Michael Kenney admired the 4-H youth development program from an early age, but it was as an adult, that he found a way to touch many lives through 4-H.
“My interest in 4-H began as a pre-teen, sending much time on my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ farms,” said Kenney. He readily admits that he was a “jealous youngster” who saw the “great fun my farm 4-H friends were having and I wasn’t because I was the “city kid” visitor.”
But he always admired the 4-H program, even long after his days on the farm as a child ended. Kenney noticed that the 4-H members he met were “really holistic and very involved in some great activities.”
He became involved with the Duval County 4-H program as an adult. Twenty-five years ago a friend happened to mention he had to go to 4-H board meeting. Kenney volunteered to help in any way possible with 4-H. After describing to the friend his lifelong interest in 4-H, Kenney was invited to serve on the Duval County 4-H Foundation Board. It was at this point, that his lifelong interest in 4-H transformed into serious involvement.
Kenney does “bleed green,” as one of his nominators for the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame noted. “4-H could not ask for anyone more outspoken for the merits of the Florida 4-H Program and the wonders it creates for the youth and volunteers involved. I just know he bleeds green,” wrote Judie Toulouse, resource development coordinator with the Duval County 4-H Foundation.
He raised support for an endowment fund, so the 4-H program in Duval County would have long-term financial support for its youth development programs. “The success of this fund has been largely due to his personal management,” said Tom Braddock, trustee of the endowment fund and county extension director emeritus.
Involving others in 4-H and inviting them to support its programs to help young people was a natural fit for Kenney’s talents. “He has been tireless in this efforts to acquaint his professional associates with 4-H and encourage their involvement,” said Braddock, who greatly appreciated Kenney’s efforts.
But meeting others in 4-H is what Kenney has perhaps enjoyed the most about his involvement in 4-H – not just the adults, but the young people too. “The leaders at every level are the most dedicated special people you could ever ask to be involved with,” said Kenney.
The friendships he’s made in 4-H have meant a great deal to Kenney and his family. “To be a friend to so many of these young people and their families, and watch them grow up, has been really special for my family, as well as to myself.”
He has a strong commitment to giving back to the community and is a natural leader. “Michael is a great example of what it takes to be a great leader,” said Toulouse. She noted that he focuses on real-life situations, encourages others to discuss information carefully so they have all of the facts, and collaborates well with others to reach a goal and complete a project.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done in the community, and the most fun!” said Kenney, who can’t stop singing the praises of the 4-H program. “When a U.S. Congressman, a Native American tribal leader, a very successful female entrepreneur, a nationally prominent entertainer, an astronaut, a legislator, and the Commissioner of Agriculture all say 4-H was a major factor in my development, you have to get on board!”
Kenney’s leadership abilities and enthusiasm are evident, and he is an effective and passionate advocate of the 4-H program. He was elected president of the Duval County 4-H Foundation Board.
After fellow Hall of Fame member Kevin Hyde suggested he get involved at a state level, Kenney got involved with the Florida 4-H Foundation Board of Directors. He was elected to serve as president of the board and worked to raise support for 4-H statewide.
Kenney says that his involvement with 4-H has been a joy and delight. “Believe me when I tell you, I have been involved in many professional and charitable community boards. But never, never enjoyed the relationships, the involvement, the many friends, young and old, more than I have in 4-H,” said Kenney.
“Michael is a great example of the six pillars of character,” said Toulouse. He is known for his trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability. “He always does what he says he will do and has a great reputation among his peers and others,” said Toulouse.
Kenney is a successful businessman and a founder of T.E.C., a group of business owners who formed a think tank. He is past president of the Florida 4-H Foundation Board of Directors and the Florida Ballet. He also served as a board member with Leadership Jacksonville. He is on the Board of Directors for the Florida Theater and an active member of the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art.
Originally from Kansas, Kenney, graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in industrial management. He came to Jacksonville as the southeast district manager for Armco Steel. He graduated from the Wharton School of Business and joined Merrill Lynch in 1990 after leaving Shearson Lehman Hutton. In 2004, he was recognized with the American Funds: Decade of Achievement Award.