One Life At A Time

The Life of Dr. Kim Ennis, President of Bevill State Community College

By Terrell Manasco

Images by Blakeney Cox

The little girl stands beside the bed, her heart drumming like the hooves of a Kentucky thoroughbred. Gripping her mother’s shoulder, she shakes her again. Her mouth tastes of old cotton and there is a sickening feeling in her stomach. “Mama, wake up!” she shouts. Please let this be a bad dream, she prays silently. Sensing that something is very wrong, she runs to a neighbor’s house for help, telling them, “I can’t wake her up!”

Dr. Kim Ennis was seven years old when the Angel of Death came calling that day. With her mother gone and her father seldom around, the odds were stacked against her. Sitting at a conference table in her office at Bevill State Community College, she reflects on that life-altering event. “I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be an interim president,” she marvels. 

Fortunately another angel was watching—her aunt in Eldridge, who took Kim under her wing and raised her. “She gave me an unbelievable firm foundation that helped me have the work ethic I have,” Kim says. “She always drilled in me that respect is one of the most important things in this life. Nothing is more important to me than being respected. That has really driven who I am.”

As a Carbon Hill High student, Kim wanted to major in fashion merchandising. “I’m the type that always wants to be dressed up,” she says. “In high school I was voted Best Dressed two years in a row, and in both pictures I am in a three piece suit. I was fifteen.”

Then a chance encounter with Bob Moore of Walker College convinced her to get a business degree. She enrolled at Walker College on the William Thornton Scholarship, majoring in business while working with Carol Morgan and Jack Mott in the business office. 

In 1982 Kim earned her associate’s degree. A few weeks later she began dating Bubba Ennis. “That summer I fell in love,” she grins. “From the minute we dated, we’ve been constant companions. We are total opposites. I hate domestic stuff. He is a caregiver. It’s the perfect combination.” 

For a while Kim worked at then-thriving Carbon Hill Manufacturing. Then the plant closed in 1984. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I get a phone call that changed my life,” she says. The call was from her grandmother, Pearl Nicholas. “She said, ‘Carol Morgan is looking for you. She has a job opportunity at the college.’” 

In May 1985, Kim was hired as Walker College’s Financial Aid Director. “You know, I wasn’t a lot older than the students, and because of the respect value I had grown up with, it was really important to me to draw a line in the sand between me as a professional and students, because that can get blurred if you’re not careful.”

She admits some students were initially intimidated by her demeanor. “Kyle Dutton told me years later, ‘Do you know everybody was scared to death of you because you were not approachable and friendly?’” she laughs. “Because I was all about business. That served me well, and I hope I’m not that way now.” 

 
In 1997 Kim heard a story told by Mississippi State professor Dr. Ned Lovell. “He said there was a young man walking down a beach, watching an older man in the distance, methodically bending down and doing something,” she recalls. “He realized the older man was throwing starfish back in the water. The young man said, ‘What are you doing? You can’t make a difference. There are thousands of starfish on this beach.’ The older man picks one up, throws it out, and says, ‘I made a difference for that one.’ I realized that I had washed up on the shore several times, and I had a lot of starfish throwers. I hope I’ve been throwing people back in.”

The story made a tremendous impact on her life. “Everybody realized that I had changed,” she says. “I looked around at other people who wanted to be deans and presidents and realized, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Dr. Ennis often told the story during public speaking engagements. “People brought me starfish stuff. I was the Starfish Lady for a long time.” 

Kim admits for a while she felt she was missing out because she had no parents. “I toted that with me everywhere,” she says. “One day I was listening to a song on the radio, and the guy was singing about his father who had not been there when he was growing up. He’s at his father’s funeral and he looks up and sees the cross. He says, ‘I realized my Father’s been here all along.’ That is where my faith is now. Since that revelation, I never dwell on what I don’t have in family relationships on this earth. My relationship with my Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ is all that really matters at the end of the day.”

For two years Kim has been teaching a ladies’ Sunday school class at Voice of Truth Worship Center in Carbon Hill. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” she says. “I’m fascinated by it and enjoy it so much. I want my countenance to be that Jesus Christ is alive and well in me, and I want other people to know the peace I have through knowing Jesus.”

Last year Kim lost a mentor and close friend when Jack Mott passed away. “He was a father figure to me,” she says. “He always told me, ‘Kim, be the best financial aid officer you can be. Strive to be the best one in the state of Alabama.’ His work ethic was incredible. The day he retired, we were sitting in his office and he looked at me and said, ‘Who’s gonna take care of my girl?’ His daughter-in-law, Penne Mott, asked me to sit with the family at the funeral. It was an honor.”

Like Jack Mott and so many others who influenced her, Kim has a burning passion for helping others succeed. “We can’t make a difference for everybody, but if we can make a difference for one person, anything we do is worth it,” she says. “I want to have a countenance that always reflects being positive and having hope. As long as we’re above ground, there’s hope.” 

Indeed, hope is very much alive, as long as there are people like Dr. Kim Ennis walking along the beach, making a difference, one starfish at a time. 78

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