For FWCD parent JenniferBethea and her son, Brock ’23, connection is a centerpiece of their family values. They strive to break down barriers. “We can enrich each other’s lives by being connected to people,” Jennifer said. “When we have barriers, even those that appear to be small to us, it can really cause us to lose those connections … and we all lose when that happens.” Their commitment to connection comes from an inspiring man in their lives, Ken McHenry, Jennifer’s stepfather and Brock’s grandfather.
It was with him in mind that they thought of an important way to foster connection at FWCD. The Bethea family made a donation to the School for the installation of eight automatic doors that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those doors were installed in the Lou and Nick Martin Campus Center (north side), the Sid W. Richardson Round Gym (main entrance near the Martin Campus Center), Moncrief Library, Head of School entrance, and the Upper School Science Building (on the south end by the Upper School entry).
Confined to a wheelchair at the age of 7 by an accident that paralyzed him from the waist down, Ken never let that define him. Ken’s family was unable to care for him and placed him in Good Shepherd Lutheran Home. “Never did he ever complain or criticize or question why,” Jennifer said. “He always talked about the people in his life, how his curiosity allowed him to grow, and he never said ‘I can’t.’
Ken traveled the world to compete as an athlete in the Paralympics. He was the fastest wheelchair racer in the world at one point, as well as played tennis, basketball and ping pong, and raced. His mantra when times were tough, according to Jennifer: “‘Remember, you need to take care of each other’... and he was talking about those beyond our family, he meant all the people who cross our paths every single day in life.”
Being on campus with Brock over the years, Jennifer observed occasional instances where mobility-impaired students or visitors were challenged getting around campus, basically unable to access areas or needing assistance to access. “My father simply never accepted that these types of barriers should limit him; however, the barriers around us are real,” Jennifer said. “As he continued to increase his dependency on others due to his declining health, it became apparent we could help break down some of these barriers for others.
“Knowing FWCD has been on a journey to embrace inclusion, last year, even before my father passed away, I thought ‘Now is the time,’” Jennifer continued. “But it was a little scary; I knew that any investment would be a large donation for the family. Would the School be willing to accept a donation that was dedicated to increasing access for those with mobility needs, even though this is not a big portion of our school population?”
It turned out to be just the right time. When Jennifer approached Head of School Eric Lombardi about the gift, she was connected with Sandra Tuomey, Director of Advancement, and Tom Mitchell, Chief Financial and Operations Officer. FWCD’s Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees had been in ongoing discussions about some of the same accessibility opportunities to make the campus more welcoming, inclusive and safe for the community.
“My grandfather accomplished so many things throughout his life, despite being challenged with his disability. He lived the best life he possibly could and made sure that he was happy wherever he was,” Brock shared. “His inspiring attitude makes me remember that if I can put my mind to it, I can achieve almost any goal.”
Sadly, Ken passed away on January 31, 2020. “What I miss the most about him are the jokes he would tell to everyone around the dinner table or in the car,” Brock added. “He was sure to lift your mood even if you were having the worst day.”
With this gift, Jennifer’s goal was to enrich others’ lives through connection as well. “A student who comes to enroll but is uncomfortable because they can’t get into a building without someone helping them; a parent or grandparent that can’t make it to the play or game because it is too difficult to get inside; a student from another school not being able to enter for the competition; a staff member that is injured and struggling to get into the building alone safely, these things can be avoided,” Jennifer said. And maybe even now, it will allow us to have fewer touchpoints at certain doors to come in contact during the pandemic.”
For Brock, the gift of the doors is a way to share the kindness that his grandfather had with more people. “He would help anyone as much as he could, and I think that if he had the same opportunity to donate this gift, he would,” Brock said. “It helps the School and community become more inclusive and welcoming to more people. Hopefully, the gift, in the future, could inspire others in the community to give something toward making the School a better place for everyone.”
Fort Worth Country Day (FWCD) is a JK-12 private, independent, coeducational, nondenominational college-preparatory school located on approximately 100 acres in Fort Worth, Texas. The mission of Fort Worth Country Day School is to foster the intellectual, physical, emotional, and ethical development of capable students through an academically rigorous college preparatory program that integrates the arts and athletics.