Kenney Ridge: An intentional community through the eyes of Chet Thomas and Gere Warrick

December 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Note: this is one of a series of stories
written about various Athens neighborhoods.

Kenney Ridge is not the run-of-the-mill subdivision.

The community is laid out along a single road, Three Oaks Drive, with long driveways leading to houses buried in the woods. The community wanted to keep the natural appearance of the land and the houses are mostly invisible from the street.

Eight miles from downtown Athens, Kenney Ridge consists of 132 acres of naturally dense land. Divided into 29 two-acre lots and two five-acre lots, it is home to 22 families.  Beyond the home plots, there are 53 acres of common land for the community to share, and it is surrounded by acres of wooded area with trails perfect for daily hikes.

Although there are no steadfast rules for environmentally friendly living, people try to live lightly on the earth and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Gere Warrick, the president of the board of the Kenney Ridge community for three years, said that the community meets to make important decisions together. Warrick and her husband, Chet Thomas, have lived in Kenney Ridge for 12 years. They refer to all their neighbors by their first names, and love the sense of community that Kenney Ridge brings.

“Whenever there is a death or someone is sick, our neighbors take care of each other,” Warrick said.

The community is very safe. Marina Thomas, the couple’s daughter, grew up roaming the nearby woods. She was one of seven young girls in the neighborhood calling themselves “The Land Girls.”

“The girls really helped bring everyone together,” said Thomas. “They did community plays and productions and were always running around from house to house.”

Marina has taken these skills outside of the neighborhood. Now 18 years old, Marina is studying musical theater at Coastal Carolina University and hopes to reach Broadway one day.

The Thomas/Warrick household has a warm, homey feeling. Surrounded by wooden furniture and quilted blankets, the living room is flooded with natural light with a view that peers into the depths of the forest. The quiet sound of animals flutters throughout the house. They have three dogs, two cats, and two birds.

The Kenney Ridge bylaws do not mandate many regulations for living quality, but a few guidelines have been set. The buildings are built with more natural materials; no vinyl sidings can be used, and the buildings cannot impede on the natural view from the street.

People in the community are happy with their quality of life. Only four houses have been resold in the past 13 years.

The community started in 1995. “A number of people paid for a lot without knowing which lot they were going to get,” said Thomas. “It was just the dream of living out here that people were ready to pay for.”

The 53 acres of common land are maintained by dues paid quarterly by the members of the community. Lines of communication are open among the community. The board meets quarterly to vote on various matters.

“The voting system was consensus style until recently. Now we go by quorum. A notice is sent out to everyone in the neighborhood to show what is on the agenda for the open meetings,” said board president Warrick.

The board has subsequent committees that plan some neighborhood events.

There is a wealth of knowledge among the inhabitants of Kenney Ridge. Home to musicians, lawyers, yoga instructors, artists, architects, and many retired UGA professors, there is always someone with an answer to any question.

“An email has circulated throughout the community when a new type of owl scat was discovered. It was seen as an opportunity to dissect something new with the neighborhood kids. There are always new learning experiences,” said Warrick.

The community stays connected through other methods as well. A Christmas tradition of Kenney Ridge is the Annual Progressive Dinner.  Many events have been held at the old farmhouse community center. A new community center is being built and should be completed within a year.

“When there is nicer weather, the neighborhood often gathers in the lawn area outside. People play volleyball and frisbee outside, and sometimes we have pot luck happy hour on Friday nights,” said Thomas.

The Kenney Ridge website lists its covenants and by-laws.

The covenants define words used specifically to the community such as “Community means the Kenney Ridge Community Association, a non-profit Georgia membership corporation.” “Tree” is defined as “any hardwood tree whose trunk has at least a 4″ diameter measured 4.5 feet above ground level, or any coniferous tree whose trunk has at least an 8″ diameter measured 4.5 feet above ground level.” Many other words are distinctively defined on the community website.

The website covenants state the Kenney Ridge purpose is “To be a community dedicated to caring for both people and the Earth by learning, living, and demonstrating the skills needed to create a nourishing, sustainable environment and culture in which conflicts are resolved with mutual creativity and resolution is sought through positive channels.” Their way of life channels just that.

At the end of the day it is about calling a place home, and Kenney Ridge is a unique home very well tailored to its occupants. “It feels so good to come home and be happy to live here. I had never had that before,” said Thomas.

Kenney Ridge Community: Back to the roots with Bill Kenney

December 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Note: this is one of a series of stories
written about various Athens neighborhoods.

Just eight miles from downtown Athens is 132 acres of land known as Kenney Ridge, an “intentional conservation community,” and home to 22 families. Since its birth almost 20 years ago, the community has prided itself on its commitment to the stewardship of the land and the history behind it.

The 80-year-old farmhouse that still stands tall at Kenney Ridge serves as testimony this land had a story long before it was the community that it is today. Bill Kenney, 92, was born in that very farmhouse and is able to share its legacy.

