April 09, 2014LITTLETON—Arthur J. Kenney, principal of Littleton High School from 1950 through 1963, was honored April 1 on what was the 60th anniversary of the greatest challenge of his tenure, the destruction by fire of the high school in 1954.
His response to that crisis, according to Al Smith, assistant superintendent and CTC director, who opened the proceedings, "was to get things rolling within two weeks and to see the school rebuilt in two years."
"This is the man we are here to honor today," he continued. "A man who understood the needs of this school and our community and he made it happen."
Kenney died on March 12 in Littleton at age 97.
In recognition of his accomplishments, a commendation signed by Governor Maggie Hassan honoring Kenney was presented to his son, David Kenney, at the ceremony in the high school library.
The document was conveyed by State Senator Jeff Woodburn, who told the gathering, "Mr. Kenney was one of the longest-serving principals in the school's history and his contributions are still evident today."
He then read the document, which commended Kenney "for his exceptional service as principal of Littleton High School and his dedication to his community and his state."
As detailed in the commendation, in addition to overseeing the reconstruction of the high school, Kenney also established the school's first academic departments, added the first art program, guidance director and librarian and created its marching band. Also during his tenure the high school was first accredited and its membership in the National Honor Society was reestablished.
About a dozen students who are members of the honor society attended the event along with perhaps 20 members of the school staff and personal friends.
Joining in the comments was school board member Barbara Astone, who said she had a dual perspective on Kenney.
"As a member of the school board, I am well aware of Mr. Kenney's important contributions to the high school," she said. "But I also knew him as a friend and neighbor for twelve years. He was a wonderful, pleasant, happy, open person who was full of stories about the school and much else."
She added that she currently lives in the house at the top of Farr Hill in Littleton that the Kenney family owned during all the years he served as principal.
Members of the audience echoed her sentiments.
"Everybody loved him," according to Pam Hennessey, who is a retired teacher and was a student at the high school while Mr. Kenney was principal. "He knew everybody. He was very approachable. He gave the school the feeling of team spirit."
Local attorney Brien Ward, who is also Kenney's godson, added: "He loved Littleton, he loved his family and he loved this school. Those were the great loves of his life."
Born in Milford, Mass. in the midst of the First World War, he went on to serve for four years in the Army Air Force in the Second World War, rising to the rank of captain. Yet even at that young age, he had already made his mark in another field: professional baseball.
As a star pitcher during his college years at Holy Cross, he caught the attention of scouts from the Boston Bees (later to become the Boston Braves), and right out of college at age 22, he signed with the Bees and played for 18 months for its manager, Casey Stengel, the future baseball legend who went on to fame with the New York Yankees. Thus, at his death Mr. Kenney was the third oldest living professional baseball player.
But eventually his life was to go in quite another direction, which included marriage and a career in public school administration.
His wife, now deceased, was Lorraine Ledoux, a local girl who was crowned Miss New Hampshire in the 1938 Miss America competition where she was voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants. They were married in 1941.
After the war he returned home to Littleton, started a family and in 1950, and, after positions at several area schools, he become principal of the high school here, where he served for 13 years.
Then in 1964 he moved his family to North Reading, Mass., where he served as high school principal until his retirement in 1981. For the next 33 years he divided his time between Littleton and his home in North Reading.
David Kenney, Mr. Kenney's only son and the last participant to speak, recalled a comment his father made shortly before he died: "You know, there's nothing in the school that shows I was there, nothing that recognizes my presence."
That comment provided the inspiration for the event, designed initially as a surprise for his father.
"Unfortunately he passed away about three weeks ago," he explained. "His heart was always in Littleton and he loved Littleton High School. I'm sorry he couldn't be here today because this acknowledgment would have made him very happy. Thank you all for doing this."
That lack of permanent recognition, however, was corrected during the event. A framed photograph, dating from 1953, and plaque were accepted by the school.
The creation of the portrait, in fact, required an international effort, according to event organizers. The small snapshot taken for the 1953 yearbook was scanned in New York City. Then a PhotoShop expert currently living in Beijing was consulted on the retouching. Finally, the file was printed and framed locally.
Both the portrait and the plaque will shortly be placed permanently on public view on the wall outside the high school's main office.
"These will put a face to all the programs that are here because of his service," Mr. Smith said, concluding the event.