Local author, Mark Bowden, recently wrote an insightful piece in "The Atlantic" about these times titled; “Small Towns Won’t Know They’re Infected Until It’s Too Late- The demise of local news is a pandemic.” This time of destruction of newspapers as we knew them may represent one of the great losses that is accelerated by the coronavirus. There may be no one left to tell our story.
The NY Times remembered the loss from the pandemic by printing a rollcall of 1,000 names on the front page of the Memorial Day paper. So while we still have a paper I want to remember those people from Kennett whose voices spoke to me and our community over the years.
You have to start with Bayard Taylor, who introduced the world to us in The Story of Kennett, published in 1866 with Sandy Flash and a sense that this is a happening place. Then there are the three people who have kept The Kennett Newspaper (1877) alive and mostly well in my lifetime; Richard Taylor, Jamie Blaine and Fran Maye. Although in the past it has been advertisers’ dollars that keep a paper afloat, Kennett’s target rich environment of interesting people to write about keeps those advertisers buying the ever important ads.
The Squire of Kennett Square, Herb Pennock, won 4 World Series while pitching for the New York Yankees. There is Bruce Davidson, the gold medal winning Olympian in the sport of Eventing; a three day horseback competition. As we are on sports, you have to remember Donnie Webster who as a senior at Kennett took his 4X100 team of 3 freshmen to the Penn Relays and on the anchor lap came from 100 yards back to win the race and the championship.
Then there are the quiet Kennett heroes like John Paul Dean who competed and helped win the last track meet of the year and the Leagues while undergoing cancer treatment, or Meghan O’Neil who played soccer in the last game of the season against Unionville with a broken foot. If you want to see a whole wall of these folks, stop by Burton’s Barber Shop on Main Street and Bobby Burton will tell you stories about Dallas Green and all the great ones.
The print media is old school but we have had our share of TV personalities too. Jessica Savitch, was a pioneer of women TV journalists. We also have Pat Ciarrocchi, a native who anchored for almost 33 years on the local news. And today there is CicilyTynon, of ABC 6 weather who also runs road races to remind runners like me that we are not that fast.
One of the great strengths of Kennett is its diversity. That goes back to the Underground Railroad and Bartholomew Fussel (1794-1871), the great Quaker abolitionist and it follows to this day.Two of the recent mayors of Kennett were black. Charles Cramer, who just passed away this last week, led the way with his wisdom that Kennett needed a public park.
Then, you have Leon Spencer, who ran for the starter job of mayor as president of his high school class in the 60’s. He was Kennett’s mayor for over a decade. But this embrace of integration and accepting minorities and immigrants from Italy, Latin America and Appalachia is represented powerfully in our police force that feels responsible for everyone being safe in our town, not just the ones on the “right” side of the tracks.
Chief Bill Holdsworth of Kennett demonstrated this week with his officers for 9 minutes with the community against institutional racism. #Blacklivesmatter. The Mayor of Atlanta had a press conference on the rioting this weekend which gave a lot of people hope. They understand it is about being an accepting culture. Most people don’t know that it was a recent graduate of Kennett High School, Christian Cordova, who spent an internship in Atlanta a few years ago sharing best practices and teaching Atlanta how to become a welcoming community.
Drs. Schaeffer, Bosley, Karkosak and Tomasetti are high on the list. They did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting that took the Kennett school system from good in the 70’s to great in 2020. There were lots of individuals in the school system who made more than their fair share of the success such as Mike Kelly’s leadership of the teacher’s union and Mr. Duffy’s social studies class. Nate Kendig was a great history teacher and coach. No one forgets his class trips to Gettysburg. Lisa Teixtera has taken the KHS library and the Humanitarian Club to a level rarely seen. There are a number of students every year that win the Rupert Award which show that you don’t have to be 50 to be a success in life.
Nationally, Pam Maraldo, a graduate of Kennett, became the President of Planned Parenthood. Locally we had great healthcare with both Dr. BarryKanofsky and his father who kept us in glasses. Dr. Margaret Handy, Dr. McKinstry and Dr. Soraruf made house calls and kept us and our children healthy. The gold standard is the public health nurse of 3 decades - Joan Holliday. She has done so much for the young people, immigrant families and young moms.
Kennett is a good place for entrepreneurs and my heroes include Gene Bennett & Aaron Martin for F&M, Mike Walker for Genesis, Tom Musser for Tri-M, and of course, Mike Bontrager for Chatham Financial. These men have created billions of dollars of wealth and thousands of good jobs for families but they are so much more than making money. Gene was on the School Board that pushed Kennett into AP classes, Aaron is the backbone of After-the-Bell and the YMCA, Mike was almost solely responsible for the rejuvenation of Kennett, and Tom led Rotary, the YMCA, and was Chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). There is David Haradon from Rotary and Bud Pierce from Lions Club. Bud’s wife, Edna Bennett Pierce, is the angel of Penn State and many local non-profits including WHYY. Now Mike Bontrager serves as part of the glue that holds Kennett together with his support for Kennett Square Roots and the Constellation Network.
This is written from my perspective, and I’m sure I’ve missed hundreds more who have made Kennett such a wonderful place. Who would you add to our story?