Mrs. Bettie Kennedy-Watts is a constant in the lives of the students at Dunbar Primary. She has been in the front office as secretary/administrative assistant for the past 19 years.
She said, “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. It’s a great place to work. I didn’t realize it had been that long!”
She began working at Dunbar the year after the campus changed from a seventh grade campus to a first and second grade campus. Mrs. Watts, along with so many others, went to Dunbar in seventh grade, and she fondly remembers the trek across the road to go to speech class.
Dunbar Primary has been home to Mrs. Watts and her family for many, many years. Her parents, the late Rev. Bettie Kennedy and the late Oscar Kennedy, were teachers when it was Dunbar High School.
She said, “My dad was a coach. They also went to school there before integration.”
Mrs. Watts was a 1985 graduate of Lufkin High School where she was in the band directed by the late Mr. Waymon Bullock, the namesake of the current band hall. She played the clarinet and the bass clarinet.
She said, “I was the band historian. I learned how to play clarinet in the seventh grade.”
After high school, she got married and moved to Colorado then England, because her husband at the time was in the military. They were stationed in England for three years.
She said, “It was wonderful. It was great. I was a coordinator for the before-and-after-school program on the military base. I had to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road. I scared my mom to death, because I tried to drive on the wrong side of the road when I got back into the states. Thankfully, it was a two-lane road!”
At the time, they lived on the air force base. During the summer, she would create events for the school program. She eventually moved to New Mexico for two years, then to East Texas where she worked at Lufkin Day Care in the classroom and as a van driver taking kids to and from school.
Her first job with the school district was a custodial job at Kurth Primary. Being at Kurth Primary gave her opportunities to get into the clerical business and to start working with children.
She said, “The principal was Ken St. Ama. He hired me to work with at-risk kids and as an at-risk coordinator. I loved that. Georgia Balch and Annette Tompkins were there then. If it weren’t for those two, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I owe them a lot of gratitude. Georgia was the secretary, and Annette was the receptionist. I would fill in for them when they were out.”
She spent four years at Kurth Primary and came to Dunbar Primary in 1998.
Mrs. Watts was one of ten children, being number nine in the line up. She says her siblings would say she was the bossy one. Mrs. Watts has four adult children of her own, two boys and two girls.
Arriving at 7:30 a.m., Mrs. Watts has a very important job first thing in the morning.
She said, “I go straight to the cafeteria and make coffee for the grannies who work at Dunbar. I’ll be in trouble if I don’t get their coffee made. They’re like family.”
Currently, there are four grannies working at Dunbar Primary. After her coffee duty, Mrs. Watts hits the ground running.
She said, “It’s a new day every day. We have events, we get kids where they need to be, help them to stop crying. I bond with these babies. Some kids, I’m the only one who can help them to stop crying. I just talk to them and love on them. Sometimes they need to talk or just need a hug.”
Outside of the school day, Mrs. Watts spends most of her time working with the church through youth and women ministries. She sings in the choir at Abundant Life, and she loves to spend time with her family. She and her husband, Anthony, a US Air Force veteran, have been married 15 years.
Mrs. Watts, “Boo” as her parents called her, is also known for her giving heart and compassion for others, lessons that she learned from her parents.
“Both my parents instilled the scriptures in me, that love of God. My mother was a church minister at Collins Chapel. My mother grew up doing and giving, that was what her life was all about. She learned that from her mother. We didn’t have a choice. I’ve told my children the same thing,” she said.
While reminiscing about her mother, Mrs. Watts said that this is a hard time of year. Her mother would be busy getting names of the needy to give boxes of food for the Lufkin Community Food Drive for Thanksgiving.
She said, “I may have her name, but I could never fill her shoes. It’s going to take a whole community to fill her shoes.”
Her mother was known for doing dramatic portrayals of key historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Corretta Scott King at schools and community events. Mrs. Watts said she was so convincing that some people thought that Martin Luther King was her daddy.
Mrs. Watts loves to participate in the women’s ministry at church. The ladies meet each month for fellowship and devotion.
She said, “As women, we are tugged and pulled in so many directions. We have to learn how to be flexible, sit, and breathe.”
What a gift to our Dunbar Primary family to see the face of Bettie Kennedy-Watts in the mornings. We thank you for your example of giving and gratitude.