tenure at Messick High School in Memphis left a strong
impression on several generations of students.
"Miss Kenner made
us feel capable of doing anything," Charlotte Turner, a Union
alumna and a student of Miss Kenner's at Messick, said. "We
came in as children of the depression, shy and lacking
confidence, but her classes changed the way we thought of
ourselves. By the time we graduated, we were quite bold."
dedication to bringing out the best in each of her students
helped launch several careers in the performing arts. Three of
her Messick students, Patricia Welting, Ruth Welting and Nancy
Tatum, went on to perform with New YorkÕs Metropolitan Opera,
while countless others made names for themselves in local and
"I never taught
anybody how to sing, to act, or to be a star," Miss Kenner
insists. "I only wanted to teach my students how to take the
stage, to express themselves, and to hold their own in all
types of situations. Poise and confidence mean a lot, not just
in performance, but in whatever a person does."
"She made us feel
like we could face the world and be whatever we wanted to be,"
"I was a teacher
at the best possible time in history to teach," Miss Kenner
says. "Not only were the students eager to learn, but the
parents were behind their children and saw that they achieved.
I wish it were still like that today."
rapport Miss Kenner shared with students and parents produced
many landmark performances. Rehearsals were often held at 6:00
a.m. so Messick football players could participate in the
plays. This dedication was rewarded, as her annual childrenÕs
plays attracted such a following that performances soon
outgrew MessickÕs auditorium and moved to Ellis Auditorium in
"All of the
students worked hard at what they did, and it was a wonderful
feeling to see the community and parents show such interest,"
said Miss Kenner, whose favorite plays to direct include "Our
Town," "The Sound of Music," "Twelfth Night," "I Remember
Mama," "The Wizard of Oz," and "Hansel and Gretel."
retired from Messick in 1971 to move back to Bells and teach
privately, Miss Kenner regularly attends Messick reunions,
where she is warmly remembered by former students.
haven't seen Miss Kenner in decades throng to her; she had
that strong an influence on our lives," Turner said.
additional 14 years of giving private speech and drama
lessons, Miss Kenner retired from the teaching profession in
1985. She has not mellowed in retirement, however, as her list
of accomplishments continues to grow.
In August 1994,
Miss Kenner was elected to the Educational Theatre Association
Hall of Fame in San Francisco. Later that same month, during
Theatre Memphis' 75th anniversary gala, Miss Kenner was
honored for producing so many of the actors who later graced
the Theatre Memphis stage. Finally, in September 1994, she
received an Outstanding Achievement Award from Ned McWherter,
the third Tennessee governor to recognize her accomplishments
in the classroom.
"I've never had so
much attention in all my life," Miss Kenner says. "Being
honored in this way is one of the greatest things ever to
happen to me."
retirement, Miss Kenner tries to stay current with
developments in the performing arts world. Until last year,
she travelled to New York each Christmas to see the latest
plays and musicals. Today, she still visits Memphis regularly
and remains in touch with former colleagues from her teaching
remembers each of her 57 years as a teacher fondly.
"Teaching has been
my life; when my children achieved, that was my payoff," Miss
Kenner says. "If a child can achieve just once and build his
or her confidence, life will never again be the same. Those
are the moments I'll never forget."
visiting a blind woman once, and asking her, 'don't you get
lonesome?' She replied, 'No, I still have my memories.' Now I
know what she meant. I miss teaching, even after ten years of
retirement, but my memories will always be here."