The Town of Bluffton will officially rename its Watershed Management Building September 9 at 9 a.m. to the Jennie Kitty Municipal Building.
Jennie Kitty, worked at the former Bluffton Health Clinic at 1261 May River Road, which is now the Town’s Watershed Management Building. For three decades, Kitty tirelessly advocated for health initiatives throughout Bluffton’s African American community and the Lowcountry. Kitty, a nurse and midwife, was a champion for community health.
Her motto, derived from the hymn, “If I Can Help Somebody” was, “If I can help someone as I travel along the way, then my living shall not be in vain.”
Kitty was born in Port Royal, July 4, 1930, and died March 4, 2021. She was 90 years old.
About Jennie Kitty:
A native of the Lowcountry and Robert Smalls High School and Penn School graduate, Kitty was a prominent nurse in the Lowcountry’s African American community. She also was a midwife for nearly 40 children, who were born in Bluffton and the region as their mothers were unable to travel to nearest hospital.
Kitty worked at the Bluffton Health Clinic under the supervision of Dr. Donald E. Gatch. Dr. Gatch worked with the region’s underserved communities and, received threats from the Ku Klux Klan because of his work and the attention he brought to the living conditions, malnutrition and inadequate healthcare in South Carolina. During some of these threats, Kitty mobilized her neighbors to keep watch over the clinic and Dr. Gatch’s family.
Among the work for which she is most renown, Kitty worked throughout the community to eradicate intestinal parasites (i.e., whipworms). In 1969, Kitty led U.S. Fritz Hollings on a tour of the poor living conditions in Bluffton. Gatch’s alumni magazine, Nebraska Wesleyan University’s “Archways,” quoted Hollings as he spoke to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1969.
“There is hunger in South Carolina. In Beaufort County, I visited a shack in which 16 persons lived and there was no light, no heat, no running water, hot or cold, no bath, no toilet… in the same house one small child had rickets and another one was recovering from scurvy.”
This visit and the subsequent national media coverage later resulted in establishing the Beaufort-Jasper Comprehensive Health Clinic. Founded in 1970, this clinic provides health services to the economically challenged residents of the Lowcountry.
In addition to her medical work, Kitty petitioned President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 for funding to establish the Bluffton Day Care Center, now known as the Bluffton Community Center, a nonprofit which has served Bluffton residents for more than six decades.
Kitty was a member of the First Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bluffton and founded the Women’s Ministry as well as serving in numerous church positions.
Kitty was married to the late Deacon Renty “Busby” Kitty, Sr. and raised nine children.
Mayor & Town Council remembers Jennie Kitty
Mayor Lisa Sulka:
“Jennie Kitty was ahead of her time as a leader and an activist. She cared for the children of Bluffton until the day she left us. I have a great love for her and will miss her. I am so grateful the Town is able to honor her great works in the building in which she helped so many.”
“Jennie Kitty was a forerunner, a visionary with a heart for helping all people. She was an agent of healthcare, especially for children. Her outreach was a godsend to those who rarely received adequate healthcare. A phenomenal woman who was a second mom to many in the community, we all felt her care and love as she touched many people in her professional, personal and church life.”
“Jennie Kitty was instrumental with helping Bluffton’s youth receive vaccinations, especially for intestinal parasites. I remember Kitty and her colleagues coming to my school to make sure all children had the opportunity to receive their shots. She was a figure from my childhood, and I am pleased the Town is honoring her with the renaming of the Watershed Management Building, which was once the Bluffton Health Clinic.”
“Jennie Kitty was a remarkable woman whose personal sacrifices and dedication to healthcare enhanced the quality of life for many in Bluffton.”
“To me, she was ‘Aunt Jennie.’ At a time, when many couldn't afford access to quality healthcare, we could rely on Aunt Jennie, who would make house calls. She was a midwife, a nurse and a mother to all with whom she came into contact. Her love for others was her greatest reward and her favorite song to sing in church was a reminder of that, "If I can help somebody, as I travel on this way, then my living will not be in vain." It's people like her that make Bluffton the special place folks don't want to leave. I'm ecstatic to see her legacy of compassion being memorialized.”