The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

A FAMILY OF FUN

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Alix Kennedy oversees a beehive of activity in the Round House

by John D. Hubbard

FamilyFun magazine, not surprisingly, springs from a happy covey of good-time experts nestled into the historic Round House of Northampton, Massachusetts.

An old gas conversion plant in a quaint New England town may seem an unlikely spot for a publishing kingdom but Alexandra Kennedy '82, group editorial director for the Family Magazine Division of the Walt Disney Company, oversees a thriving enterprise. Kennedy is in charge of not only FamilyFun, a periodical dedicated to reminding parents how to play with their children, but also Disney Magazine, relaunched two-and-a-half years ago, and a small division that has produced books on cooking, crafts and family travel, with titles about Christmas cookies and parties in the works.

Recently returned from maternity leave (Alix and her husband, poet James Haug, have two sons: Jack, nearly three, and Nikalsen, who turns one this month), Kennedy is squeezed into a small narrow space. It hardly matters, because an office is mostly just someplace to leave. Kennedy is on the go, moving around the building, which also is home to FamilyPC, a spin-off for computer-loving families, and Impress, the graphic arts studio responsible for FamilyFun's lively and inviting look, and dashing off -- the Today Show one day, the White House the next -- to promote FamilyFun.

Alix oversees a family of editors ("I'm a generalist," says the director, who is surrounded by experts on everything from fort building to clay dragons) but is also charged with growing the "brand." Magazines are no longer just words on slick paper. "We're a website, book series and pavilions at Walt Disney World," says Kennedy, who may find herself discussing the role of families in education with panelists including Tipper Gore one day and shopping for a shirt an editor can wear on a Fox National News broadcast the next.

FamilyFun, which is seven years old, has a booming circulation of 1.1 million, but brand recognition is a concern. "Probably everyone who knows of us is reading us," jokes Kennedy. "But we want to be known as experts in our field. We were first into this new family category and it's a great advantage to be first. We just want to stay there."

The magazine was founded by Jake Winebaum, a veteran of U.S. News & World Report, who had the idea for a magazine of "activities we hope will find their way into your child's cherished memories."

An old gas conversion plant in a quaint New England town may seem an unlikely spot for a publishing kingdom but Alexandra Kennedy '82, group editorial director for the Family Magazine Division of the Walt Disney Company, oversees a thriving enterprise. At the time, Kennedy was working for New England Monthly, an award-winning regional magazine that failed financially. Winebaum found a ready-made staff and Alix became managing editor of FamilyFun. The magazine was soon bought by Disney and found a home in the Round House. From the beginning the mix was right. Disney is in the entertainment business and FamilyFun is about teaching families to entertain themselves. The demographics were perfect, too. The power of Disney helped grow the magazine and FamilyFun's cadre of experts have infused Disney World with the same level of involvement they preach for backyards and dens.

Though she has been on board since the magazine's launch, Kennedy hasn't stood still, moving from managing editor to executive editor to editor to editor-in-chief to her assignment now, making sure the various FamilyFun expansions "look like FamilyFun and sound like FamilyFun."

It was a curious, though no less restless, route to the Round House and publishing for Alix Kennedy. She practiced biodynamic French intensive gardening in Colorado, lived in a remote cabin in the wilds of Nova Scotia, returned to central New York to work on a dairy farm, tended the gardens at Vermont's Shelburne House, was a microbiotic baker and earned a master of fine arts in poetry -- "all of this propelling me into a career with Disney," she says, laughing.

It is not just assignments that have changed in Alix Kennedy's life during her tenure with Disney. Since becoming a mother, Alix says on the outside nothing has changed but she feels "more personally invested in FamilyFun." She is also more deeply touched by letters from readers -- who make a huge contribution to the magazine -- and the importance of helping parents and children spend time together. "Everything is more poignant and I'm much more opinionated about working mothers and what kind of support they need -- namely, husbands who share in the child rearing."

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The Colgate fun family, from left, Jennie Mayer, Alix Kennedy, and Martha Jenkins
The idea of FamilyFun bubbling up from a sterile corporate office instead of Kennedy's garden of creativity is difficult to imagine. There is a Colgate connection, too, helping to till the fertile fields. Downstairs, Jennie Mayer '82 is production director and Martha Jenkins '81 is production coordinator. Kennedy also works with Lisa Kitei '83, vice president of communications for Disney Publishing, Lisa Holton '83, in charge of juvenile books for Disney Publishing and Bevinn Murphy Romaine '87 of Ted, Inc., who works in public relations, often booking Kennedy's television appearances.

The Colgate strain runs deeper. Alix's father John P. Kennedy is a member of the Class of 1950 and brother J. Paul Kennedy '77 is the managing editor of Soccer America.

Kennedy calls her father, a career executive with cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, at least once a week. "He's a really creative guy and a good sounding board for me. He can help me see things clearly at work because he's not wrapped up in the emotional and political turmoil like I am."

The surface seems tranquil on one hot spring day. Dogs wander in and out of cubicles, Jennie Mayer hasn't had to yell at anyone about deadlines and Alix Kennedy is confident she can find the right shirt for her editor's television appearance.

Sample pages of an upcoming ad-free special issue of Disney Magazine on the Animal Kingdom -- "It's an opportunity to really blow out the art, and Animal Kingdom is a pretty fabulous thing to write about" -- are posted on a hallway bulletin board and look terrific.

The Family Cookbook: Irresistible Recipes for You and Your Kids is out, too, and seems yummy. From Pizza Men to Leaning Tower of Oreos -- there's fun inside.

That's true of all of the Family Magazine products and the Round House, too. Alexandra Kennedy is in charge and it shows.