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A Legacy of Kindness

woman holding dog

Her passion is small animal medicine. His is working as a bovine veterinarian. John and Celena Keeney are living their dreams, thanks to the education and support they received from the Davis College and the H.E. Kidder Endowed Scholarship Trust.

In the field of veterinary medicine, where six-figure student loan debt is the norm, scholarships are critical in keeping veterinary careers accessible to deserving, hard-working students. When John and Celena graduated from West Virginia University in 2000, both received bachelor’s degrees in animal and veterinary science — and Kidder scholarships for graduate or professional school.

Dr. Harold Edward “Doc” Kidder taught animal sciences in the Davis College from 1954 until 1988 and was known for his genuine love and respect for his students. He touched countless lives, mentoring future educators, agricultural extension agents, veterinarians, doctors, pharmacists, dentists and farmers. In some cases, he even opened the doors of his home to students whose families could not otherwise afford college housing.

Kidder passed away in 1989, but his legacy of helping WVU students continues. His will created a trust fund that provides Davis College students with scholarships for postgraduate study, as well as supporting travel expenses for students participating in the livestock, dairy, poultry and meats judging teams.

The Keeny family holding a chicken

The Keeneys are among the many students who have benefited from Kidder’s kindness. Their scholarships helped them not only to attend veterinary school, but gave them more freedom early in their careers.

“It was a great honor to share the Kidder Scholarship because I knew firsthand the quality of the other applicants,” says John, who earned a D.V.M. from the University of Georgia in 2004. “The financial support reduced the amount of student loans I had at graduation, and that in turn allowed me to take the jobs I have held in the livestock industry.”

Currently, he holds two: a private practice and a part-time position with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture as a veterinary supervisor in the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division. He supervises six meat inspectors in six commercial slaughter facilities in southern West Virginia.

In his private practice as a mobile food animal veterinarian, he travels a 12-county region offering herd health services to beef cattle producers, as well as to the Jackson County Regional Livestock Market in Ripley and Cattlemen’s Livestock Exchange in Lewisburg.

image of man with cattle

“Being a bovine veterinarian was and is my career goal, and I love it,” he says. “I enjoy knowing beef cattle producers and being able to see their farms, their cattle and their different approaches to farming.”

Celena focuses her career on the other side of the veterinary spectrum — what most people would consider the cuter, cuddlier side. She works part-time as a small animal practitioner at the Jarrell Animal Clinic in Bradley, West Virginia.

“I received a lot of support during my time at WVU, in the forms of academic advice, career counseling, mentoring from faculty and alumni, and financial support,” says Celena, who earned an H.E. Kidder Freshman Scholar award, in addition to the Kidder Scholarship for veterinary school. Like John, she graduated from the University of Georgia with a D.V.M. in 2004.

The Kidder Scholarship eased Celena’s financial burden, allowing her to take out less in student loans. “I am grateful that after graduation I have been able to pay back the remainder of my loans and focus on other areas.” Both credit the Davis College with getting them on the right path to achieve their goals.

“I really felt as though everyone there wanted me to succeed. Thanks to the faculty and staff at WVU, we were very well prepared for the veterinary program at Georgia,” Celena recalls.

“Dr. Robert Dailey was our academic adviser and knew exactly what it took to get us on the right path. Dr. Paul Lewis was another mentor, who even today remains an important part of our lives.”

Dr. Sam Barringer, WVU Extension Service veterinarian at the time, influenced John’s choice of veterinary specialization. “He had food animal private practice experience, and he made the idea of being a food animal veterinarian very appealing to me.”

But perhaps the most life-changing experience came at freshman orientation. That’s where John Keeney and Celena Morgan met for the very first time — at Dr. Dailey’s animal and veterinary science table.

Today, they live with their three sons on John’s family’s farm in Rainelle, W.Va., where they hope to carry on the family tradition.

And in many ways, they are also carrying on the legacy of “Doc” Kidder. As John puts it: “I want to raise my boys in a way that they understand agriculture and its contributions to society, no matter what they decide to do with their lives.”