Bill Kenney, born in 1918, was the second born of five children to a hard working farming family of Athens Clarke County.

“We were ignorantly happy. We didn’t have much, but my dad, [Pierce Kenney], has the land which was the most precious thing to him,” Kenney said.

The land had been in the Kenney family for many years, belonging to Kenney’s grandfather, a confederate veteran, before his father. He remembered the old farmhouse from his day. The house was civil war vintage style. The kitchen was a separate building about 50 feet from the main house, so the family usually cooked in the 4-foot-tall fireplace in the living room.

“I could tell you things a lot of things about that old house,” Kenney said, “It’s just really personal to me to remember it.”

Kenney said that his mother would cook just about anything on the fire, but he especially loved the delicious biscuits she made.

“Growing up we had a lot of good times. We had Sundays off. After church we had the freedom to do what we wanted, but six days a week, it was work,” said Kenney.

The Kenney family farmed cash and truck crops: timber, cotton, corn, fruits, and beans. The farm was completely family run, and it provided produce for UGA and other families in town. It took a lot of work for a single family to keep the farm going. Kenney recalls his childhood days of going to school in the mornings, collecting beans from the farm in the afternoon, and shelling the beans every night in the house.

Farming was what Kenney’s father new best. He did not receive an education past the 5th grade level because he had to work on the farm to take care of his family. His father had been seriously wounded in the war, and he took over the duties of the family from a very young age.

“My dad thought anyone could be a farmer without an education, and he could. I was always impressed with everything he could do without any education,” Kenney said.

Kenney’s mother was a substitute teacher at the local schoolhouse. She placed an emphasis on her children’s education, which started in a two-room schoolhouse with about as many windows in as there were out.

“Tots to grown men were in the same school,” he said.

Kenney left school after the 8th grade to help work on the farm. He was out for four years and then went back to high school.

“He always was the brains of his family. Now he reads all the time and watches the news, too,” said Kenney’s wife, Elizabeth Kenney.

Determination was not something that Bill Kenney lacked. He faced many obstacles in his education. He had to take four years off in between middle school and high school, and still he went on to college at UGA to study engineering, but Kenney did not have a car. He walked eight miles to school both ways everyday. Sometimes, a neighbor would give him a ride if they were passing by.

“For labs, we had a lot of lab work, we would work late into the night. I spent the night in the classrooms those days,” Kenney said.

Kenney paid his way through school. “I would do just about anything for a quarter or a dollar,” he said. He was handy and earned money by making repairs. He also taught carpentry, metal work, and woodwork as an assistant professor at UGA.

Kenney largely credits his mother for his education; “I grew up and knew that I needed an education if I were going to go anywhere. I was the only one in my family that got a college education.”

Bill Kenney graduated from UGA in 1942. Just 10 days later, He left for the army and was a 2nd lieutenant stationed in Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.

Elizabeth and Bill Kenney at their home in Athens, Ga.

“That was when I met Bill,” his wife, Elizabeth, said. “Bill’s sister-in-law invited me over to meet him one day, but then he left with the army overseas and was gone for four years, but when he got back, he asked me to marry him.” Bill andElizabeth have been happily married for over 50 years with three children, Barbara, Steve and Martha.

Bill and Elizabeth Kenney moved around the southeast for the next decade. Meanwhile, back at Kenney Ridge, Bill’s oldest brother, Pierce Jackson Kenney, PJ, took over the farm after their father’s death.

“Everyone in town would come to get the strawberries that PJ raised. Those were the best strawberries in town,” Elizabeth said.

After leaving Athens in 1948, Bill Kenney and his family lived in Tifton, Columbus, Mississippi, and Memphis. He worked as an engineer for a construction company.

Doctors told Kenney that he had a heart condition, and Kenney’s father and 3 of his siblings had died of heart related problems. In 1973, Bill Kenney moved his family back to Athens so that when he died they would be near family.

“I knew that I would probably die before I lived to be old,” said 92-year-old Kenney.

He worked for Porterfield Construction and then John Que West Construction before starting his own construction company, Kenney Enterprise Inc.

Bill Kenney had never intended to continue life on the farm, which was why he invested so much in his education, but so much experience and moral values had come from his childhood at Kenney Ridge.

After PJ Kenney’s death, no one was left to work the family farm. Bill and his two sisters would have like to keep the farm, but due to a flux in the land taxes, financially they were unable to keep the land that had been in their family for over a century.

He sold the 132 acres of family land to Nancy Stangle and Skipper StipeMass. “I had reservations of selling at first, but I would rather sell to them than someone trying to build a subdivision,” Kenney said.

Kenney said he was very impressed with the buyers, and that they understood what it meant to preserve the land and the history.

“They would have their meetings on the front porch of where he was raised,” said Elizabeth Kenney.

“Mr. Kenney still comes to some of our meetings at the farmhouse,” Skipper StipeMass said. “We will all sit around as he tells us stories of how Kenney Ridge used to be.”

