Recently deceased and KSC alumnus Kenny Hadley regularly brought the idea of “treat yo self,” to any conversation. Whether you were referring to buying a new coat or switching your major, Hadley would always prompt you to put your happiness first.
Hadley graduated from KSC in 2015, where he majored in communications and minored in theatre. After graduation, he shortly found his passion working at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, in their post-anesthesia care unit.
Born six weeks premature, Hadley was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a childhood disease of the liver, and at 15-months-old, he had a liver transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital.
In late July of this year, Hadley was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS–a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, according to the ALS Association website), and on Oct. 7, he died in his parent’s home.
Hadley was described as upbeat, positive and was known for living life to the fullest. Because of these qualities, many of his friends from KSC were unaware of his diagnosis. Hadley only told a small circle of friends because he did not want anyone to “feel bad for him.”
KSC alumna of the class of 2015 Chelsea Harris was one of the friends who knew of Hadley’s ALS, and said she had known Hadley since her first year in college. She found out in early August and said she was initially shocked and confused.
“From what I knew about ALS, I knew that the outcome wasn’t good, so that led me to doing research on the disease and trying to figure out what I could do as a friend and how could I be an advocate for him in the situation,” Harris said. ”I think the initial shock led me to figure out what I could do.”
The ALS website also noted that ALS typically develops in people between the ages of 40 to 70. During recent years, there has been more scientific understanding regarding the physiology of the disease, but there is still no cure.
Even though Harris was not able to physically be with Hadley for the few months he had ALS, she said they texted, called and Snapchatted at least once a week. A large group of Hadley’s closest friends were planning on visiting him the weekend he died, but his life partner Jason Scala let the group know earlier that week to come sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, no one in that group was able to see him one last time before his death.
For some students, Hadley’s death was a complete surprise. KSC senior Jenna Barton said she met Hadley during her first year at KSC in the KSC Admissions Office, where Hadley was a tour guide. Barton became a tour guide as a first year, and she said Hadley was a mentor for her.
She was not aware of his ALS diagnosis, and said she found out through the flood of Facebook posts honoring his memory.
Barton hadn’t seen Hadley in person in almost two years, and when she saw the posts, she said her “jaw dropped to the floor.” While his death was sudden, Barton said she finds it helpful that Hadley made such a significant impact in his 24 years of life.
KSC alumna of the class of 2016 Bridgette Normandin said she knew Hadley through a variety of outlets. She originally met him through the KSC Admissions Office, but also knew him through working at the L.P. Young Student Center and being involved with Student Government and Alternative Break.
Normandin knew of Hadley’s diagnosis, and found out he died through a phone call from her college roommate. During the funeral service for Hadley on Sunday, Oct. 15, Normandin said there was an overwhelming number of people from KSC. “He was one of the greatest people I have ever met in my life, so it is a shame that it had to happen, but I know that he is looking out for all of us,” Normandin said.
Hadley was progressively involved during his time at KSC, and met most of his closest friends through several different outlets.
The Alternative Break program, for example, was how he met KSC alumna of the class of 2017 Jessica Baker.
Baker said her and Hadley went to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee for their Alternative Break trip, where Hadley was one of her trip leaders. She added they hung out constantly after coming back to KSC.
Similar to Harris, Baker said she researched ALS as soon as she became aware of his diagnosis. She added if there was anything positive to take from his death, it was that it brought her closer to other members of her Alternative Break group that she had lost touch with. “Kenny would have loved that,” Baker said.
After his death, Baker and her other Alternative Break friends reflected on their own lives, and she said they have decided to figure out what they can do to improve. “The disease just hit him, and it really puts into perspective that the little things don’t matter and you shouldn’t stress about them. It’s more important to have fun and do everything and not say no to opportunities because they can change your life,” Baker said.
Hadley not only influenced Baker to change her major at KSC, but also has affected her choices beyond. Baker is currently enrolled in graduate school for child life, and she said Hadley heavily influenced her decision to pursue another degree. She said without him, she wouldn’t have believed in herself enough to attend.
“[Hadley] lived life better than anyone I know, and it’s comforting to know that he lived his life so hard; he did everything and he was happy and always tried to put a smile on other people’s faces, and I think that really that’s what you can do and take from this experience,” Baker said.
Baker, as well as other KSC alumni, wanted to honor Hadley’s memory.
In Hadley’s obituary, it stated in “lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Boston Children’s Hospital Liver Transplant Program or to the ALS Research Foundation–Boston.” This sparked the idea for a fundraising campaign created by KSC Director of Transitions and Parent Programs Casey Justice.
Justice started the campaign with Beeze Tees for Hadley, and the profits go to ALS research. Each t-shirt is $15 and has Hadley’s infamous saying “Treat Yo Self” on the front. It also has an ALS ribbon and reads “KH forever in our hearts.”
They set a “small goal of 50 shirts,” according to Justice, and they have currently raised over half of that. Justice said the purpose is to make sure his spirit doesn’t dwindle, and for the shirt to bring reassurance for those in mourning that he is still with them.
Normandin added that once the fundraiser is over, she knows Hadley’s memory will still carry on. She said she wants to create a yearly event in remembrance of Hadley because of the impact he had on the Keene community. Hadley would have turned 25 on Nov. 9, and a group of KSC alumni are planning a celebration in his memory in Keene.
The link for the fundraiser can be found on Hadley’s Facebook page or at https://khadley.secure-decoration.com
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org