Jim Kennelly, formerly of Worth, at a party to honor his 30 years of service to the Worth Park District. He is shown with Frank and Lou Homerding (seated)).
By Laura Bollin
James E. Kennelly, a longtime Worth Park Board president and owner of the Worth Currency Exchange and Worth Credit Union, was laid to rest last week after a lengthy illness.
Mr. Kennelly, formerly of Palos Heights and Worth, died Feb. 23 at his home in Crown Point, Ind. He was 71.
Mr. Kennelly, known to most as Jim, was always willing to help people, said his wife, Nancy. Nancy and Jim were married for eight years, and when he retired he moved to Crown Point.
“He loved the town of Worth, and the people in it,” Nancy said. “I remember when he and I first got married, and he would call me on the way home, and say, ‘I’m going to be late tonight, I have to stop at Mrs. Smith’s house.’ For senior citizens or people who were unable to get around, if they had to do something with the Currency Exchange, he would just go to their house and help them. He was always getting cookies and candies from people. He took a lot of pride in what he did.”
Mr. Kennelly ran the Currency Exchange and Credit Union, which he and his father, Jack, founded in 1957 in a building at 111th Street and Depot Avenue, across from Worth Village Hall. He was involved with the Worth Park District for more than 30 years, and served as the district president for 24 years until he chose not to seek re-election in 2004.
Former Worth Mayor Dan Kumingo said Mr. Kennelly was well liked by residents and village employees.
“He was a fixture in our village for many years,” Kumingo said. “You can’t say anything bad about Jim.”
Dean Cashman, a former superintendent of maintenance for the park district, was for many years one of Mr. Kennelly’s closest friends.
“We used to go to the Indy 500 race every year, and we went to a lot of Bulls games together,” Cashman said. “He always had the best interests of the town at heart. We tried to get him to run for mayor a couple of times, but he wouldn’t do it, because he thought it would interfere with being a businessman in town.”
Mr. Kennelly enjoyed 16-inch softball, and was an umpire at Peak’s Park for many years. He and Cashman together maintained the ball fields at the park, 107th Street and Oak Park Avenue, and the former helped bring a skate park to Peak’s. It was Mr. Kennelly’s suggestion to name the park district building at Peak’s Park in honor of Helen Goy, who served as park district treasurer for 40 years, Cashman said.
During Mr. Kennelly’s years on the park board he was instrumental in getting a grant to purchase a bus, Cashman said. The bus was used for youth after-school programs and day trips for seniors.
“We had an old, beat up, little bitty bus,” Cashman said. “The new bus was air conditioned and had a Mercedes engine.”
Bonnie Price, who served with Jim on the park board before she was elected village clerk in 2001, learned a lot from him, she said.
“Mr. Kennelly and some of the other members would go out for a snack, usually rice pudding or toast after the meetings, at Sandpiper (restaurant,)” Price said. “They would sit and reminisce about the residents that made a difference in our town or they would talk about the changes that were going on. I definitely was able to get some history on the town listening to them.”
Nancy said the couple went to Mexico for their honeymoon and took a trip to Hawaii. They planned to take more trips, but Jim was diagnosed with renal failure. He retired from the Currency Exchange in 2011, and underwent a kidney transplant.
Jim’s personality caught Nancy’s eye when the two were introduced by mutual friends.
“He was a person that was involved in a lot of community things,” Nancy said. “He loved the White Sox, that was his team. He loved Worth Days. That’s what I liked — he was always active and busy doing things.”
Mr. Kennelly was part of the defunct Worth Days Committee, a group of volunteers that held bingo every Friday, usually 52 weeks a year, at the H.B. Maher Community Center, to raise funds for the annual festival.
“He wasn’t one to beat himself on the chest when he did something,” Cashman said. “He was there in the background. For the amount of things he did in town and as well-known as he was, he didn’t want a lot of credit.”
Mr. Kennelly’s care for his customers went beyond just helping them out at the Currency Exchange, Cashman said.
“When he knew elderly customers were sick, he would go buy the newspaper for them and bring it to their home, because he knew they couldn’t get out of the house to go get the newspaper,” Cashman said.
Jim extended the same care to his employees.
“When foreman Ray Bogard and I were decorating the Christmas tree at the Worth Bank and Trust, and Jim drove up and saw us and saw how cold it was,” Cashman said. “Two weeks later, he gave us Carhartt winter coats with our names and the park district logo on them. He paid for them out of his own pocket. That’s the kind of guy he was. If you liked Jim and Kim liked you, you were friends forever.
Greg Crosley, a longtime customer of the credit union, said Kennelly was “wonderful.”
“He always had a smile on his face and something nice to say to you,” Crosley said. “Even if it didn’t mean doing business with the credit union, if you had a financial question, you could call Jim and ask him, for free. He was like Jimmy Stewart when he played George Bailey in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ His priority was taking care of his credit union members.”