Lettie Mae Kendall, née Parker, passed away at the age of 91 on Tuesday morning, July 6, 2021, after a brief illness. She died peacefully at TriStar Skyline Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mrs. Kendall was born May 2, 1930, in Village, Arkansas, the third youngest of thirteen children. She was the daughter of William and Gustavia Parker, who valued education for both their sons and daughters. They were proud to watch her go to Little Rock to attend Arkansas Baptist College, earning her undergraduate degree. She also attended Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, and later earned a master's and education specialist degree from Austin Peay State University.
Lettie began her forty-year-long teaching career in a two-room schoolhouse in Augusta, Arkansas, where she met her future husband, Robert B. Kendall. While her husband served in the famed 101st Airborne, doing two tours in Vietnam and one in Okinawa as part of his twenty-year service record, Mrs. Kendall raised four children and worked full-time as a teacher.
In addition to being a teacher, Mrs. Kendall was an elementary school principal, teaching and mentoring several hundred children, many of whom continued to visit her long after her retirement. As a principal, her leadership and fairness to all students led to rises in test scores in reading and math across the board. During this time, she was a member of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Association of Elementary School Principals. When she returned to the classroom, her teaching success led to extraordinary achievement among students sent to her with math deficiencies. She was proud to send most back to their classrooms with increased confidence and documented ability.
In the community, in addition to being a life member of the NAACP, Mrs. Kendall chaired the board of directors that obtained federal funding for a community center. This center allows members of the New Providence neighborhood to gather for meetings and celebrations of major life events, including her fiftieth wedding anniversary to Dr. Robert B. Kendall, Jr. That center, which also included a Head Start program where she tutored for a decade, is now named the Lettie M. Parker Kendall Community Center. Also named after her is a neighborhood park and splash pad, where the voices of local children, a sound she loved, can still be heard in joyous play.
After an initial defeat, her determination to succeed led to her election and constant reelection as a commissioner for Montgomery County District 13, where she was the first woman to serve on the budget committee. These election victories showed great progress in our nation from the days when she had had to ride in the back of the bus and pay a poll tax to vote in Arkansas. Upon her retirement after forty-two years of service to the county commission, she received the statewide Robert M. Wormsley Outstanding County Official of the Year as the longest-serving county commissioner in Tennessee history.
Mrs. Kendall was a member of St. John Missionary Baptist Church for many years and was the first woman to serve on the church's board of trustees. Awards for her service were plentiful, including the Conservation Education Award for Outstanding Work in Conservation Education, an APSU Community Service Award for contributions made to the African American community, recognition from the Tennessee General Assembly for Public Service to Montgomery County and the Clarksville community in honor of the 75th anniversary of Women's Suffrage, and an Outstanding Voluntary Service award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her service represented her continuous faith in her community and her nation.
Lettie Kendall is survived by her husband of 69 years, Dr. Robert B. Kendall, Jr,; two daughters, Dr. Gustavia Yvonne Kendall, flutist, musicologist, writer, college professor; Sharon Kendall Roberson, Esq., CEO of the YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee; twin sons, Ronald and Donald Kendall, active in church and community events in Lebanon, Tennessee; son-in-law Clifford F. Roberson, M.D.; grandson Clifford Kendall Roberson, software engineer; granddaughter Vivian Lettie Gustavia Syroyezhkin, editor/ghostwriter; grandson-in-law Andrey Syroyezhkin, web developer; and Yolanda Yancey, goddaughter, retired teacher, and longtime board member for the Community Center.
Lettie Kendall was the last surviving sibling in her family but is also survived by many nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, and a host of grateful students and constituents. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Lettie Kendall Park & Splash Pad or the Lettie M. Parker Kendall Community Center Incorporated.
The funeral services will be held at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1833 Tiny Town Rd., Clarksville, Tennessee on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, at noon. Open visitation will be held on that day from 10 am-noon. Mrs. Kendall will be interred at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery West. In recognition of the continuing presence of Covid-19, masks are requested for all. For those who cannot attend, live-streaming is available at the Foston Funeral Home Facebook site.