The life of Elder L. Lionel Kendrick has proceeded like a mirror of the man himself - gently and serenely, yet resolutely.
Elder Kendrick, sustained April 2 as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is a soft-spoken and unassuming man, but steely determination has consistently riveted and carried him to his goals.He desired, almost from the time of his earliest memory, to be a teacher. So he became a teacher, eventually earning a doctorate and serving in his chosen profession for 30 years.
He was actively involved in his religion for more than two decades, yet became a devout Latter-day Saint from the day of his baptism.
So it is not astonishing at all to hear this new General Authority quietly declare, in his soft Southern cadence, "I've never feared sharing my testimony under any circumstance. I have no fear whatsoever."
Elder Kendrick was born Sept. 19, 1931 in Baton Rouge, La., and grew up as an only child in a religious family. "We were there every time the door opened to that little church," he recalled. His father was a lay leader in the local congregation, and he served in youth leadership positions during his teenage years.
He was so involved with his religion that, in fact, "some of the older members of that church had me pegged to become a minister and reminded me of that fact from time to time." This raised a dilemma because of his longstanding desire to be a teacher. But the decision had been made, and he continued on with plans to combine two of his great loves - teaching and sports - into one career: coaching. He would remain active in his church, but as a lay member.
The other powerful influences in Elder Kendrick's early years were his parents _ Bonnie D. and Edna. "They were very compassionate and loving people," he said. While growing up he learned of devotion to God, work, service and charity - by example. "I feel fortunate to have come from a very solid background, a lineage of goodly parents," he said.
The combination made for a man well prepared to enter his hometown university of Louisiana State in 1949 and then later ably serve youth, his community and his church. It also prepared Elder Kendrick for what would become other significant influences in his life:
He had dated Myrtis Noble in high school, but only briefly, since he was three years ahead of her in school. "From the first time that we dated, I knew that she was quite different, and quite special," Elder Kendrick reminisced. "I didn't fully understand why."
Myrtis was LDS, one of few Mormon youths in the area. The two continued dating occasionally while he attended LSU, and decided to get married after her first year at the university. By then religion was a frequent topic of discussion. "My husband knew that I would never change my religion, and he agreed to go with me to Church and to pay tithing," Sister Kendrick said.
He kept his word, though, at 21 years of age, he was superintendent of his church's Sunday School.
After just one year of high school teaching and coaching at Fort Necessity High School in northern Louisiana, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Air Force.
He, his wife and infant son were sent to Illinois for preparatory training before a tour of duty in Nagoya, Japan. That first Sunday he attended Church with his wife in the small Belleville Branch. "I had gone to Church with her before, as I had agreed to," Elder Kendrick said, "and I listened, but I didn't see as she saw."
That Sunday was different. Teaching the investigators' Sunday School class was Hal Coburn, also a counselor in the branch presidency. "He taught with simplicity, but with power," explained Elder Kendrick. "That first Sunday, the Spirit absolutely came to me in a way that caused me to hunger and thirst for more. I knew I had to know."
So much so that after class the second Sunday, he asked Coburn and his wife, Peggy, to teach him the gospel in his home every Wednesday evening. "We had some choice experiences with the Kendricks," said Coburn, now a member of the Boise (Idaho) 19th Ward. "Deep down we always felt he would join the Church."
But, as with most conversion stories, there was a challenge to overcome. Their investigator enjoyed baseball and played semipro games on Sundays. He expressed some reluctance to give them up. "But just one week later," remembered Coburn, "he said, `Well, I think I'm ready to be baptized.' You could have knocked all of us over with a feather. We were thrilled."
"The Spirit had borne witness, undeniably, that it was true," Elder Kendrick explained. He was baptized, by Coburn, on Dec. 11, 1954, and ordained a priest the following day, also by Coburn.
The families have kept in touch through the years, and Elder Kendrick showed his esteem for the man who taught and baptized him by naming his second son Hal Coburn Kendrick.
The Kendricks went to Japan for the rest of their two-year stint in the Air Force. His second Sunday there he was called to teach the priesthood lesson to a small serviceman's group, the rest of whom were life-long members of the Church. "I told him the group leaderT, `You don't understand, I've just been baptized,' " Elder Kendrick said. "He replied that it made no difference, that he had felt impressed to issue the call. I accepted the call and had a fantastic experience."
That firmly placed Elder Kendrick on a road of involvement. Upon his return to Louisiana, he was immediately called as Sunday School superintendent; six months later he was a counselor in the bishopric.
Meanwhile, he resumed teaching, and coaching the basketball and football teams, at Pride High School. This he did for 10 years, while pursuing a master's degree in health and physical education from LSU at night and during the summer. He received the degree in 1958.
Later he felt another tugging to further his education, so he took sabbatical leave and started work at the same university toward a doctorate in the same field. Even before completing his degree, he was encouraged by a professor to apply for a vacancy at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. "Though I wasn't in a position to look for employment, out of respect for him I put together a resume."
In that resume, Elder Kendrick declared his membership in and allegiance to the Church. In those days (1965) LDS members were rarer in the South, and were even discriminated against at times. But his letter was answered by an ECU official who also happened to be the senior high councilor in the Kinston North Carolina Stake. He encouraged the doctoral candidate to contact him again when he was finished with his degree. He did. "We interviewed for the position and felt impressed to take the job," Elder Kendrick said.
He remained at ECU, a 15,000-student campus in the University of North Carolina system, for almost 20 years. He taught health education, and for 16 years headed the university's regional training center. This facility specialized in behavioral aspects of health, particularly drug- and alcohol-related problems and stress management. He has been much-recognized and honored for his work in the field.
Elder Kendrick also was in the middle of the fast-growing Church in North Carolina. During the year he served as president of the ECU student branch, 19 students joined the Church. One of those converts later married his eldest son, Larry Jr. (Another son, Dana, married the daughter of the man who hired him at ECU. His other two children are Hal and Merri Ellen. All are married, and they have six children among them.)
He was the second stake president of the Kinston North Carolina Stake, the state's first, and also has been a regional representative in the area. When he moved to North Carolina in 1966, North Carolina had three stakes; it now has 12. "The image of the Church in the South was once very, very low," he said, "but that has changed very dramatically."
Elder Kendrick, as a virtual lifelong resident of the South, has a special feeling for the region's Church members. "There's a deep-seated commitment among the Southern people, and I think that this is partly because we have been in such a minority position. There were people who lost their lives to establish the Church in the South. There's a positive pride that we're feeling in the Church here."
Somehow it seems appropriate that this son of the South would be called to preside over a mission deep in its heart. Elder Kendrick has been president of the Florida Tampa Mission since 1985, and will remain there until July, when his three-year call expires and he assumes other First Quorum of the Seventy duties.
He has deep feelings for his charges. "We have a very special group of missionaries, very committed. They're very pure. I keep telling them that they're better than the best."
Those missionaries didn't even realize their president was in Salt Lake City until they heard the announcement of his calling as a General Authority at the Saturday afternoon session. A hearty, joyful cheer went up in stake centers all over central Florida.
"We've never worked as hard in our lives nor enjoyed anything more than this," Elder Kendrick said of his mission to Florida. But he realizes that much more hard work lies ahead in his new calling, of which he said: "This has left me with a feeling of utter humility in the face of Deity. But I stand by the sacred principles I believe in, and by my brethren in the Quorum and the prophet of the Lord, even unto death."
He says this gently, quietly and with resolution.