Folks around Leesville proclaim that Willie Mae Kennedy has a heart of gold. She is known throughout Vernon Parish as a compassionate soul as she has dedicated decades of her life to volunteer work. “I feel blessed to help others anyway I can. When you volunteer, you are helping others and don’t have time to sit back and think on your own problems,” Kennedy says. It is a philosophy that guides her life, and one rooted deep in faith. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” Kennedy notes, quoting her favorite Bible verse. “If you are humble and love your brothers and sisters, God will give you the strength to accomplish just about anything you set your mind to do, if you trust and believe in Him.”
It is that kind of faith that led her to run for office in the city of Leesville and the kind of can-do spirit that got her re-elected for a second term on the City Council. Kennedy, who was sworn in with the new Leesville City Council and mayor in July, admits with a big grin, she likes a challenge. “I want to answer to the needs of the people in our community. If they need me, I am there. I stay motivated in life by giving back,” notes Kennedy. To that end, Kennedy wants to continue her work as a public servant. Two of the projects in which she was instrumental during her first term as a District Two councilwoman include attracting a branch of Central Texas College to establish off-campus studies in Leesville at the Martin Luther King Center and landscaping the complete grounds of the Martin Luther King Center.
In addition, major infrastructure improvements were completed in the district such as the water/sewer rehabilitation and repairs project as well as the Side Walk Project, which was completed in one area of the district. Speed bumps have been installed and speed zones have been changed. Kennedy was also a key in helping the city obtain a grant to get the playground equipment for Jubilee Park. “I want to be a blessing to others any way I can,” Kennedy says.
The oldest of four girls, Kennedy graduated from Vernon High School. She married her high school sweetheart, Steve, and the couple had two children—Pamela and Steve. In 1976, Kennedy decided to pursue a nursing career and attended Lamar Salter Vo-Tech School. While studying to become a licensed practical nurse, she worked as a certified nurse’s aide at night in the emergency room at Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk. After graduating as a LPN, Kennedy continued to work at the hospital. At the hospital, she worked in the OB-GYN clinic, family practice clinic, and her last 25 years in the Department of Preventative Medicine Service. There she served as a community health nurse. In all, she worked a total of 43 years at Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital before retiring in January 2009. In addition to working at the Fort Polk hospital, Kennedy worked weekends at Byrd Regional Hospital in the Geri-psych unit, and occasionally at Leesville Rehabilitation Center.
Retiring from work opened many more doors for her to start volunteering in a variety of capacities. As part of a volunteer support program, Kennedy serves as the chair for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. She is an active member of Mount Olive Baptist Church and serves on the Senior Citizens Auxiliary board. In addition, Kennedy is the health and wellness educator for the Calcasieu District Association. She still finds time to volunteer at Byrd Regional Hospital and is a member of the Byrd Regional Senior Circle. She is an active member on the Council on Aging and enjoys oil painting and making jewelry in her spare time.
As a volunteer for the Louisiana Area Ministerial Association, she is involved in “Operation We Care”, which helps prepare food boxes for the needy during the holidays. Each year, the group prepares more than 800 boxes of food for distribution. Kennedy also serves on the Jubilee Park Committee, which has several annual projects. The group decorates the park for Christmas, hosts a “Back to School Bash” where school supplies are distributed, and hosts an area-wide prayer breakfast.
Whatever event is happening in Leesville or at the schools, it seems Kennedy is doing her part. Recently, she attended the Leesville High School homecoming celebration and is on a committee to plan fundraisers for deserving graduates. A walk-a-thon has been planned for the spring, and Kennedy plans to walk in it. In the LHS homecoming parade, Kennedy rode on a float along with others who graduated from Vernon High School. On November 10th, she and other volunteers plan to put up Christmas decorations in Jubilee Park, a tradition started many years ago. “Community” is about people coming together to work toward a common goal and for the good of others, Kennedy believes. “We all need to work together to help one another, so we don’t get discouraged,” she adds.
The spirit of volunteerism is something Kennedy says she wants to pass along to her grandchildren. A woman with a “servant’s heart”, Kennedy plans on firmly planting the roots of volunteerism in her community. “By working together, we can get things done, and feel good about it.”