When my uncle, Griff Kendrick, a Korean War veteran and accounting graduate of Lincoln University in Missouri, decided to marry a skinny little co-ed he met at Lincoln instead of one of the ‘sisters’ from my hometown area, we just could not understand it! But, over the years, we found her a giant who has nourished and encouraged our entire family toward being the best that we can be, individually and otherwise. Aunt Irma’s father, a Methodist minister, and her mother raised their kids to be charitable givers in every way.
My uncle worked as an accountant, and Aunt Irma worked in the registrar’s office at Prarie View A&M College, now, University(PVAMU) in Texas. When I decided to attend Prairie View, I lived with them and their daughters Karen and Genora. It was like getting to live with the Huxables of the Cosby Show! I found Aunt Irma to be the least judgmental person in my life. She and my uncle helped people without any expectation of repayment. Typing theme papers and thesis’s for PVAMU students (most of whom she barely knew) into the night was a common occurrence, and she never…let me repeat that… never, requested payment from the students. Her actions led through example.
My uncle did the income taxes of many Prairie View families, and while he was at it, he’d say something like, “That idea that you mentioned about building a service station is something we really need!” The fact was that he had previously planted the service station idea in the mind of the person. Both were excellent at helping others excel above what they had accomplished on their own, without their impact. My one-on-one conversations with Aunt Irma were the equivalent of receiving ongoing sage advice on all quality of life things. Her ability to have a positive take on some of the most negative people that I’d ever met was amazing.
Growing up, I believed in absolute honesty, so when I saw my aunt tell her baby girl that James Brown was saying “get spunky” as you want to be, instead of “get funky.” I did not understand that little ears may not be ready for some things. It took raising my own kids to understand her actions fully.
As we talked over current events, Irma Kendrick’s take on every issue was thought out from almost a spiritual point of view with absolutely no harsh judgments or accusations. She tried to put herself in other’s shoes before deciding on a position. My uncle Griff gave similar consideration but was a bit more judgmental. When Aunt Irma learned that we had decided to let our daughter attend a majority university, she and Uncle Griff drove from Prairie View to Greenville, SC, so she could evaluate whether Kobi was ready for such an undertaking. Fortunately, she passed with flying colors (smile!) Kobi went on to excel at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Harvard Law School.
Each year at Christmas, Aunt Irma sent the entire family a detailed update on what had transpired with members of the family. While I greatly appreciated the annual message, it did not dawn on me until my mid-thirties that we needed to reciprocate. So I began to write notes of appreciation and updates on what was going on with my part of the family. This practice, started by my aunt, enabled me to become a half-decent writer. Plus, writing and poetry are strong points with my kids and grands. For example, my daughter, Kobi, had a poem published in a national magazine when she was six years old, and her daughter, Emory, is the current best writer and the best poet in the eleventh grade in America!
The lessons learned from the fact that the “skinny little co-ed” chose to join our family have stood the test of TIME!
Thanks for listening!
Image: Irma Kendrick with a family friend, attending her grandson’s graduation from the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Aunt Irma attends celebrations for all family achievements.
–William Leroy Kennedy
Beyond his career as an engineer, diversity and training manager, and financial advisor, he asserts, “Getting to teach others about how to become more financially astute has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career.”
While doing all of the above, Mr. Kennedy managed to help raise his daughter and son, six years apart, to become outstanding students with a true sense of community. They graduated from UNC Chapel Hill/Harvard Law School and Stanford/Harvard Business School, respectively.
Many hours were spent working with church, civil rights, and community organizations in an effort to help produce progress. Motivating youth to be all that they can be is a constant goal of Mr. Kennedy.
He is very high on using khanacademy.org as an educational tool that can help all, regardless of age or learning disability, succeed in life. “Every adult and child should visit the site” is his motto.