Here are some Michelle stories contributed by family and friends:
Michelle’s Eulogy, from Pamela Smith Hill
Michelle Kendrick brought vision, change, and innovation to Washington State University in Vancouver. But even before she was officially hired in 1996, her intellect and brilliance made a lasting impression.
Carol Siegel, who interviewed Michelle for her position here, remembers that interview vividly. Michelle, Carol says, “was so radiantly young and energetic, beautiful in a lovely gold suit…. She was in another universe from all the others…”
Shortly thereafter Michelle was hired at WSU to create an entirely new program of study – what we then called Electronic Communication and Culture. She set about her new job with what one colleague describes as “engaging determination.”
“Michelle’s early and middle years in our department,” writes English department chairman George Kennedy, “were taken up with some rather significant birthing: the birthing of two beautiful children, the birthing of a stunning… career, and the birthing of one of the most significant degree programs in the history and evolution of the liberal arts in our university.”
This program went on to become what’s now known as Digital Technology and Culture – DTC. And during Michelle’s tenure as the program’s first director, DTC blossomed – from a handful of classes taught on the WSU Vancouver campus to a vigorous, dynamic academic program with its own major. Today over 200 undergraduates on three WSU campuses are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Digital Technology and Culture. This program is Michelle’s lasting legacy.
She was also a brilliant teacher and scholar. She taught and published on subjects ranging from diversity and multiculturalism to media representations of war. Her book Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media, was just released in paperback from MIT Press. She fiercely resisted war, injustice, and racism – and struggled to spark this kind of passion within her students.
She fought “to open students’ minds, to crack open, tear apart preconceived stereotypes, myths, and ideologies that worked against students’ abilities to understand new worlds and new ways of knowing,” remembers history professor Laurie Mercier. The two co-taught a groundbreaking class in Digital Diversity, a challenging course that took an emotional toll on Michelle. But, as Laurie puts it, Michelle continued to chip away at each new wall of ignorance, to keep facing those difficult moments and classes. “This,” Laurie believes, “is the real evidence of a committed teacher…”
Michelle inspired the faculty and staff as well.
“The first time I met Michelle,” Helen Burgess recalls, “was as a nervous grad student…. She was standing sideways in the kitchen preparing the most enormous bowl of spaghetti I’d ever seen. The first thing she said to me was, “Don’t listen to all the stories about how fucked-up academia is. I love my job,” Michelle said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
Helen eventually joined our faculty at WSU Vancouver and says she remembered that moment in the kitchen every time she went to work.
That’s not to say Michelle was perfect. Helen points out that Michelle’s “office was a black hole, containing all the papers in the universe. She strung up rosaries, lost library books, reordered desk copies constantly although she knew they were probably in there somewhere.”
And then there was that mystery picture – one Michelle had found in the trash of a forgotten family. She displayed it proudly and made up stories about them.
Michelle and I were hired at about the same time, and our two programs – DTC and the Professional Writing Program – were joined at the hip. And so were we, in many ways. From the beginning, we talked shop together, books, publishing, love, marriage, children – as well as favorite extracurricular activity: our quest for beautiful but cheap vintage clothing. We reveled in each other’s victories: my 1940s houndstooth jacket; her 1960s leopard-print coat.
Michelle’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer five years ago didn’t diminish any of her other extracurricular activities or passions. She remained distinctly herself. Shortly after one of her first rounds of chemo, she waltzed into the WSU Writing Center – her hair cut short, bleached white, wearing a tank top and camo pants. One of the writing tutors called out, “Hey, Tank Girl.”
Without missing a beat, Michelle replied, “That’s DR. Tank Girl to you.!”
As she battled cancer, Michelle fell in love, married David, nurtured and guided Griffin, Sofia, Emma, and Eliza. She embraced her “inner cowgirl” and renewed her love of horses – training and riding her beloved Elvis.
“One time,” says friend and colleague Desiree Hellegers, “I watched in horror as Elvis reared back and threw Michelle off – the saddle strap had broken and she landed hard on the ground.” As Desiree tried to sort out how to get to a phone to call an ambulance without spooking Elvis again, Michelle slowly got up, dusted herself off, re-saddled Elvis, and she and Desiree rode off into the proverbial sunset.
“Are you going to cowboy up, or lie there and bleed?” The bumper sticker on Michelle’s truck revealed her philosophy toward living– without cancer.
And with it.
Three years ago, Michelle and I drew even closer together when my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer. With characteristic generosity, Michelle came to our rescue, providing insight, advice and HOPE about oncologists, naturopaths, traditional and non-traditional cancer treatments, diet, exercise, and chemotherapy. In short, all the bewildering things that confront people living with cancer….
When my husband died in November, Michelle and David came to his service, although they had just learned minutes before that her cancer had returned. Such generosity and courage are truly rare.
During one of our conversations this summer in Michelle’s hospital room at St. Vincent’s, we talked about the randomness of life and the cruelty of cancer. Like my husband, Michelle wasn’t afraid to look cancer dead-on, and see with clarity what was truly important about living.
Michelle said she’d had “almost a fairy tale life” until the cancer struck. Yet even as she fought the disease, life, she said, had given her its greatest gift: A loving and devoted family. She wanted to live for YOU.
So as we go about living life without her, the best way to do that is to live it as she did:
“Are you going to cowboy up, or lie there and bleed?”
“When Michelle was about 12, she expressed a desire for a horse. Â Her Mother began a search and soon found a small Welsh Mare near Snohomish. Â This was the perfect size for Michelle on which to learn to ride. Riding lessons from a neighbor up the street soon had her riding with skill. It was not long before she wanted to step up to a full sized horse. Therefore a beautiful Arabian named Beni came into our lives. Michelle found local girls with whom to ride and she frequently did so on the local roads. Traffic at that time was very much less than it is today, so it was considered safe.
One day she and a friend were riding on Olympic View Drive just north of Perrinville. Â There was a large open pit gravel mine along the road which was now being closed to make room for new housing. When gravel is mined it is washed to free it from the clay and silt. This case was adjacent to the road. The surface of the slurry pit had hardened and looked solid. Michelle rode her horse out onto this surface which suddenly collapsed completely enveloping the horse and Michelle up to her waist. Her screams alerted nearby people and soon a dozen or more were there to help. I was called along with the fire department. When I arrived I found Michelle unhurt but muddied. The horse on the other hand was completely submerged except for its head and front legs. The firemen worked diligently and managed to secure a fire hose around the horse’s torso and with the help of a nearby bull-dozer operator managed to pull the animal free. This operation took considerable time and the horse was going into shock. I was sure it would not survive, but it not only survived, Michelle managed to ride Beni home.”
– from Jack Kendrick, her father
“Michelle is remembered fondly and often by her WSUV family. I find I often think of her and quote her whenever I get a chance, because she had some real gems. Â I remember the joy she found in every day situations.
Michelle, pregnant with Sophia, in her kitchen: “Griffin, what do you think we should name the baby?”
Griffin (thinking): “Hotty.”
Michelle laughed about that, and the tone in her voice when she tried it out, “Hotty Hathorn!” – I still hear her voice and how charmed she was by Griffin’s answer. That’s how I always remember her, in that moment, so full of life and embracing the possibilities.”
– from Jeanette Altman