Kimberly Kennard, a human services professor at Modesto Junior College, died Tuesday following a prolonged battle with complications of West Nile illness. She was 53.
Kennard was especially known for inspiring students from disadvantaged backgrounds to earn degrees and work in human services and addiction counseling.
Former students said she created a legacy with her work. "I always have Dr. Ks voice in my head," said Christina Kenney, a program director at the Empowerment Center in Modesto.
Kennard came down with a debilitating illness in 2015 that was later diagnosed as West Nile, an endemic viral disease spread by mosquito bites. She was in and out of hospitals and was in a specialty care facility in Modesto for months before her death.
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Kennard held a doctoral degree from City University of New York and began teaching at MJC in 2001. Her scholarly research included a study on the religious and spiritual coping strategies of the homeless.
Erica Gomez, who worked for Kennard as a program assistant, said the professor had a lasting impact on young people at MJC. Some students in the human services programs had a history of addiction or came from economically disadvantaged homes.
Kennard liked to hold potlucks with her classes, but those taking her courses were also advised to prepare for hard work.
In her community work, the professor advocated for the homeless and worked with homeless shelters. She was active in National Alliance on Mental Illness support groups and the Peer Recovery Art Project and served on the Stanislaus County Mental Health Board, now called the Behavioral Health Board..
"She was always doing something, but her students were her passion," Gomez said.
Kenney said she was a single mother on welfare before she attended classes taught by the MJC professor known as "Dr. K".
She said Kennard took students from similar backgrounds and turned them into young professionals who work in human services fields. "I matured a lot having her as a mentor and instructor," Kenney said. "I grew up with addiction issues in my family. Dr. K said that it's easy to give in to that story and not mature and become what you are able to become."
Kennard was born in Los Angeles and spent her childhood in the Bay Area. She attended University of California Davis, graduating with a psychology degree in 1986, and earned a master's in counseling and community mental health at Long Island University.
She is survived by her parents, Aubrey and Betty Kennard of Hayward; a brother Keith Kennard of San Francisco; her son Kristian and a nephew Aram Kennard..
Public funeral services will be held. A viewing is set for Oct. 5 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Salas Brothers Funeral Chapel at 419 Scenic Drive. A memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Ceres Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1633 Central Ave.
People are sharing memories at the "Remembering Dr. Kimberly Kennard" Facebook page.