Advancement & Public Services

Olga "Kay" KennedyKay Kennedy

Kay Kennedy: There's No Place Like Home

1946 WIU graduate Olga “Kay” Kennedy may have lived in Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Kansas, but west-central Illinois is truly her home. Known around campus for her association with the property known as Vishnu Springs, Ms. Kennedy has a vibrant history of her own in this place she calls home.

During her junior high and high school years, Kennedy lived with her grandparents, Ira and Reatha T. Post on Carroll Street in Macomb. “My grandparents moved from the farm into the Carroll Street House in 1912 and lived there the rest of their lives. They kept all their homestead and farmland that had been purchased early in their married lives. Then, when I was growing up, they purchased other adjoining parcels of farmland, additional timber, the Vishnu Springs property, plus another farm near Tennessee (Illinois).

“We spent considerable time at Vishnu from the time my grandparents purchased and improved the hotel building so it was livable. The ground floor had the large fireplace, and our family’s rooms were on the floor just above. We had a kitchen, bedroom, and the large full room the width of the building.” Kennedy claims that although they always lived in town (contrary to popular myth), her grandfather tried to visit “the farm” every day, regardless of weather, until his death in 1951.

Kennedy entered Western Academy (high school) as a freshman the year it opened. “It was a beautiful school,” remembered Kennedy. “Everything was brand new and we had the best of everything.” She worked in the library through high school and graduated in 1942.

She then attended Western Illinois State Teachers College, earning a degree in Physical Education with minors in Business and Biology in 1946. All of her practice teaching took place at Western Academy where she had attended high school. Following graduation, Kennedy taught school in Riverside, Illinois, began graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, taught six years in Illinois schools, then moved to California. After earning a master’s degree at Stanford University, Kennedy again taught until retiring in 1976. Now residing in Kansas, Kennedy donated the 140 acres just north of Tennessee, Illinois, including the property known as Vishnu Springs, in 2003. She inherited the land from her grandfather, as he knew she shared his fondness for it.

“I thought Western could use the property, much as the Alice Kibbe Life Science Research Station and the Frank J. Horn field campus have been,” said Kennedy. “My grandparents instilled in me their passion and enthusiasm for preserving the natural habitat for wildlife and their interest in protecting this sanctuary for future generations. The terms and conditions of the land gift honor my grandparents’ wishes.”

Kennedy’s sense of philanthropy was instilled by her family. Her aunt, Betty Post Cutler, left her estate to Western to help construct and support the College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall. And, of course, the Posts taught Kennedy the belief in preservation for the greater good. In addition to the gift of the Ira and Reatha T. Post Wildlife Sanctuary and significant contributions to the biology department, Kennedy also plans to make donations of land and support to Western through her own estate.

“My grandfather had a love and a vision for maintaining this naturally beautiful piece of land,” said Kennedy. “It is rewarding for me to know that others will have an opportunity to enjoy and benefit from this gift while ensuring that my grandparents’ wishes will be honored.”