Cincinnati, Ohio. July 25, 1970. Temperatures were in the upper 80’s that afternoon. The new hit single “Spill the wine” by Eric Burdon and Warwas rising the charts. Riverfront Stadium had just opened, and one month earlier, the Reds played, and won, their last game at Crosley Field against the San Francisco Giants, 5-4. Andrew’s parents, Nelson Kennedy and Suzanne Stephenson, were getting ready to make their vows at Madeira Silverwood Presbyterian Church.
The ceremony was attended by 70 of their closest friends and family. There was no air-conditioning. It lasted just 30 minutes. Cake and punch were served afterwards in the slightly cooler basement of the church. Before long they were shuffled into Nelson’s 1970 “Gulfstream Aqua” Ford Maverick, and they were off to start their lives together.
After a 3-day honeymoon in French Lick, Indiana, they were soon headed off to live near Nuremberg, Germany. Nelson was to be stationed there for three years of active service to the U.S. Army after having just graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Suzanne had just graduated from Bethesda Nursing School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
But let’s rewind even further. To better understand their story, it’s best to know where they came from.
Irmgard Hess, Suzanne’s mother, was from Bad Soden, a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany; north of the country’s beautiful Black Forest. Irmgard was born on February 24, 1925. She loved helping people. As an adolescent, she signed up to attend the German state-run Friar’s Nursing School. Irmgard, with all the optimism of youth, had a bright future ahead of her. But then, in 1939, when Irmgard was just 14 years old, World War II began.
One day, in the early 1940’s, as her father was picking her up from school, a warplane, on its way back from the front, took aim and made a single dive at her school. Irmgard heard the recognizable whine of the plane’s engine and knew what was about to happen. She turned and ran back inside for her life as bullets riddled the ground and pierced the entrance to the building all around her. She survived, but her leg was badly injured in the ordeal. She eventually healed, became a nurse, and was transported to various combat zones around the European Theater for state-required field hospital duty as a teenager.
Meanwhile, Raymond Stephenson, Suzanne’s father, had grown up in Ashland, Ohio. He was born in October of 1913; 12 years before Irmgard. He had previously married, had two children, and had a divorce by the time he decided to sign up and serve Uncle Sam in the war effort in 1943. Raymond had just turned 30 years old. Before long, he was thrust into the thick of it on August 1, 1944, with Patton’s Third Army. Then, after 281 days of fighting, VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) had arrived.
Towards the end of the war, the hospital where Irmgard was working had been severely bombed out and was no longer functional. She and the other medical workers had set up a make-shift hospital inside a nearby sugar mill. They had very little to eat and survived on sugar and water. Many nights, Irmgard and the other nurses would bury their dead outside the mill, as they would be shot at if they tried during daylight hours. There was a constant threat of being bombed. When the bomb sirens bellowed, she and the other nurses huddled into a foul-smelling basement along with the dead who were still in line to be buried. Hands shaking; they would sometimes try to light and pass around the few cigarettes they had left to one another as a way to calm their nerves and pass the time until the raid was over. As the sounds of sirens and distant artillery shells loomed, each flick of a precious match would illuminate an eerie scene around young Irmgard of dead bodies and frightened friends. Her experiences during the war would stick with her for the rest of her life. She would eventually emerge from that sugar mill, exhausted, and malnourished, but alive.
Fluent in both English and German, Irmgard soon found work as an interpreter after the war. Raymond had been reassigned to serve with the occupation troops. It was during this time that Raymond and Irmgard met, began spending lots of time together, and fell in love. So, an American soldier and a young German nurse had survived the war, and as they were trying to figure out their lives during a very interesting and difficult time, thankfully, they found each other.
After Raymond’s service was complete in 1948, he asked Irmgard to move back to Cincinnati, Ohio, and marry him. She said yes. They hopped on a plane back to the United States and did just that. Raymond was 35. Irmgard was 23.
Raymond’s mother owned a duplex in Hyde park, Ohio. Irmgard and Raymond moved into that duplex together. About one year later, on March 14, 1949, Margaret Suzanne Stephenson was born at Bethesda Hospital on Oaks Street in Downtown Cincinnati. Everyone would call her Suzanne.
