Gwen Kenney often said “Love you more” in response to loving overtures directed to her. So it was natural for the spirit of “Love you more” to guide the planning for her memorial service.
That spirit permeated St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, July 8, 2017 for the celebration of the life and legacy of Gwendolyn Persley Kenney. Upon entering the church vestibule, everyone was given a pink wristband imprinted with the words “Love you more.” The pews in the sanctuary were filled with relatives and friends who gathered to honor Gwen, a truly amazing lady.
Born on July 9, 1922 in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, she and her mother, Phala Harper relocated to Tuskegee when Gwen was a toddler. Adopted by her stepfather, Louis Persley when she was 10 years old, Gwen was his constant sidekick even at architecture classes he taught at Tuskegee University.
Mr. Persley built a home for his wife and daughter that is living history. Located near the campus of Tuskegee University, ECHOboom produced a video on the Persley House that can be viewed by clicking here.
Gwen Kenney experienced a lifetime of accomplishments. Elected into Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges while attending Fisk University, she was crowned Miss Fisk in 1942.
She and her husband, Dr. Howard Washington Kenney raised four children. A devoted wife and mother, she also was a working woman – data analyst at the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington DC and a school teacher. She founded the Tuskegee Chapter of Jack & Jill, Inc. and was a founding member of the Tuskegee Chapter of The Links.
Even after her death, Gwen Kenney continues to inspire joy and laughter. Her memorial service was an extension of who she was, how she lived and what she meant to her family, friends and the Tuskegee community.
After the service, a birthday celebration was held and the “Love you more” spirit of Gwen Kenney once again pervaded the room. It was all timed to coincide with Gwen’s 95th birthday, which fell on July 9, 2017. It was a party with balloons and birthday cake. There was also a video that included love-filled messages from Lionel Ritchie, who recalled Gwen as an integral part of his childhood. He talked about the days when Tuskegee was a close knit community with extended families that cared about all the children in the neighborhoods. He called Gwen Kenney “The last of the mothers.”