5, Kennedy Home alumni from multiple generations were joined by current residents along with boys and girls from BCH’s additional statewide locations.


    BCH photo
    Captain William Lafayette and Emily Hardee Kennedy exit their carriage at Cedar Dell, their three-story Victorian-style home, during the 100th anniversary celebration July 5 of Kennedy Home, the Kinston-based campus for Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH). The Kennedys were portrayed by Jim Dyer and Doris Hartley Powers.

    The event began with the ceremonial arrival of Kennedy Home benefactors Captain William Lafayette and Emily Hardee Kennedy. The couple, portrayed by alumni Jim Dyer and Doris Hartley Powers, made their campus entrance in a horse-drawn carriage. Onlookers greeted them along the main street of the campus as they arrived at Cedar Dell, the Kennedys’ three-story, Victorian-style home that resides on the National Register of Historic Places. “To be here today portraying Mrs. Kennedy and leading the tours of Cedar Dell is an honor,” says Powers. “I hope she would be proud of me.”
    With Powers and Dyer beside him on stage, Blackwell offered appreciation to the Kennedys at event’s opening program.
    “We have captured the early vision of Captain and Mrs. Kennedy and feel what this couple did 100 years ago is being carried out in ways that could not be imagined. Doris and Jim, I thank you in their stead.”
    Dignitaries in attendance included BCH trustees Abe Elmore, Betty Greene and Walter Williams. Lenoir County commissioner Jackie Brown and Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy were also present.
    “I want to thank BCH for the social service you provide,” Murphy said to the crowd. “You do it without taxpayer money. That is an incredible act of service you provide for this city, state and country. “Children, this day is for you. Enjoy the ice cream, bounce houses and just have fun.”
    Children, from both BCH and the community, played on the giant inflatable games throughout the afternoon. They paused long enough to make crafts with members of Scotts Hills Baptist Church from Wilmington, eat snow cones and enjoy homemade ice cream scooped by former North Carolina senator Jim Jacumin and former NFL football player Lin Dawson.
    Lines to tour newly-renovated Cedar Dell remained long throughout the day. During one tour, 10-year-old Madison Burkett discovered the old dollhouse that is displayed on the residence’s third floor. She knelt to get a closer look at the dollhouse as her grandfather, Doug Haigler, looked on. Haigler, who was at Kennedy Home from 1957-1966, brought his granddaughter to the event so she could see the place where he lived as a child.
    “I think it (Kennedy Home) is really beautiful,” Burkett says. “I’m sure my grandfather really liked it.” Donald Wetherington, an alum from 1958-1966, invited his friend Arnold Maready to bring his horse and buggy to the event. Wetherington became emotional as he watched his friend take children and adults for rides across the grounds where he grew up.
    “When I think about Kennedy Home, I think about the godly people who lived here. I’m a living testimony of the love people have for children,” Wetherington said. “I got saved here. I learned about Jesus Christ and that was the most important thing of all.”
    Approximately 750 people attended Saturday’s celebration and every pew was filled for the worship service at Kennedy Home Baptist Church on July 6. Staff brought out extra seats and many stood along the sanctuary walls to be part of the historic service.
    Music was led by John Thompson, the church’s minister of music from 1972-1977. Alumni, who fondly remember singing for Thompson and his wife Becky as children, packed the choir loft.
    Working at the church and being involved with the choir had a resounding impact in the life of alum Keith Williams.
    “Brother John had us singing in the choir and one of my first jobs on campus was cleaning the church,” recalls Williams who lived at Kennedy Home from 1970-1973. His time at the home inspired him to become a gospel singer. Williams’ quartet, “Second Chance,” sang prior to the Centennial worship service. “It’s meant a lot to me to be here for the 100th anniversary and to share through gospel music.”
    In a service, and weekend, that was filled with special moments, the emotional highlight was BCH president Blackwell’s dramatic, 15-minute monologue. Garbed in period clothing, Blackwell slipped into the persona of Captain Kennedy for the service’s main message.
    His monologue recounted Kennedy Home’s rich origins from the perspective of Captain Kennedy. He spoke of the joy the Kennedys’ felt as they decided to give their 1,250-acre farm and residence for an eastern branch of the then-called Baptist Orphanage. He also shared the sadness felt at the passing of wife, Emily, who remained alive just long enough to see construction completed on Hardee Cottage. Mrs. Kennedy sold the diamonds given to her by her husband to fund the building of the children’s cottage in honor of her late father.
    “There would not be a Kennedy Home without Emily Hardee Kennedy,” Blackwell, in the character of Captain Kennedy, said to the congregation. He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his monologue.
    “As I stood and spoke before the church, I was almost overcome with emotion – emotion so powerful it made it difficult to recover,” Blackwell explains. “To be able to portray the founding father of Kennedy Home during this historic moment in time is a supreme honor and a highlight of my time as BCH’s leader.”
    A meal, which fed 400 guests, followed the service. The celebration concluded with the burial of time capsules filled with items connected to the 100th anniversary. Children currently in Kennedy Home’s care assisted alumni association treasurer Richard Maynor with placing the capsules into the ground at the Kennedy Home church. They are scheduled to be unearthed on July 3, 2039, for Kennedy Home’s 125th anniversary.

    Months of planning went into the Centennial Celebration. Members of the Kennedy Home alumni council and BCH staff members, including Kennedy Home director Brian Baltzell, first came together in late 2013 to begin preparations. Efforts were coordinated by BCH’s T.J. Slaughter who was inspired by the heartfelt story of Captain and Mrs. Kennedy.
    “Their love story is incredible. I believe Captain Kennedy adored his wife and that they both adored their home,” explains Slaughter. “Their love story ends with them sharing their home with our children. I can hardly think of anything more beautiful.”
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Blake Ragsdale is director of communications for the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.) 

    7/17/2014 10:59:23 AM by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments
    Filed under: anniversary, Baptist Children's Homes

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