Suzanne was a very happy baby. She notably gave her neighbors in the duplex a huge smile when she first met the doting fellow tenants. Those fellow tenants were an older couple named Frank and Myrtle Adkins, whose son had already grown up and left home. Baby Suzanne’s happy demeanor endeared herself to them, and they became known to her as Mom-mom and Pop-Pop. They were like grandparents to her. Mom-mom and Pop-pop shouldered a lot of the childcare responsibilities of raising little Suzie, watching her all week while her parents worked to make ends meet.
Suzanne was fortunate enough to travel with her mother back to Germany as a young girl and visit that side of her family. Suzanne’s German roots and heritage are very significant to her. The love she received from her mother’s side of the family still impacts her today. She loves and misses her German family very much.
The war had its effects on both Irmgard and Raymond. After work at the rail yard, Raymond had a second job at a bar. He would spend a lot of time there, often drinking. Suzanne recalls her mother being anxious at the sound of sirens. One time, upon being startled by an ambulance siren near their house at night, Irmgard scooped up Suzanne and ran to the basement on impulse, flashing back to her days during the war.
Mom-mom and pop-pop would primarily raise Suzanne during her teen years after Irmgard passed away. Despite moving 11 times by the time she was 13, Suzanne attended Fairfax elementary and then Mariemont High School throughout her school days, using Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s address. As a young Mariemont girl, she enjoyed her field hockey team, the Frisch’s Mainliner, the National Exemplar, and of course, the Mariemont Theater. Most of all, she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse.
She also enjoyed youth group at Madeira Silverwood Presbyterian Church. She especially enjoyed it when a young man from Madeira, Ohio, named Nelson Kennedy caught her eye there.
Nelson was one year older than Suzanne. When Nelson headed off to West Point, the youth pastors at the time suggested to Suzanne, that Nelson, would probably love to hear from someone back home. Suzanne wrote a letter to Nelson. Then, Nelson wrote a letter back. This kept up over the years. (More on this later.) They were both very busy attending school, but they would both make time to write each other occasionally and meet up when Nelson was able to visit back home.
Nelson Edward Kennedy was born on February 24, 1948, in Hazel Park, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit to Joseph and Dorothy Kennedy. (When Nelson was little, the family moved to Fairfax and lived very close to Suzanne without knowing it for a time.) Then, they moved to Dee Street in Madeira before Nelson started kindergarten. Nelson was an extremely disciplined straight-A student all through school. He enjoyed playing football and basketball and loves his siblings Joe, Mary Ann, and Russ very much.
Nelson’s father, Joseph Kennedy, was born in 1915, in Michigan. Joseph moved around Michigan multiple times while growing up. Joseph’s father was a pastor for three different churches. Joseph spent his teen years in Mount Clemens, Michigan, near Detroit. He graduated from high school there. He told Nelson many stories about his antics in high school, totally taking advantage of his position as a pastor’s kid. He hid among dead bodies waiting for funerals. He turned the lights out in the gym on a bunch of people playing basketball, just for fun. He pranked one of his 4 sisters by setting up a bucket of water to fall on her when she opened the door to her room. Young Joseph even shot some kid in the rear-end with a sling shot while the boy was trying to climb over a fence and was exposed. He was certainly mischievous and a lot of fun. Joseph attended Alma College and later graduated from Laurence Tech with an engineering degree. He eventually got a job with the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Suddenly, a beautiful young woman, Dorothy Maiville, showed up at his work one day. Joe was smitten.
Nelson’s mother, Dorothy Maiville, was born June 16, 1923 when her parents were a mere 17 years old. She spent the first four years of her life living with her mother and her maternal grandparents, near Luther, Michigan. As time went on, she became the oldest of 7 kids (4 girls, and 3 boys). Her father worked on a freighter on the Great Lakes in his late teens. In his twenties, he became a policeman in Detroit. He later became a sheriff in Donna, Texas. Eventually the family began spending the summers back in Luther, Michigan, working the family farm; and the rest of the year in Donna, Texas, where her father worked in law enforcement.
Dorothy graduated from high school in Donna, Texas, and then, upon returning to Luther, Michigan, to see family and celebrate, she proudly received a one-way bus ticket to Detroit from her parents. In the exciting city of Detroit, were plenty of jobs available for hard-working young people. She found a job at the Ford Motor Company, where she soon met a young man named Joseph Kennedy. Dorothy and Joseph were married in Luther, Michigan, on February 19, 1943 in the bride’s hometown.
