When Austin College recently announced a new director of Public Safety/Police Chief, they weren’t introducing someone new to the AC community. Instead, they were bringing back someone whose Roo ties go back more than a decade.
Kelle Kennemer, formerly of the Collin College Police Department, became the first woman to lead Austin College’s police department and was sworn in on Jan. 6 at a ceremony on campus.
Kennemer is an advanced licensed peace officer in the State of Texas with 17 years of law enforcement experience in higher education at both private and public institutions. She holds certifications in a number of areas including sexual assault, active shooter response and mental health officer designate.
When she was first asked about taking the helm at the AC police department, Kennemer said she didn’t really think about whether or not a woman had held the post before.
“I just thought I would really like to come back home (to work),” Kennemer said. “I didn’t know I was going to be coming back as the first female (chief). I guess I never thought about it. I am just a working person and was just jazzed to be able to make some good changes here and be a part of this great community again.”
Her husband, Lt. John Kennemer of the Sherman Police Department, said he is excited to see his wife assuming the leadership position.
“I am very proud of her,” he said. “I think she will do a very good job there.”
However, he wasn’t the only one singing her praises.
“The knowledge she gained from her initial appointment here, along with her experiences at Collin College, provides a solid foundation from which she will lead our efforts to create a first-class, effective campus-wide safety program for all members of the campus community,” said Tim Millerick, vice president for Student Affairs. Millerick’s statements came in a release that also praised outgoing AC Police Chief James Perry upon his Jan. 3 retirement after 37 years of service to the college.
Kennemer said the primary function of the college’s police department is to ensure the safety of students, instructors and staff. In addition, officers are there to help with lock-outs, lost keys and the like. Most of all, she said, she wants students to realize that officers are there to help them. She hopes the young women who see her as the leader of the college police department know that she has their backs.
“I have their best interest at heart,” she said, “and I want them to know that I have been in those trenches, too, and I am going to do the very best I can to represent them and take care of them.”
Though Sherman didn’t start out as her home, the former Marine from Michigan raised two daughters there with her husband of 38 years, Sherman Police Lt. John Kennemer. Now, the couple’s oldest daughter is a stay-at-home mom and their youngest daughter is a federal corrections officer in Seagoville, Texas.
“She has kind of followed in her dad and mom’s footsteps,” Kennemer said. The couple also has two grandchildren.
John and Kelle met in the military, where Kelle said she had several jobs, including being a truck driver, instructor and a diesel mechanic. After the military they made their home in Sherman, where John had family. At first, Kelle stayed at home with their children.
“My children were getting a little bit older, and I decided it was time for me to have a career of my own,” she said.
Initially she wasn’t sure what that career would be, but said she had enjoyed ride-alongs with her husband at the Sherman Police Department.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said of law enforcement. She started out working at the Grayson County Jail, but quickly decided that wasn’t her cup of tea. She then worked as a reserve officer for Grayson County, which allowed her to be home for her then teenage children while her husband worked various shifts at the SPD.
Once her children were able to drive and were “out doing their own thing,” Kennemer said she was able to take a job as an officer with Austin College in 2002. She stayed there until 2009.
From there she went to Collin County Community College, where she worked until recently. While at Collin County, she said she was able to help mentor one person through the police academy. She also was humbled and proud to have a scholarship set up at the college in her name.
“They also do a Recognition of Service and Excellence (ROSE) award, where people put in your name and you are basically recognized as an outstanding faculty member at the college,” Kennemer said. “I was one of the nominees a year ago.”
Though she sees herself as a vibrant person who is generally upbeat and positive, Kennemer said staying that way is certainly easier on a college campus where she gets to work with dynamic young people and staff who are focused on the future.