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Nantahala Outdoor Center Co-Founder, Whitewater Pioneer Aurelia Kennedy Dies

Aurelia Kennedy, co-founder of Nantahala Outdoor Center passed away on Saturday morning at her home in Wesser, NC. She was 84 years old. Kennedy moved to Swain County with her husband Peyton in 1973 to start the company with their friend Horace Holden. Holden passed away earlier this year. Now the company is a multimillion dollar business with locations in four states.

Kennedy was a pioneering outdoors-woman. She was one of the first women to paddle a canoe through Nantahala Falls in 1954. Payson says that canoe was made of wood and canvas. Later on, he says they made their own boats with molds and fiberglass in their basement. 

Aurelia also took boating trips across the U.S., South America, Fiji, Europe, China, and Nepal.

Earlier this year husband Payson spoke with BRP at their home on the NOC property about when Holden first asked the couple to come to Swain County to start NOC: 

“He asked my wife Aurelia and I to come to run it for him. So we thought we would try it. She was a school teacher so she had the summer months off. And I could get a leave of absence for the three months so we thought that we would try it. So we came up here in the summer of ‘72 and tried it. Decided it was what we wanted to do with our lives. So we sold our house , cashed out  their retirement funds and then we invested with Horace and became fifty-fifty partners with him. And we moved here at the beginning of the summer in 1973 - and we’ve been here ever since.” 

Aurelia is survived by her husband, brother, 2 daughters, 2 sons, 5 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren and many friends. A celebration of her life will be held later in the fall, but details have not been finalized.  

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