Centenarian celebrates surrounded by family

Kath Kennedy, of Alexandra, who turns 100 today,  shows her birthday card from the Queen  to her great-great-grandchildren (from left) Jonty, Jaylah (11) and Bailey (14) Kennedy, of Wingatui. Jonty shares a birthday with his great-great-Nan. He turns  9 today. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Kath Kennedy, of Alexandra, who turns 100 today, shows her birthday card from the Queen to her great-great-grandchildren (from left) Jonty, Jaylah (11) and Bailey (14) Kennedy, of Wingatui. Jonty shares a birthday with his great-great-Nan. He turns 9 today. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.

Family comes "first, last and middle" for Kath Kennedy, so it seems fitting she shares her 100th birthday today with great-great-grandson Jonty Kennedy, who is exactly 91 years younger than Mrs Kennedy.

The Alexandra woman raised a family of nine children with her late husband Jack, and now has 24 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren, including Jonty and his siblings, who live at Wingatui.

Her family and friends are gathering in Alexandra today to celebrate her milestone birthday, first at a Mass of thanksgiving at St John the Baptist Catholic Church and then at an afternoon tea.

Mrs Kennedy lives in her own home with one of her sons, and says she is thankful to reach 100.

"Family, faith and food" have always been her priorities.

"I've had so much enjoyment out of my family over the years; I've got a lot to be thankful for, and my family have looked after me very well."

Her Rosary beads are always close at hand and Mrs Kennedy says her faith is important.

Asked for the "secret" to her longevity, she replied, "God's been good".

As for the "food" component of the equation, her family explain she is renowned for her catering abilities.

"I've sure fed a few people over the years - the children and all the friends they brought home with them, but it all worked out all right," she said.

Mrs Kennedy was born in Alexandra, one of three O'Neill children. Her parents had a small orchard near town, and the site, now O'Neill Cres, was named after the family.

When she was 3, her mother died. Her father continued to look after her and her elder brother, while their younger sister went to live with an aunt in Mosgiel.

Mrs Kennedy attended St Gerard's School in Alexandra, starting when she was 4, to make it easier for her father to work and care for her.

She married rabbiter and labourer Jack Kennedy in 1931 and they were kept busy raising a family of six boys and three girls. Mrs Kennedy was widowed 36 years ago.

"I've lived here almost all my life and have no complaints about life in Alexandra. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," she said.

Known to her extended family as Kath, Mum or Nan, Mrs Kennedy takes an active interest in what is going on and little escapes her attention.

Her interests include horse racing and rugby.

She happily admits to one vice.

"I don't smoke at all, but I do have an occasional drink of gin," she said, smiling.

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz