In 1936, Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney was born in Hardin, Montana. In the early 1940s, Kenney’s family permanently settled in Wapato, Washington and continued to labor in agriculture. At the age of 5, Kenney started working in the fields and particulary recalls harvesting potatoes. Moreover, her family was one of the earliest Mexican families to establish roots in the Yakima Valley.
Having come from a farmworker background along with her father’s passion to help others, moved Kenney to get involved in social and political efforts to assist farmworkers. In 1967, Kenney was a founding member of The Latino Association which organized a volunteer program that provided educational and childcare services to migrant chilren. The association later formed the Washington Citizens for Migrant Affairs which received federal funding to develop childcare centers across Eastern Washington (now called Inspire). Kenney also was a founder of the Educational Institute for Rural Families (Pasco, WA) and the Yakima Valley Farmworkers health centers.
In 1976, Kenney relocated to Seattle to work for the Employment Security Department and eventually became an assistant commissioner. However, in 1996, she left the department and ran for Washington’s Secretary of State position but was not elected. Nonetheless, in the following year, Kenney was appointed and subsequently elected to represent the 46th District, an office she held from 1997 to 2013. Currently, Kenney is Sea Mar’s Community Health Center’s Vice President of Leadership and Economic Development.
Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney was interviewed by James Gregory and Josue Q. Estrada at the University of Washington on July 9, 2014.