The day Ray and Natalie Kennedy were married was the same day their small town of Deer Lodge, Tennessee got electricity.
"The symbolism was very nice," as Natalie Kennedy relates nearly sixty years on. "We were doubly blessed. Everything changed on that one day."
From grade school through high school Ray and Natalie shared a small-town upbringing in rural Morgan County. "School days were spent reading by kerosene lantern," laughs Natalie. "Even today Deer Lodge doesn't have a traffic light nor does our church have a telephone."
Deer Lodge United Church of Christ is a rustic, wooden structure built in the late 1800s. As youngsters Ray and Natalie gave praise through countless hymns sung between these pine walls. It's a sanctuary full of childhood recollections of bundled-up parents traipsing through December snows scurrying inside to gain not only body warmth but spiritual warmth as well. The chapel harkens back to the joyous Easter sunrise services of Ray and Natalie's teenage years. Years later this fine old structure would be where both Kennedy children are christened.
When Ray Kennedy passed on in 2006 Natalie felt a fitting memorial to her husband of fifty-six years was in order. "An outdoor sign for the church we love so much is what my family decided on," states Natalie. "My daughter, Donna Kirby, son Chester, and I made plans to purchase a sign in my husband's name."
"However, we didn't know a stitch about church signs!" Natalie confesses.
So, with the aid of her son in Orlando, Florida, the search got underway.
Natalie's son Chester is an aerospace engineer. Chester took it upon himself to drive around central Florida and personally inspect church signs on the front lawns of every church he came upon.
"He must have driven around several weekends at least!" recalls Natalie. "When he finally got back to me he didn't suggest who I should buy from. He told me who to buy from. I hopped right on the web and typed in Stewart Church Signs.
"My dealings with Stewart's sign consultant were most pleasant," Natalie reports. "It was just the kind of help I needed to select the perfect memorial to my husband. My sign consultant was never pushy. He treated my family with great respect."
When the church's new Stewart sign arrived the Kennedy family assembled privately to dedicate it to the memory of Ray Kennedy.
Most Mondays find Natalie on her step stool changing the message on the sign. "I enjoy maintaining the sign any way I can. It's not just a church sign to me. My family put it here for a reason."
Natalie adds with a smile, "Ray would probably scold me for spending the money, but this time I'm not so sure. This sign is going to be here for a very long time."
Deer Lodge United Church of Christ
Deer Lodge, TN