The farmhouse continued to be a centerpiece of the community. “We used to call it hotel Kenney,” said StipeMass. “Everyone ends up staying there for at least a night during moving transitions etc.”

Today Bill Kenney has come a long way from the Kenney farm. He remembers the farm fondly, but is thankful for central heat and the comfortable life he leads in a tidy home in a community near Timothy Road. Not thinking he would live past 65, Bill Kenney keeps up his health at 92-years-old by using a rowing machine, getting regular check ups, and going for walks at the mall with his wife, Elizabeth.

Bill and Elizabeth are still active in the Athens community, members of the First United Methodist church, and are just as happy as the day they met. Elizabeth is always ready for guests, the perfect southern hostess, with chocolate chip cookies and coffee and at set table.

“It’s a great life, I’ll tell you,” Kenney said.

Family life enhanced by community-centered life in Kenney Ridge

December 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Note: this is one of a series of stories
written about various Athens neighborhoods.

For the StipeMaas family, the decision to live a community-centered, environmentally conscious neighborhood was not a decisive secession from the pace of city living; it was the only natural course.

Jim and Skipper StipeMaas both grew up in environments where the importance of conservation and community were emphasized in very different ways. Skipper lived on a 600-acre farm close to Dixie, Ga., a town of approximately 250 during her time there. Jim was raised in a mill town with hundreds of similar lots that surrounded 35 acres of park land. When they were looking for a place to live in Athens, they recognized normal city dwelling was not a comfortable option.

“We realized we were going to live in Athens, and looked around and [commented], ‘There’s no place I can live in Athens,’” said Skipper StipeMaas.  “I grew up two miles south of a town of 250 people on a farm, and this is not going to work.”

When searching for an appropriate place to live, Skipper met another woman with similar ideas about living sustainably, and the two eventually found Kenney Ridge.  An “intentional conservation community,” Kenney Ridge is home to 132 acres of river, 24 families and part of the Middle Oconee River, and various wild forest animals that give the neighborhood the feeling of being much farther away from downtown Athens than a 15-minute drive. Families live far enough apart on the heavily shaded winding road so that seeing into someone else’s yard is impossible. The StipeMaases have lived here for 13 years, raised their two daughters in the community and watched their childhoods blend into the perfect mix for their own children.

The StipeMaas home is painted in warm orange and yellow tones. The smell of cinnamon, noticeable as soon as Skipper opens the front door,  is just as strong in the living room where her family sits in front of a fire, reminiscing about the early years at Kenney Ridge. The room is covered in Jim’s paintings; woods landscapes largely inspired by the natural beauty of the neighborhood. Jim graduated from UGA in 1992 with an art degree; Skipper with a law degree in the same year.

A painting by Jim StipeMaas

Prairie, a sophomore animal science major at UGA, brings a black lab puppy, Simba, into the room and coaxes him to sit. She is raising the dog for Guide Dogs of America. The StipeMaases have always kept animals, and put the current headcount at two dogs, three cats, four hens, a rooster, a rabbit, numerous goldfish, and a miniature horse named Thunder.

Valley, the younger daughter, is a student at Athens Montessori. On Tuesday mornings before school, she goes down the road to help milk the community goats.  Residents make cheese with the milk.

“You can drink the milk,” says Jim. “It’s very much like cows’ milk, but probably a little more rich. We’re skim milk drinkers.”

Skipper offers us a taste. The milk is dense, but lighter and milder than cows’ milk. The family recounts stories of the girls growing up on the expansive land. As children, they had the freedom to explore all 400 acres behind the house. Skipper laughs as she remembers a time when Valley and a friend were gone for hours one day, and with no way to know where they were, Skipper worried they wouldn’t be home when the other girl’s parents came to pick her up.

“I start calling neighbors, ‘Have you seen my daughter?’” says Skipper. “‘Well, I saw her at Nancy’s house,’ ‘Well, I saw her down at the garden.’ And I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to say to this mom?’ I mean, this is not how other people live.”

Prairie and Valley describe their childhood as comfortable and full of support. They were part of a group of friends in the neighborhood who called themselves the Land Girls. They would get together for annual ice cream socials, messy dinner parties and every birthday, graduation and holiday party.

Messy dinner parties were a tradition started at the StipeMaas household. Girls from the neighborhood came over dressed in their swimsuits. Skipper made spaghetti and chocolate pudding and the girls ate outside, finger painting with their pudding, making whip cream pies and eventually running through a sprinkler when they could be no messier.

They discuss the whereabouts of the Land Girls now. Most are still in Athens, some are in college, some starting jobs. Prairie is confident that if she emailed them all to come back for another messy dinner party, they would all make it.

Now that Prairie lives in an apartment nearer to the university, she visits home frequently, and feels an easy independence even living so close to home. “Most of the people who live here are really committed to community,” says Skipper.