Farm Progress

Rita Kennedy is well-known in dairy circles and is a lifelong dairy farmer.

November 28, 2018

4 Min Read
KENNEDY CLAN: The Kennedy family of Butler County, Pa., surround Rita Kennedy after she won the 2015 Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Award from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

By Carol Ann Gregg

One name keeps appearing in dairy circles, whether at the local, state or national level: Rita Kennedy.

A lifelong dairy farmer, she’s ready to take on a new role on the National Dairy Shrine board of directors.

She has been a member of National Dairy Shrine for over 25 years and served on its scholarship committee for four years. The National Dairy Shrine maintains a dairy museum in Atkinson, Wis.; provides scholarships for youths interested in dairy; and annually honors individuals who have contributed to the dairy industry.

"The board of directors meets twice during World Dairy Expo," Kennedy says. "And I know that there will be conference calls. I don’t know for sure what all my duties will be."

David Selsner, executive director of National Dairy Shrine, says Kennedy, a western Pennsylvania native, will be a great addition to the board.

"National Dairy Shrine board members are elected to serve on the board after they have already demonstrated exemplary service and leadership to the dairy industry. Rita Kennedy has been a true dairy leader and has volunteered her talents to numerous dairy organizations including National Dairy Shrine over the years," Selsner says. "Since the Dairy Shrine is a national organization that has board members from all over the country, it is especially important to have representation from major dairy states like Pennsylvania. Rita’s fellow board members are looking forward to having her talents as part of the management team fulfilling the mission of National Dairy Shrine."

Always involved
Kennedy is not new to the national dairy scene. She served two terms on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, four years as secretary, and four years on the scholarship and diversity committee.

She and her family have been raising and showing Brown Swiss cattle for many years. At one time, they had over 20 Excellent Brown Swiss cows.

When the National Brown Swiss Convention was held in Pennsylvania, Kennedy served on the host committee and helped in various capacities.

She has been involved with the All-American Dairy Show as a member of the board for 27 years and served as vice president for eight years and president for 10 years. She became involved with the All-American Dairy Show board when her father-in-law, Francis Kennedy, asked her to fill in for him while he was out of state. She became president of the board in 2003 following the death of Obie Snider, who was serving as president at the time.

Kennedy was instrumental in the establishment of the All-American Dairy Foundation Inc. It was formed when state funding for the All-American Dairy Show was in jeopardy. She’s been secretary since the foundation’s inception in 2008.

She continues to serve on dairy promotion boards including the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Mid East board and the Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program.

Kennedy has received many awards, including the 2001 All-American Dairy Show Image Award; the 2001 Pennsylvania Dairy Woman of the Year; the 2003 World Dairy Expo Dairywoman of the Year; the 2015 Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Award; and the 2016 Obie Snider Award at All-American Dairy Show.

Family tradition continues
She and her husband, Jim, have five children, 17 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Jeffrey Kennedy, the oldest, operates a dairy farm in Penn Township with his son, Jordan.

John Kennedy has a regulated hunting business at the farm in Middlesex Township near Rita and Jim Kennedys’ home. He also participates in the Cooperative Farmers Market of East Liberty, a Saturday morning market in Pittsburgh.

Jim and Rita Kennedy joined the market in 1966 to diversify their income, and the family has been involved ever since.

PARTNERS IN BUSINESS: Jim and Rita Kennedy have done lots of work over the years to encourage young people, including their five children, to continue in the dairy industry.

Their daughter Jill is the payroll accountant of a local school district while their other daughter, Janelle Callen, lives on a dairy farm close by.

Their son Jason has a dairy farm in Cochranton.

"We have Christmas at the hunting lodge since there is too many of us to fit in anyone’s home," Rita Kennedy says laughing.

Encouraging the next generation
Much of the work Rita and Jim Kennedy have done over the years has centered on encouraging the next generation of farmers. Three of their children have Keystone FFA degrees and two have received American Farmer Awards.

"I think our children are in agriculture because they see how Jim and I face the challenges and also see how much we enjoy it," Rita Kennedy says.

Gregg writes from western Pennsylvania

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