Kendall's Korner: Grandpa turns 90 this weekend

Staff Writer
East Peoria Times-Courier

My grandpa, Dean Kendall, turns 90 this month. That is quite a milestone.

I thought this would be the perfect time to write about what an awesome guy he is. You might be thinking I am biased, which I am. But, let me tell you, my grandpa (and grandma Jenny) are not like most grandparents.

Throughout my entire life, my grandparents have always been there for me. We are very close. They are like another set of parents to me. I feel so fortunate to have them in my life and to have shared so many awesome things with them.

I feel sorry for those who don’t have a good relationship with their grandparents. They are missing out on so much.

When I was young, one of my favorite things was for my grandpa to tell me stories he made up. We’d sit by the fireplace and he would attempt to scare me with strange tales he concocted. 

My grandparents instilled a sense of adventure in me at a young age. They took me for drives down country roads and told me we were lost even though we weren’t. I told them I wasn’t scared. 

I spent the night with them often and we’d go on hikes down the creek behind their home in Kickapoo. Staying at their house, I felt like a princess. The spare room I stayed in had pink walls with flowered wallpaper and a double bed with crisp sheets. My grandma kept an immaculate home. 

They had a fireplace and a clock they brought back from Switzerland that sat on their fireplace mantle. The clock chimed a beautiful song on the hour and that comforting sound reminds me of my time at their home. I now have that clock, which unfortunately does not work anymore, on a book shelf in my home and will cherish it always.

Grandpa, an avid photographer, had a darkroom in his basement. I spent many evenings in there with him in total darkness while he developed film of the far-away places he and my grandma traveled. I got to “travel” to these places through his photographs and stories.

In the morning, I enjoyed grandma’s homemade rice pudding and banana nut bread. 

I’ve always admired my grandpa greatly. He is a smart, handsome man who kind of looks like Paul Newman. He has a quiet manner and is never boastful. I’ve never heard him raise his voice, say anything bad about anyone or brag about anything. If you think about it, that is pretty amazing. He also has a good work ethic and is very frugal. And, he is a very talented photographer. I love the fact that he is creative and adventurous.

My grandpa was born in the 1920s. He grew up on the south side of Peoria and came from a family with six kids. His father worked in the coal mines in his younger days and his mother stayed home. They didn’t have a lot of money, but his boyhood was filled with adventures of hopping on trains, going to outdoor movies projected on the sides of buildings and playing at parks — the kind of old-fashioned fun most youth would not recognize today. 

After graduating from Manual High School, my grandpa planned on going to Bradley University to become a doctor, but World War II broke out and he served in the medics unit with the Army and traveled overseas. During the Army, he did X-rays and learned how to use the film to take photos. This is where his love of photography began.

In his later years, he told me all about the war, which I recorded on cassette tape. I will treasure his stories for as long as I live. I recommend that everyone record their grandparent’s life stories to preserve these moments in history that would otherwise be forgotten over time.

Grandpa worked at Caterpillar in tool design, where he retired from in the ’80s.

Over the course of his life, he has always been active and in shape. He golfs, bowls and travels extensively. My grandma Jenny also had a lot to do with my grandpa’s healthy eating habits. She was an awesome cook, but she no longer makes extravagant home-cooked meals at her age. She said after cooking for 50-plus years, she doesn’t want to do it anymore and I can’t blame her.

Every Thursday night throughout high school and beyond, I traveled to Kickapoo to eat dinner with my grandparents. I told them about my week, and they always listened. It was one of the few times during the week that I ate a good home-cooked meals. I could talk to them about anything. I enjoyed these visits immensely. I could tell they enjoyed my company as well. 

They often told me stories about when I was little and all the cute things I did as grandparents usually do when it comes to their grandchildren.

One of my grandma’s favorite stories, which she has told me about 100 times, is when they took me to the St. Louis Zoo, and I lost one of my shoes. I was also tired of waiting on grandpa to take pictures, so I apparently told my grandma we should leave him behind. I was about 2 or 3 years old. They bought me a big red balloon that day and grandma said I fell asleep in the backseat with my arms wrapped around my balloon.

These stories seem so endearing coming from my grandparents.

Now I have to tell you, my grandparents are not like most others. I think they are unique. They’ve traveled overseas many, many times. They went on a safari in Africa. They went hiking across Ireland. My grandpa went alone to Nepal and India. I can’t tell you how much I love hearing about their adventures. My grandma told me how scared she was sleeping in a tent in Africa with the lions roaring off in the distance. My grandma is about 4 feet 9 inches tall.

After these trips to exotic places, grandpa would prepare a slide show. We’d sit in the darkened basement and I got to see what my grandpa saw through his camera lens. It was my favorite thing ever. 

One slide I saw showed my grandma walking on a sand dune. I figured it was in the Middle East, but grandpa said it was in the southern part of Colorado. I was determined to go there someday and I did in 2010. My photos didn’t quite turn out as good as my grandpa’s, but I thought it was neat to go to a place they had been.

My grandpa probably has a million slides of the places he’s seen. Once when they asked me what I would want of theirs to remember them by after they are gone, I said grandpa’s slides. I want to be able to see what he saw during his life.

It is through my grandparents that I have developed a love of travel, photography and adventure. 

In 1984, when I was in high school, my grandparents took me to Europe. I was blown away by the excitement and the sights. I went with them again in 1985, 1986 and 1999. My grandma is from Holland and still has family there. I even moved there for a while in 1999. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

My grandparents have slowed down on traveling now, but up until a year ago, my grandpa was traveling to Biloxi, Miss., to play golf with a group of guys. He did that for 39 years in a row. They still travel to Reno, Nev., every year where grandpa bowls. 

About five years ago, my grandparents moved to East Peoria to be closer to me and my dad and stepmom, and I’m glad. It was difficult for them to leave the home they had built by the woods in Kickapoo, but I think they like being closer to family.

To me, they are a huge, important part of what family is all about — love, caring and sharing, and I will always remember them for that. 

Happy birthday grandpa. I love you.

— Jeanette Kendall is the executive editor at TimesNewspapers and the editor of the East Peoria Times-Courier.

Jeanette Kendall