The Cleveland, Ohio, native moved to Tennessee in 1968, not long after finishing her high school education. That first week, she met and got engaged to Pete, the man who would be her husband for 42 years.
“We were just talking, and he told me he wanted to go out with a Northern girl,” Kendrick said.
Being from Ohio, she said she had never had the intention of dating or marrying a Southern man before she met Pete. She said his comment made her laugh, but she agreed to join him for a meal at Burger Chef, the Keith Street fast food restaurant now known as The Chef.
“At the time, it wasn’t even thought about,” she said with a laugh. “I never thought I’d marry one.”
Over a couple of hamburgers, their conversation eventually turned to their families. Along the way, Kendrick told her date about relatives who lived in Cleveland, including a male cousin who had a girlfriend he intended to marry.
“When I told him that, he said ‘Well, let’s you and I get married,’” she said. “We went to get a burger, and he asked me to marry him.”
Pete didn’t get down on one knee or have a ring at the ready. To her knowledge, nobody in the restaurant around them knew about the proposal, she said. But before they had left, they had promised to marry each other.
Kendrick said she still has “no idea” why she said yes but she is certainly glad she did.
“I know it’s weird,” she said. “Evidently, it was meant to be.”
She said she cannot remember her family’s reaction to her engagement so many years later, but everything fell into place for them to get married. Kendrick’s mother signed her consent to the marriage because she was still 17 at the time. She also gave the couple some money to buy things for their household.
The couple got married 11 days after their engagement at the Burger Chef. Coincidentally, Kendrick’s cousin and his girlfriend married not too long after they did, she said.
Pete and Carol Kendrick later had two sons named Kenny and Shane and eventually welcomed Shane’s wife, Vicki, and Kenny’s daughter, Evie, to the family. Despite their engagement of less than two weeks, the couple was married for 42 years before Pete passed away in early 2011.
Throughout much of her married life, Kendrick worked, holding various positions within the healthcare industry.
Kendrick took on her first full-time job in 1977, working as a clerk in a nursing ward at Bradley Memorial Hospital, which is now SkyRidge Medical Center. Later on in her career at the hospital, she worked as a supply distribution technician and in the admissions department.
While at Bradley Memorial, Kendrick said a supervisor named Beverly Dunn taught her an important lesson she would continue to carry with her throughout her entire career in the medical field.
“She told me, ‘When you’re working, always remember you could be the person in that bed,’” Kendrick said.
In 1989, she began working at the Bradley County Department of Health, and over the years held a variety of positions.
Kendrick spent her last 11 years on the job working as a registrar of vital records, helping people get copies of important records and handling around 300 birth certificates a week.
“I absolutely enjoyed it all,” she said.
Kendrick retired from the department of health on May 4 of this year and soon learned about a volunteer opportunity with the Cleveland Police Department where she could spend some of her newfound free time.
Since then, she has served as a Public Service Unit officer with the department. Officers in that unit work as volunteers to assist with things like escorting funerals, directing traffic and helping people unlock their car doors.
“It was nothing that I had known about,” Kendrick said.
She said she learned about the opportunity while reading a newspaper article about the unit. She was intrigued and decided to look into becoming an officer. One of her favorite parts of the job, she said, is helping young drivers who have locked their keys in the car and may not have a way to pay for a locksmith. For her, it is all about helping others.
“So far, I absolutely love it,” Kendrick said.
As the 61-year-old has worked and volunteered over the years, she said one of the most important lessons she learned was the need to always treat others well, even when problems arise.
“Because I’ve always worked in the public, (the key is to) always treat others the way you want to be treated,” Kendrick said.
As she looks back to the start of her 42-year marriage, she said she is glad it all worked out well. While the possibility of remarrying has not been on her mind, she said Pete told her he hoped she would find someone new if something ever happened to him. If Pete had taught her one thing, it was to not rule out the unexpected.
“Who knows what will happen?” she said.