Habitat for Humanity volunteer enjoys helping people

Sid Hastings

When James Kennedy retired in 1994, he envisioned an opportunity to complete projects around his house.

Kennedy, 77, retired at age 55 as chief information officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

While having lunch one day, he saw an item on a local newscast about the renovation of an apartment building in the Bronx by Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including former President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy was inspired. "I thought it might be fun to do since I did a few (handyman) things around my house," Kennedy said recently. He talked to a representative, took a volunteer position and has been involved ever since then.

He has helped to build 15 new homes and rehabbed two others. In 2000, he became a "house leader" on new construction and rehab projects, performing a range of activities, from laying floors to hanging doors, while advising fellow volunteers and recruiting new ones.

Kennedy is among the 18 honorees chosen this year for the 14th annual Ageless Remarkable St. Louisans celebration Sunday, Oct. 23, to benefit St. Andrew's Resources for Seniors System.

A member of St. Gerard Majella Parish, Kennedy volunteered for 15 years with John Behl, a St. Peter in Kirkwood parishioner who is five days older than Kennedy. The house leader and his buddy — two good Catholic boys — led a group from the United Church of Christ doing the construction.

As a house leader, he volunteered three days a week. Last year he dropped the leader role and now volunteers just one day a week. He works out at a gym daily except the days he volunteers, which he credits with helping him "last a little longer" so he can continue volunteer work.

The homes he's helped build have been in communities such as Bellefontaine Neighbors and Bridgeton. He especially enjoys meeting the "dedicated people who buy these homes. When they give them the keys to their houses — it's real rewarding to see," Kennedy said.

The homes are built as good or better than some of the more expensive homes in the metro area. "It's better than my house — lots of insulation, very efficient," he said.

In addition to a down payment and an affordable 30-year mortgage, each Habitat for Humanity homebuyer invests 350 sweat-equity volunteer hours into building or rehabbing a home and attending life skills classes. Homeowners are teachers, health care providers and returning college students determined to achieve homeownership and create a legacy for their families.

Kennedy joins fellow parishioners in serving a monthly meal to homeless and other needy people at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Soulard. He served on the board of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in the early 2000s, coordinated the Annual Catholic Appeal in a five-parish area and earlier served on the finance committee, parish council and other roles at his parish. He enjoyed the challenges of working with the Des Peres Planning and Zoning Commission, which he chaired for nine years and where he still does some committee work.

The Church and community work is "just a part of me," he said, something his mother taught her children — to be responsible for themselves, their families and community, especially helping people who are less fortunate through efforts such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Prayer is important as well. He appreciates the prayers said by the church group at the Habitat for Humanity build sites, for example.

Kennedy has been married for 50 years to his wife, Cathy, and they have three children and six grandchildren. 

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