Most folks in Cheatham County remember a time when walking into Kemp’s Foodland on Main Street was a way to get meat, bread, and milk for the week and to catch up with friends and neighbors. Now, families across the community are honoring the memory of the man behind the business, Donald Lee Kemp, Jr. Donnie Kemp, well-known for his entrepreneurial spirit and his generosity to many local charities and nonprofits, died suddenly on Christmas Day last year at the age of 65.
Kemp, a 1973 graduate of Cheatham County High School, successfully operated Kemp’s Foodland for more than three decades before retiring and going into rental and property development. Many still recall the feeling they had when entering the store and still search on the internet for recipes for the famous pies sold in the deli. Still, others remember their first jobs in high school working as baggers and clerks at Kemp’s.
Donnie Kemp will be remembered as a business owner who knew his demographic well and tailored his business plan to fit it. Shirley Bradley, retired General Manager of The Ashland City Times, worked with Kemp to schedule and design advertisements for his grocery store in the weekly newspaper.
“Looking back, Donnie had a clear vision of how to run a successful grocery in a rural county. His goal was to save money for his customers and provide high quality and service. Kemp's Foodland, in turn, supported an untold number of non-profit organizations and donated yearly to hundreds of worthy causes,” Bradley said.
“Donnie was probably ahead of his time on ‘branding’ Kemp's Foodland by consistently using a bold red and black logo and the slogan ‘Our meats are the talk of the town.’ He was open to change and the grocery was ever evolving,” she said.
“My favorite memory of Donnie is him calling my office at the last minute requesting a full-page color ad for a dozen of grade A large eggs for 39 cents. He said, ‘Make it look good.’ My design was a large hen sitting on top of a larger egg with the caption: ‘The hens can't lay them any cheaper.’ We both laughed a few months later when the ad won first place in the Tennessee Press Association Advertising Contest,” Bradley recalled.
Kemp was also known for his support for dozens of community causes. Longtime supporters of Habitat for Humanity, Kemp’s family members have requested that donations be made in Donnie’s name rather than flowers or other memorials.
Jeff Bennett, Director of Divisions, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville, said the Kemps “are the quintessential southern family in that they love to make others feel welcomed, loved, and appreciated. Their work with Habitat is no different.”
For the past several years, Bennett said the Kemps’ area of service was in fully sponsoring the meal at Cheatham Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraising banquet, Houses of Hope.
“The planning for each event always began with me calling Donnie and setting up a meeting over lunch. Donnie and Jackie would pick the place and we would talk about the event. While Jackie focused on the details, Donnie was about the big picture. Together, they selected the caterer, fully sponsored the meal, and was onsite to make sure everything went as planned. This wasn’t just a random act of kindness, but an ongoing project that helped provide much support for our local Habitat ministry. Having known the kemps for nearly 10 years, I’ve grown to love their family. I’ve gleaned many great things from Donnie’s business acumen, in particular, his ability to pull people together to do great things well,” he said.
In addition to supporting Habitat, Donnie Kemp and his family have been active in supporting the school system. Tim Adkins, Cheatham County Schools Communications Director and Grant Writer, said, “There are not adequate enough words to say how much of an impact Mr. Kemp made in our community. He was a true people person and always made you feel special. He had an immense love for Cheatham County and his generosity touched so many lives. His legacy will continue to live on in our community. He was an advocate for the Cheatham County School District. He was always willing to support our schools and students in any way to make sure they had what they needed to achieve both academic and athletic success.”
Donnie Kemp is survived by his wife Jackie Jenkins Kemp, his daughters, and many grandchildren. The family requests in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Cheatham County Habitat for Humanity or Center House Nashville, a recovery home sponsored by First Church Nashville.