Shortly after Dorothy and Joseph were married, Joseph joined the war effort. He volunteered to join the Army Air Corps as a cadet, in the early 1940’s. He was trained as a meteorologist in Illinois and became a lieutenant. Joseph quickly realized his importance as a meteorologist. He had the ears of high-ranking officers as they were deciding when they should, or when they should not, conduct certain operations. He was soon shipped out overseas to North Africa and then to Germany at the Ramstein Air Base, near Frankfurt, as the war was coming to a close. Then, as the newspapers were splashing “VE Day” across their covers on May 8, 1945, Joseph headed home to Dorothy. One can only imagine what that long-awaited embrace must have been like for them.
Fast-Forward. In 1966, during Nelson’s senior year of high school at Madeira, he was invited to a retreat with his church’s youth group at Wildwood, a wooded area in Clermont County. There, he attended the retreat, and that is where he met Suzanne. He liked her: she was humble and sweet and pretty and he found her very fun. They did not start dating right away, however. Upon arriving at West Point, he continued to keep in contact with his youth group leaders, Mr. and Mrs. Longdon. After some time, he dropped a “hint” and asked them about her. He then mentioned that it would be really nice to get a letter from her. This youth leader couple played their role well, and casually suggested to Suzanne that Nelson was perhaps a “little homesick” and might like to get letters from her. It worked.
Over the years, when Nelson returned home on leave, he and Suzanne started hanging out more and more. They went to the movies, they saw The King and I at Playhouse in the Park, and they enjoyed walks together. They went to Hueston Woods State Park and went swimming in the lake together. Nelson got leave for one month in the summer, as well as a Thanksgiving break, a Christmas break, and a Spring Break. Most of their relationship was by letter back then. Nelson and Suzanne were becoming more and more infatuated with each other throughout those years.
While at West Point, Nelson spent nine months of the year focusing largely on academics and two months of every year undertaking an intensified physical training program; although, both academics and PT were pretty much year-round. His company of about 25 students was called “D1.” The seniors were the officers and rules were strictly enforced. Instructors were demanding. Much had to be meticulously memorized and recited precisely on command. Rooms and uniforms had to be spotless at all times. It was hard, and Nelson liked it like that. He was proud to be around other disciplined, driven, and patriotic people of the same ilk.
The students were trained during their freshman year in survival swimming, wrestling, boxing, and gymnastics. In gymnastics one day, an instructor was deducting points when cadets would land with their legs bent from a dismount bar. “Legs bent! Points deducted!” he’d bark at each student one by one as they landed. It was now Nelson’s turn, and Nelson obeys orders. He hurled his body through the air. Upon landing, the echo of a loud sickening crack could be heard throughout the entire gymnasium. Nelson was the only one that had landed with his legs perfectly straight as the instructor had wanted. However, it came at a cost. Nelson, while landing, had torn a massive amount of cartilage in his left knee and needed to have surgery immediately. Nelson likes to joke that West Point is great place to be from, and a difficult place to be at. Nelson brushed it off, and he graduated near the top of his class after four solid years at West Point.
In March of 1970, on a beautiful night, Nelson took Suzanne to Eden Park. Nelson parked the car and began to take a nice stroll with Suzanne. She looked absolutely lovely. Nelson then decided he wanted to marry her, and that it was time for him to pop the question. So, Nelson did just that. Suzanne instantly said yes. However, Nelson didn’t know he was supposed to have a ring for her in that moment. He went out and bought her a nice ring afterwards once he had secured a “confirmed yes”. This still makes Suzanne laugh.
Because Nelson graduated near the top of his class at West Point, he was given a choice as to his assignment. He chose Germany, knowing that Suzanne had family there. The young, and now newly married couple moved near Nuremberg, Germany. Nelson had a demanding job with lots of work to do as a new second lieutenant in the U.S. Army serving his country overseas.
