Robert F. Kenerson: Celebrating 50 Years of Service to Cardigan
Robert F. Kenerson’s H’04 name first began appearing in trustee minutes in 1970. Newly elected to the board, Dr. Kenerson became a spokesperson for the Nominating Committee, reporting its progress and welcoming recently-elected members. Later contributing to a long list of other committees, Dr. Kenerson’s hands-on and supportive leadership has led to significant progress at Cardigan for over five decades.
“Dr. Kenerson has a wonderful manner that makes you feel heard and appreciated,” says Director of Health Services Karen Gray. “He is truly an advocate for all that we do at Cardigan.”
That advocacy is a family legacy, reaching back to his father’s role in the founding of the School. In the historical records from the School’s first days, it is clear that John B. Kenerson was heavily invested in helping the School to succeed. In addition to serving on the board until 1990—an impressive 45-year commitment—he
was involved in everything from purchasing furniture for the fledgling School to designing the School’s official seal, from hiring faculty and headmasters to funding the construction of the School’s first athletic facility (originally named the Kenerson Gymnasium then rededicated as the Marrion Athletic Center in 2014, by gracious permission of the Kenerson family).
During the 1970s and 1980s father and son worked together on the board, supporting Cardigan during years of tremendous growth and success. Robert Kenerson’s first area of interest lay in the selection of board members. At the time, membership was informal and trustees were mostly chosen from the families of the founders. Dr. Kenerson felt it was important to change that practice and advocated for a more formalized procedure. Bylaws were written and a committee was formed; Dr. Kenerson was its chair for 17 years. He worked closely with then-Headmaster Norman Wakely in approaching a wide range of board candidates, including the first women.
Dr. Kenerson also worked closely with former Headmaster Cameron “Chip” Dewar H’02, P’93. “There was a 14-month transition from when I was hired to when I took over as headmaster,” explains Dr. Dewar. “Bob spent significant time with me during that period, helping me get to know the School. On one special occasion we drove up from the Boston area to Canaan. Along the way, Bob revealed in depth the School’s fascinating history. He was a steady hand and a reliable resource throughout my tenure as Cardigan’s headmaster. His unparalleled commitment, sustained enthusiasm, and unquestioned integrity are vivid memories from my 15 years leading Cardigan Mountain School.”
One frequent topic of their conversations was the medical care of the boys. Both a Health Services Committee and a Counseling Committee were formed to advise Dr. Dewar, and as a practicing psychiatrist Dr. Kenerson played a key role on the Counseling Committee. With his colleagues, Dr. Kenerson helped the school contract with the first professional therapist for student consultations, evaluations, and treatments. He also supported the School’s efforts to understand and teach students with learning differences, leading discussions and staff development workshops on ADD/ADHD and dyslexia. Lastly, working closely with school nurse Ros Burke, he was instrumental in the development of the School’s health center—first with renovations to the Fifield House office and later centralizing its location in Hinman Dormitory. When planning for Cardigan’s renovations, Dr. Kenerson’s wife, Ruth, joined him in visiting other schools to see how their health centers functioned, where they were located, and the programs they offered their students.
“Dr. Kenerson has a wonderful manner that makes you feel heard and appreciated. He is truly an advocate for all that we do at Cardigan.”Director of Health Services Karen Gray
Fifty years into his tenure at Cardigan, Dr. Kenerson’s interest in the School is unwavering. He rarely misses trustee meetings and continues to seek out Nurse Gray to check on the latest news from the health center. “He is very concerned about the mental health of the students, in particular the vaping culture of the country, stress and resiliency factors, technology use, and the stigma of counseling that can still be felt, especially with some cultures,” says Nurse Gray. “I value every moment of interaction with Dr. Kenerson. He is an amazing clinician but also a very kind, positive, compassionate man.”
Cardigan has been blessed by the service leadership of both John and Robert Kenerson. Their continuous care for Cardigan Mountain School and the personal well-being of the individual students has been a sustaining force since the School’s founding. As Cardigan celebrates its 75th year, the Kenerson legacy lives on, still as relevant today as it was in 1945.