VFW Member, married for 50 years: Patsy Kemp

Published 9:46 am Saturday, February 11, 2017

By Anne Payne

The Orange Leader

We often think couples who wed in high school do not have a chance for long-lasting marriages, not to mention keeping track of two little boys and all their projects, while attempting to attend college and participate in community activities such as church, PTA, Boy Scouts, and even VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary. One such pair was found in Orange, Patsy and Kenneth Kemp. Patricia “Patsy” Ann Conroy Kemp, 68, a 1967 Lutcher Stark HS “Tiger” graduate, and Kenneth Iley Kemp, almost 71, a 1964 West Orange HS “Chief” graduate, tied the knot on June 9, 1966, begging Patsy’s mom, Dorothy Fuller Jenkins, to sign a marriage consent form. After all, Patsy was but a mere 17-years-old and a junior in high school!

Dorothy herself was a 1943 graduate of Lutcher Stark HS, meeting Patsy’s dad, Herman Theodore “Ted” Conroy, a Navy man from Connecticut, while working as a civilian in a government job in Orange. Young love was popular in the 1940’s of WWII, especially in the Navy town of Orange, population about 60,000, so Dorothy understood the young pair’s desire to marry.

“Dorothy was a 60-year member of the VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary #2775, established in 1943 and re-chartered in the early 1960’s,” Patsy said. “The VFW Post House #2775 in Orange was chartered in 1941, and its Post House was across from Gilmer Holmes Housing, near Riverside Housing. The VFW was located between Simmons Drive and Second Street.”

Dorothy wanted Patsy to join the VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary at 16, but Patsy waited, joining at 20, beginning Patsy’s entrance into the world of VFW!

Through these 48 years, Patsy has served in nearly every capacity of offices for the VFW Auxiliary at local, district, state, and national levels.

“In my tenure of numerous offices, I have traveled to Wyoming, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Arkansas, representing the VFW Auxiliary National President at state conventions,” Patsy said. “I have visited Utah, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Texas for VFW Auxiliary National Conventions.”

National Presidents of VFW Auxiliaries have also given Patsy the honor of serving twice as National Ambassador over all 50 states.

“While serving as Southern Conference President of VFW Auxiliary, Patsy visited all 14 states in the conference: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, W. Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, N. Carolina, and S. Carolina,” Patsy said.

Patsy also served this group as Chaplain and Vice President, currently serving as Secretary.

“The VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary changed its name in 2015 to simply ‘VFW Auxiliary’ so men and women can both be members, since the military is now composed of 22 percent of women,” Patsy said.

Also, in the face of change, a new facility, a white building located on N. Hwy. 87, was purchased. Then, the Post built the current larger building the year Patsy was VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary local president.

“Some may recall that Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe traveled to Orange in 1975 with his entourage: state troopers, a state senator and a state representative to dedicate the VFW building!” exclaimed the native Orange daughter.

Another change occurred nine years after Patsy married, when she started college at what was then called Lamar University, Orange, not LSC-O. Patsy was in the first graduating class, earning a 2-year degree as Accounting Clerk in Dec. 1977. Interestingly, she began college just as her husband was beginning a 100-day strike at his paper mill job, each of her two sons was participating on separate football teams, her husband was coaching a completely different football team, all while Patsy was a room mother for both boys.

“Kenneth soon went back to what was, over the years, Owens Illinois, Inland Container, Temple Inland, and the current International Paper, for a total of 44 plus years,” Patsy said. “Kenneth says that the only way he was able to give back to the community of Orange was through me serving in various capacities, such as in McDonald Baptist Church, VFW, Boy Scouts, Service League of Orange, and Orange County Friends due to his mill work schedule.”

Patsy also served three different times as president of the now abandoned Orange County Community Service Council, with representatives from such organizations as Orange Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, Lutcher Theater Guild, Orange Community Players, Altrusa, VFW Auxiliary, Service League of Orange, Orange Newcomers’ Club, and Orange Christian Services, among many. The organization was dissolved in the early 2000’s.

“A highlight of my VFW Auxiliary participation has been winning 13 First Place ‘Plates’ for promoting programs such as Americanism, Safety, Voice of Democracy/Patriot’s Pen, and National Home (in Eaton Rapids, Michigan),” relays Patsy.

Additionally, Patsy served as the Membership Chair for Texas VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary, representing her state on National VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary Council. Patsy has remained as Orange VFW Auxiliary Treasurer since 1995, with the exception of one year as state president.

“A special memory includes my involvement in placing a flag in all the then newly remodeled classrooms on the LCMHS campus years ago,” Patsy said. “I distributed over 30 flags, one to each classroom, and   conducted ‘Evolution of the Flag Programs,’ including the flag’s history and how to fold a flag, a national program to promote patriotism.”

On a personal note, Patsy has been a member of the same Sunday School class at McDonald Baptist Church since 1967, 49 years, along with 12 other ladies. Amazing! Patsy and Kenneth also reared two sons. Both are married, one living in Orange and the other in Missouri.

“We now have six grandchildren and even two great grandchildren,” Patsy said. “Bryan Kemp, the local boy, owns Bryan’s Air Conditioning in Orange, while Don Kemp works for a business that makes artificial meat in Columbia, Missouri.”

Even though the Missouri group is many miles away, 12.5 hours by car, Patsy and Kenneth make the trek to “Mizzou land” more often than one would think, especially since they want to see three grandchildren and two great grandbabies, along with their son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, another three grandchildren reside locally. Two granddaughters, Bryanna Kemp and Megan Kemp, will soon graduate from Lamar University. Patsy’s brother, Chuck Conroy, retired from Dupont and then moved to Moore, Oklahoma, always staying in touch with his sister, Patsy. Her half-sister, Sharon, lives in Connecticut, also remaining in contact.

Family has always been important to Patsy, since she was a caregiver to her mother-in-law, her mom, and her aunt, each separately, for years. She and Kenneth even established an apartment by the garage where their loved ones could easily receive care, which is handy for Patsy’s continuous growing family. Patsy is a strong, independent woman, but angel dust appears to fall off her shining halo as she gives to others as a true Super Mom of the 21st century.