Mennonite pastor who launched Schaumburg, Lombard churches dies at age 88
When a dairy farm on Roselle Road in Schaumburg went up for sale around 2000, the Rev. Leroy Kennel saw opportunity. Following his vision, his Mennonite congregation purchased the property and then spent three years converting its large barn into a church.
Kennel, who became known as the pastor who built a church in a barn, died Feb. 14 after a long illness. He was 88.
"Leroy had a lot of energy and vision," said his wife, Pauline, who co-pastored the church with her husband. "When he saw things that needed to be done, he knew he could have a hand in it.
"As Mennonites, we feel we have a responsibility for creation and protecting our environment," she added. "Leroy felt very strongly that we should recycle and reuse this old barn."
The Kennels began the church with a first meeting at Schaumburg High School in October 1988. Services then were held at the Schaumburg Barn until the congregation acquired the property on Roselle Road.
After three years of sweat equity by church members -- transforming a former hayloft into a sanctuary and worship space -- Christ Community Mennonite Church held a grand dedication ceremony in 2005.
The Schaumburg congregation was the second startup church that Kennel and his wife founded. Back in 1954, the couple founded the Lombard Mennonite Church and led its community for 11 years, before Leroy Kennel left to be a professor of preaching and worship at Bethany Theological Seminary in Oak Brook.
At the same time, Pauline Kennel was the coordinator of Chicago Area Mennonite Churches. There already were 22 congregations in the Chicago area, but the denomination looked for areas to start new communities.
"The Northwest suburbs stood out," Pauline Kennel says. "The closest one was in Lombard. So, Leroy put a lot of enthusiasm and physical energy into building it."
While Mennonites are not well-known, Leroy Kennel felt that as one of one of four historic Christian peace denominations, his message would be well received by suburban residents.
"We have a vision of being peacemakers and helping to bring about reconciliation wherever we are," Pauline Kennel adds, "whether in the family, community or worldwide. That was his driving motivation -- to bring that message to people."
As the Kennels became more involved in the Schaumburg community, Leroy Kennel was asked to serve as chaplain to the Schaumburg Police Department, beginning in November 1994.
As chaplain, he would ride along with police to assist in counseling crime and accident victims and their families, and counseling police officers.
"He felt that this volunteer position was a calling," Pauline Kennel says, "that he was there to be a healer whenever he could."
Kennel also served as chaplain of Friendship Village in Schaumburg from 1998-2003 and was a member of SHECA (Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates Clergy Association) for 20 years from 1988-2008. The couple retired to Elkhart, Indiana, in 2009.
Besides his wife, Kennel is survived by his four children, Jon (Mary) Kauffmann-Kennel of Elkhart, Rita (Larry) Lopienski of Bartlett, Janice (Lonnie) Ropp of Schaumburg and Jay (Laura Grabowski) of Riverside, California, eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a brother, Willard.
A memorial service will be held March 16 at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.