Meanwhile, Suzanne had a steep learning curve as a new U.S. army wife in Germany. Despite having a German mother, it had been many years since she was last there, and she still had much of the language yet to learn. One day, she went to the market and tried to buy a chicken. She cooked it and found it tasted very strange. She translated the label and discovered she had purchased a duck. In her early days in Germany, she attended an “officer’s luncheon” and was dismayed to find she was the only woman in attendance without a hat. She discovered that the rule was “all women wear hats” to these sorts of things. She promptly bought herself a hat. Later, she was given a book titled “How to be an Officer’s Wife,” which Suzanne read, but she found rather silly. Traditions, such as needing to stand up when the colonel’s wife entered the room, made her giggle, but she did her part well anyways.
While in Germany, Nelson and Suzanne also participated in a lot of Volksmarches. These were organized by the community as a group hike with hundreds of people on a predetermined route. They paid a little money to participate and got some snacks and a medal.
Nelson and Suzanne welcomed their first child, a daughter, in Germany. She was born at Nuremberg Army Hospital on January 31, 1973. They were living right outside the army post at the time. Nelson and Suzanne were overjoyed to have her. They often took a weekend pass to visit Suzanne’s relatives about 100 miles away in Frankfurt and would show off their daughter to everyone around them.
After three years in Germany, Nelson was transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and became a Captain. Soon, their first son was born on October 17, 1974. They were overjoyed yet again. One day, Suzanne bought a bunch of apples from the market, and put them in a basket on the table. While no one was looking, the toddler took one bite out of each apple and gently put each one back into the basket. You can imagine the young parent’s surprise when they discovered what had happened. What a little stinker.
With two young children, and his required service coming to an end, Nelson attended a job fair weekend while in Oklahoma, where he interviewed with Procter & Gamble for a position in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He got the job and the family moved to Cape Girardeau. Suzanne worked at a local hospital there, and together, both Nelson and Suzanne taught Sunday school. While in Cape Girardeau, they had another bundle of joy, their second son, Andrew, on April 25, 1983. Andy, as most everyone would call him growing up, was born with lots of healthy hair. His brother and sister enjoyed giving baby Andy funny hairdos when the parents weren’t around, and all three siblings bonded.
Two years later, Nelson and Suzanne were given the opportunity to move to Cincinnati, their old stomping grounds. They jumped at the opportunity, and they moved into a house on Caribou Court in Madeira, Ohio. They got a Yorkshire Terrier puppy for the kids and named her Terry. They attended Saint Paul Lutheran Church for many years while the children attended Madeira City Schools. Nelson served as the Sunday School Superintendent and continued working for Proctor and Gamble. Suzanne began to work at The Madeira Family Practice as a nurse. When Terry passed away, the family added Loafer, “The Friendly Wonder-dog”, a beautiful black lab mix. When Suzanne retired from nursing, she studied to become a hospital chaplain and worked for 8 years as a chaplain at Christ Hospital and Mercy Fairfield until she retired as a chaplain. Suzanne is an excellent nurse, chaplain and mother.
Nelson retired early in 2002 at the age of 53 after 27 years with P&G. He then got his CDL license. For a retirement job and hobby, Nelson drove a school bus for several years and then switched to semi-trucks and is hazmat certified. Nelson is a superb professional driver and an amazing father. About the time Nelson retired from P&G, Nelson and Suzanne sold their family home on Caribou Court and moved into a townhome in downtown Madeira for a short time. Then, they moved into a new condominium in Mason, Ohio, and adopted their beloved (and very spoiled) cat, Mikey.
Soon after they moved into the condo in Mason, Nelson’s sister, passed away. His sister’s 14-year-old daughter came to live with Nelson and Suzanne in 2007. She was born on March 16, 1993. Nelson and Suzanne took her in much like Mom-mom and Pop-pop had taken in Suzanne all those years ago. Suzanne, having lost her own mother at the age of 12, was in a unique position to understand her grief on some level. She became like their fourth child and they love her dearly. She attended Mason High School, excelled, and eventually became a nurse like Suzanne and Irmgard.
Nelson and Suzanne have both been previously ordained as deacons. They now attend Heritage Presbyterian Church in Mason, where Nelson is an ordained elder and heads the mission committee at the church. Nelson and Suzanne enjoy volunteering with the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Warren County; a mission to help the homeless. In addition, both also enjoy their most important retirement job of all; being full-time grandparents. Nelson and Suzanne are amazing grandparents and have five grandchildren.
Nelson and Suzanne Kennedy are so very loved by their family, their friends, and their community. Andrew is so thankful to have them and to be loved by them.