If you follow the winding paths through the University of North Alabama, up hills, under twinkle lights, and past the towering Harrison Plaza fountain you’ll find the President’s House — where all sidewalks seem to intersect. While the stately building sits silent, stoic— a symbol of the University of North Alabama and its history, the walls inside are brimming with laughter, play, and every day life. UNA President Dr. Ken Kitts and his wife Dena Kitts have taken a historical treasure of the University and highlighted its greatest features to honor and capitalize on the purple and gold spirit, while making it a welcoming home for students, the Shoals community, and worldwide leaders.
The President’s Home is at the Harrison entrance and was built as part of the Works Projects Administration (WPA), a program created by President D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression— and still boasts a WPA plaque at the entrance, which is surrounded by a lush, green lawn, and bunches of flower beds to accentuate the architectural design mimicked after mansions built in Colonial America. The unique property was one of the first to have a phone room and still has the original coal shoot in the basement, compete with a giant, steel furnace. The history of the home has been meticulously preserved with the beautiful original hardwood floors, and solid plaster walls in pristine condition. However, the Kitts have taken this historical residence and truly made it their own— there is a warmth and genuine care for the history and also belief that the walls are to be filled with love, laughter, and memories.
Dena Kitts is raising their two boys, Colin and Corbin next to a lion’s den, with students meandering to class in her front yard and she embraces every bit of it. Her excitement for the University and for its students is palatable, as she describes the many events and parties that are hosted at their home, where she has painted the formal living room a warm, Restrained Gold to make sure the spirit of UNA was properly represented. The living room, an eclectic mix of the University’s furniture, with a sprawling hand-loomed oriental rug, antiques, as well as art and decor personal to the Kitt’s family, is the primary spot where they have gatherings for the LaGrange students, International exchange kids, and their annual Santa party for families. Their desire and focus is on the students, UNA faculty and ensuring that they feel like family and that their home is an extension and representation of the Lion Spirit.
While they’ve hosted famous musical performers, Senators, and a Speaker of the House at the dining room table highlighted by the original crystal chandelier, their favorite nights are spent in the backyard where students roast marshmallows by the fire pit they had built when they moved to the residence in place of a inoperative fountain. The backyard is a lively space where their boys jump on the trampoline and zip across slip-in-slides in the heat of the summer. Inside the family spends nights together cozied up in the downstairs den watching movies, while their cat, Eleven, curls up on the arm of the sofa. Dena continues to add character and charm to every corner of the house with her down-to-earth perspective, including the library where pictures of the family and books are displayed next to the unique antique table where they enjoy entertaining guests and serving drinks.
In addition, Dena has a love for the work of Robin Wade, whose mother was an English professor at UNA, and proudly displays his stunning pieces, including a coffee table in the main living room and a large table in the parlor room. Currently, she is anticipating another Robin Wade table design made from a large Oak tree that fell in their yard in 2017— the wood takes two years to cure, making each piece truly one-of-a-kind. This attention to detail, care, and warmth is exactly what the Kitts family brings to the University— a true, spirited representation of everything it means to be a Shoals resident and UNA Lion. Their love, care, and transformation of the President’s house is apparent and appreciated.