Garth Kemp donated about $60,000 to Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area to build a house in honor of his wife.
And she has absolutely no idea.
The couple, who are longtime supporters of the Habitat for Humanity program, have been married for 62 years. With his wife having recently fallen ill, Kemp decided it was time to honor her during a time when she could still appreciate it.
“Habitat for Humanity has always been one of our favorite charities,” said Kemp, a retired insurance executive. “Jean has always been so interested in such a charitable organization, I felt it would only be right to have a house donated in her honor.”
“She’s just such a remarkable person, and there’s not another one like her,” he added.
Jean Kemp is unaware of the donation her husband has made and won’t be let in on the secret until the house’s dedication ceremony, which is scheduled for Dec. 19.
“She knows nothing about it, but she will be with me on the 19th,” Garth Kemp said.
He said that, while most people give back to their alma maters and other organizations, there’s just something more gratifying about putting a roof over someone’s head.
During his childhood, he was no stranger to growing up in poverty, he said.
“We came from a poor background during the Depression. We didn’t have a lot of things that people have now; we didn’t even have heat,” he said. “I find that it’s just more satisfying, more gratifying, donating a house to a family in need. It just makes you feel so good.”
Maranda Walton, a mother of two, will be the homeowner of the Jean Kemp House at 2859 Smith Robinson St. in Jackson, which will have an interest-free mortgage to follow Habitat’s motto of “A hand up, not a handout.” She now lives with her two children, Christian, 6, and Alisha, 9, and her sister Shana, 26, who is a full-time student, in a four-bedroom, one-bath apartment, and they’re very thankful for Garth Kemp’s donation.
“To me, it’s very good, and the fact that he donated this money by himself is unbelievable,” Walton said. “Most people have big problems, and here’s this man who has a good heart, and he’s paying for the home I’ll be staying in. It’s amazing.”
Walton has shown concern over her family in their current residence, stating problems such as light switches sparking when turned on, rampant mold and mildew, and crime in the apartment complex becoming more and more prevalent.
While donations of Kemp’s size have happened before, they are rare, said Cindy Griffin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Capital Area.
The organization has had two such benefactors this year, Griffin wrote in an email interview.
Griffin also expressed Habitat’s happiness that Jean Kemp recently made a turn toward recovery.
“We pray she’ll be able to attend the dedication of the home in December and meet the homeowner family to whom the gift has meant so much,” Griffin said.
Jean Kemp has suffered more than her share of health issues, according to her husband. Diagnosed with polio at age 5, she suffers from post-polio syndrome, a rare disorder that shares many of the degenerative symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease. She’s suffered two strokes in the last two years and is also a breast cancer survivor.
“My wife unfortunately had an accident in 2012 and had to have brain surgery,” Kemp said. With all her health problems, he said, “she’s lived most of her life in quite a bit of pain.”
Kemp said he received a phone call at 3:15 the morning of his wife’s neurosurgery from the surgeon, outlining her limited options.
“The surgeon … said they had to do surgery but they wouldn’t do it without my permission,” Kemp said. “I said, ‘Well, what’s the alternative?’ And he said, ‘Death.’ I said, ‘Well, we can’t have that,’ so I told him to get the best surgeon they had and do the best job they could.”
The surgery was a success, but Jean Kemp suffered a stroke three weeks later and another one the next year, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. Kemp said that while some of the symptoms, such as memory loss, have been a challenge, one still can’t rule out the unexpected.
“She used to love to play the piano, but after the accident she couldn’t play anymore,” Kemp said.
“I sat her down at the piano, and she said, ‘I’ve never played the piano.’ And I told her, ‘Yes, Honey, you have,’ and I said, ‘Put your hands on the keys,’ and lo and behold, she started playing again, purely from memory. It was truly a miracle.”
Kemp said his wife’s recovery, while lengthy, has recently become more stable, and she is regaining many of the abilities she had lost. And, despite their recent battles, their marriage is still as strong as ever, he said.
“She can feed herself now, she can express emotions and she can carry on a conversation pretty well,” he said.
“I think she’s the most wonderful person in the world, and I feel that I’m very fortunate that our marriage has always been so great. She’s given me three precious children, Mike, Jan and Danny,” he said. “She’s always been so giving to other people, even given her painful position in life.
“My success in life is my business, and I have to say that my wife has been the backbone of it all.”
Story posted courtesy of The Clarion Ledger
Story and photos by Jared Senseman. Senseman is a student editor with HottyToddy.com