Kenny builds career on bringing out best in others
(This article appeared in the Summer 2015 Saint Michael’s College Magazine)
There is a sweet irony for Chris Kenny ’86 M’98 as he reminisces about his first day as an undergraduate at Saint Michael’s. “The first member of the community that I met was Zaf Bludevich, who guided me through my very first day on campus,” said Kenny, discussing the man who served the college for 39 years as an athletics administrator, trainer and coach. “It’s ironic that later in life we would work closely together in the athletic department for many years. His friendship is one of the very best things that has happened to me over my career at Saint Michael’s.”
On July 1, three decades after this arrival as a student in the early 1980s, Kenny became the new director of athletics, after a nationwide search. Kenny has worked at Saint Michael’s since 1987. During his tenure, he served 11 years as the associate director of athletics, and just completed his first year as the senior associate athletic director, assuming Bludevich’s former position after his retirement in 2014.
“I’m very excited and honored to have this opportunity,” said Kenny. “I have a deep respect and appreciation for the history of our college and our athletic program. I am very proud of the institution we have become and the transformational role we play in developing the remarkable young people who choose to attend here.”
Among those young people is Kenny’s eldest daughter, Jillian, a member of the Class of 2018. Director of Alumni and Parent Relations Angela Aja Armour’99 M’09 has also benefited from Kenny’s influence, not only working together in her current role, but also during previous phases of her life as a student-athlete, a student employee in the athletic department and as the Sports Information Director (SID, reporting directly to Kenny for three years in the early 2000s.
“I was blown away by his confidence in my ability to head up my own office,” said Armour, recalling Kenny contacting her in the fall of 2000 when the SID position opened.
Despite her not having exposure to sports information until her senior year, Armour said, Kenny was instrumental in directing her toward postgraduate internships that would help her begin a career in athletics. That guidance has led to Armour spending nearly 15 years at Saint Michael’s, beginning in the athletic department.
“I firmly believe that athletics greatly enhances the educational experience for our student-athletes, as well as the life of this community,” said Kenny, who explained that his goals include continuing to enhance student-athletes’ lives. “Working with our talented staff, I’m looking forward to doing all that we can to make that experience as rewarding as possible.”
Kenny takes the reins of the department upon Director of Athletics Geri Knortz’s retirement after 18 years. It’s an historic appointment, as Kenny becomes only the fourth AD at Saint Michael’s since just after the end of World War II, joining George “Doc” Jacobs (1947-68), Edward P. Markey’51 (1968-97) and Knortz (1997-2015).
“We all know Chris as a loyal and faithful employee of long standing, but what impressed me in this search process was his command of the strategic issues facing the college, as well as his carefully developed approaches to developing solutions,” said President John J. Neuhauser of Kenny’s new role. “I am happy that Chris will bring his wide-ranging knowledge of this college and its people to an ambitious agenda which keeps student-athletes at the center of intercollegiate athletics here while simultaneously improving the athletic experience for students.”
Kenny, who will become the first alumnus to assume the post since Markey nearly half a century ago, discovered Saint Michael’s all those years ago when a friend in his hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, who attended the college, described its small, close-knit community. Garnering a degree in journalism was also appealing. “I found that my friend’s description of the community and people here was absolutely true, and that the small class sizes and meaningful faculty engagement with students was exactly what I was looking for,” he said.
After graduating and spending the next year working in minor league baseball, he returned to Saint Michael’s to serve as the SID, under Markey, in 1987. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be at Saint Michael’s this long<” said Kenny. “It’s been a great place to work, and the Burlington area has been a wonderful place to raise a family. As Ferris Bueller says, “life moves pretty fast,’ and when you are happy and part of a special community, it seems to move at light speed.”
Just as Bludevich did for Kenny during his first day on campus, Kenny continues paying it forward. “I’m not sure I can overstate how important he has been in teaching me how to be a good mentor, role model, supervisor and friend,” Armour said. “He’s so classy and humble and caring and compassionate. He’s just the real deal.”