"My whole life, I have kind of been the person behind the scenes, and I have always said I will be the best girl Friday you have ever met."
This was a quick snapshot of Melody Kendall, Prineville Senior Center Director, upon sitting for an interview with the iconic role model, who has been vigilant to protect her seniors during the recent pandemic. Kendall is humble, but fierce to watch over this demographic of Prineville citizens, including her volunteers.
She was instrumental in getting vaccinations for her delivery drivers this past January. She had been concerned about an outbreak in a facility where they had delivered, although none of her drivers contracted COVID-19. The majority of her drivers for deliveries were in a high-risk group, and Kendall contacted Seth Crawford and St. Charles Prineville to get her drivers a vaccine in the 1A group.
With the help of Judge Seth Crawford, the Crook County Health Department and St. Charles, all the delivery drivers were able to get their vaccination with a couple of weeks as part of the first group 1A.
"It was a real successful thing, and I felt so much more at ease having them out there," she commented.
Kendall noted that if one of the drivers had contracted COVID-19, it could have put their deliveries in jeopardy, affecting the 100 recipients who depended on the meals.
"I was so thankful to our town—and Seth really stepped for us and got it," she added of the team effort to get her delivery drivers vaccinated.
Kendall graduated from high school at CCHS. She is a Prineville native, and her grandmother was a Prine. Barney Prine was her grandmother's great uncle. She reflected on the last presentation at the Bowman Museum of "People in our Past," where Matt Cleman played the part of Barney Prine. She attended it with her cousin Doran Coonse, his daughter, and granddaughters.
"It was just fascinating… I was thrilled that they did that," said Kendall.
She also has custody of the Prine family Bible. Last fall, when the fires were burning, Kendall put the prized possession as the first thing to be kept in her car, should she need to flee a fire.
Kendall has a large extended family in town, and one brother Jerry and his wife Geri Lynn. She has been married to Leo Kendall for six years. Her husband, who is from La Pine, Oregon, works for Roush Industries at the Daimler Chrysler test facility in Madras. She and Leo have three corgis and a border collie, whom they consider much like their children.
Growing up, Kendall learned her work ethic by working at the A & W for Olan Ford.
"Olan Ford taught us how to work. I learned how to work, working for him," said Kendall of the importance of acquiring her work ethic.
She was employed for four years in the Personnel department for the Ochoco National Forest Service before she was married and later moved to Corvallis, Oregon. She was immediately employed with a Farmers Insurance agent before going to work for Tekmax and Entek, a company that worked with General Motors to develop materials for batteries.
Kendall and her husband moved back to Redmond and she went back to insurance, this time at Lumberman's Insurance. She worked there for more than seven years and helped develop a flexible saving plan in collaboration with Blue Cross.
"Blue Cross and I developed the first plans in Oregon, and we worked on it really hard."
She reached a point of burn-out, where she needed a change. She also did the books for her husband's construction company.
She and her sister-in-law, Geri George, had been fascinated with a new embroidery machine they had seen.
"My sister-in-law and I took a deep breath, and we bought an embroidery machine and started an embroidery business-Sagebrush Embroidery. I had seen it done and I was fascinated by the machines and it scared us to death," she recalled of her first investment.
The startup for the first machine and the software was $25,000. Although the new business venture was scary, she converted the large shop on her property to accommodate the equipment into a work area for their new business.
"We did that, and we were so nervous. Borrowing $25,000 was just frightening to us."
After the first year, their husbands encouraged them to get a second machine, and in a few months, they needed a third machine.
"It just exploded on us," she said of their growing business.
They got their first big break after setting up at an Elks Christmas Bizarre. They made contact through some high school moms, and they began doing emblems and embroidery for local sports garments. The two women developed a routine that worked well, and they had a lucrative business for 17 years.
Kendall missed working with people, and she noticed an ad from the Soroptimist for a part-time bookkeeper. With her family having deep roots in Prineville, she had memories of her own grandfather attending the local senior center. She took the position, while still working her embroidery business with her sister-in-law.
After approximately three years, the Soroptimists asked Kendall if she would consider being the coordinator for the Senior Center in addition to being the bookkeeper.
"By then I was divorced and when Leo and I first got together, I was working here all day and taking stuff home and also still keeping up with the embroidery business," she recalled.
She would work at the Senior Center all day, and then work all evening and weekend on her embroidery business.
"I was doing both jobs and it was just burning me out. Then I had to have knee surgery."
Kendall had someone who was persistent about buying their house, and she and Leo sold their house. She and Geri decided it was a good point in time to let the embroidery business go, and Colleen Becerra offered to buy it. While she and Leo were moving, they were re-homing the embroidery machines to the Becerra residence.
"The same day we moved everything out of the house, we moved all the embroidery stuff to her house, and she has been doing it ever since. She is doing an amazing job with it," added Kendall.
Moving the Senior Center forward
It took four years to get the grant for remodeling the Senior Center. There were many obstacles that had to be overcome to make the reality of the remodel happen, but in the latter part of 2020, the work was finally completed by Griffin Construction. During the remodel, Eastside Church opened their doors to our program and allowed them to continue the Home Delivered Meal Program. It has been a frustrating time, given the beautiful remodel was complete, and the doors remain shuttered until the Council on Aging and the Oregon Health Authority gave the all-clear for them to resume opening.
"This is where our seniors meet their friends, this is their meals, their social time and gets them out of the house," Kendall emphasized. "This town has opened up to us. When we first closed, I would go to the post office and there would be a stack of donation checks every time I went. We have been successful in almost every grant we have applied for."
She added that at one point, Suzie Pape pledged a matching amount of $5,000, which resulted in approximately $18,000 due to the pledge. Kendall indicated that they have kept going strong due to the combination of the revenue from the Neat Repeat, the amount from the Council on Aging for meals and donations. Seniors have been able to come and pick up meals and home delivery has never stopped. They deliver approximately 100 meals per day.
"Probably the biggest surprise is the town—it just loves us, and they love their seniors. This helps to take care of the seniors," she concluded.
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