August 1996

Jonas Thomas Kennedy

Farmer and Philanthropist

Jonas Thomas Kennedy

The rich harvest produced by Bennettsville framer Jonas Thomas Kennedy have helped to enrich the field of education on two continents thousands of miles apart. One of South Carolina’s most successful farmers, Kennedy is also a generous philanthropist. Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and Africa University in Zimbabwe have both named buildings after Kennedy and his wife, Odette, for their contributions to the development of those institutions. Born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, Kennedy’s parents and his two sisters were all Claflin College graduates. Kennedy entered Claflin in the 1930s, but he transferred to South Carolina State College where he studied agriculture. After he graduated from college in 1938, Kennedy combined teaching and farming. While serving as a teaching principal in McBee, South Carolina, he also found the time to raise chickens and turkeys on the side. He later taught agriculture in Clio and Spartanburg and worked as a soil conservationist in Greenville. In 1939, Kennedy began to manage the family farm on which he quickly mastered turkey farming. Recognized internationally as a expert in turkey production, Kennedy has served as a farming consultant to countries throughout Africa. He has traveled to every continent except Australia to observe farming techniques. In the 1960’s he was the only South Carolina farmer invited by President Lyndon Johnson to attend a national farm policy conference. He was voted Farmer of the Year in 1977 and has been featured in Ebony magazine, Turkey World and Progressive Farmer. In 1989, he received the Administrator’s Service Award for Service to the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. His 1,200 acre farm has also produced major crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat barley and rye. In addition to being a farmer, Kennedy is a generous philanthropist. His donations to Claflin College made possible the construction of the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Physical Education Center. From 1969 to 1983, he was a trustee of the college. In 1975, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, and he is a member of the college’s Hall of Fame. “An education in an environment where moral values are nurtured along with intellectual growth is to be highly prized in today’s world,” says Kennedy. “Claflin’s church-related heritage has been an impetus for active service to a diverse constituency. Students leave the campus with their horizons brightened and a commitment to service.” He has sponsored the education of two African students at Claflin. His commitment to the development of education in Africa has helped Zimbabwe to establish its “School of Dreams.” Africa University has been the recipient of three major donations by Kennedy, including a $250,000 gift to build a dormitory, which is named in honor of Odette Kennedy. The Kennedy’s have traveled to Zimbabwe several times and were presented with the first flag to fly over the university. The United Methodist Church has been a leading sponsor of Africa University and the church has always been very important to Kennedy. He is a member of Bennettsville’s Level Green United Methodist Church. Also, Kennedy has served the community in which he lives in several capacities. For 11 years he was president of the Marlboro County NAACP and he has also been a member of the county’s highway commission and general hospital board. “I believe that there is an obligation to make the world a better place for all people to live in,” is his philosophy of life. “Each must find his or her way to meet this calling.” Through his contributions to progress, Jonas Kennedy has fully met that challenge.