The ‘Don’ of a new era in La Verne
New mayor Don Kendrick offers his vision for the future of the city of La Verne.
by Jennifer Kitzmann
photography by Rhiannon Mim
A few minutes from the 210 Freeway in La Verne, a small colonial brick house with 1920s charm sits between manicured lawns and stately oak trees. It is walking distance from the University of La Verne, a fire station and a group of small businesses. This is not just any ordinary residence nestled in the suburbs. This house is the real estate brokerage business of entrepreneur-turned-La Verne-mayor Don Kendrick.
Inside Kendrick’s office, DK Brokerage Company, the tone is quiet, calm and friendly. Vintage black-and-white photos line the walls, some with detailed sketches of original La Verne houses built in the early 1900s. Back then, La Verne was dominated by orange groves and farmland. Today, commercial and independent businesses thrive in the city that still feels like a town.
Kendrick walks into a small boardroom in his real estate office wearing a blue tie and gray suit jacket. He smiles generously and offers bottles of water, then proudly sets them on coasters that read “City of La Verne.”
“The City of La Verne is my home, and I would not move anywhere else,” Kendrick says.
Proud of his heritage, Kendrick describes how his maternal great-grandparents, L.H. and Margaret Bixby, came to the town that was known then as Lordsburg. He also describes how pioneering citrus ranchers and community activists who owned the large citrus groves in the 1900s worked to preserve the city’s heritage as much as they could. He refers to a large portrait of orange groves, and says he’s amazed at how much the city has changed, beginning with its name in 1912.
According to historic records, in 1912 the residents of Lordsburg tried to change the name of the community, but Isaac W. Lord, a non-resident landowner, blocked the attempt. After his death in March of 1917, the citizens of Lordsburg voted to change the city’s name to La Verne.
“I am the fourth generation living in La Verne, and my great-grandmother L.H. Bixby and her sister chose the name La Verne for the foothill area,” Kendrick says.
Kendrick grew up in La Verne and says it was common for residents to know each other by their first names. “Your neighbors would know where you went to school and where you worked. Everyone kept in close contact with each other and watched over each other. If I did something wrong earlier in the day, by the time I got home, my parents already knew about it,” Kendrick says.
One of five children reared in La Verne, he was very close to his family. His mother and father were great influencers in his life and taught him the value of hard work. Kendrick’s father Harold Kendrick worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a public work relief program for unemployed men in the 1930s. Later, Kendrick’s father served on the La Verne Planning Commission and the La Verne Elementary and Bonita Union High School Districts’ school boards. “My father taught me honesty, hard work, making hard decisions, but always the right ones.” His mother Margaret, who always helped in the community, started the first Girl Scout troop in the city.
In 1968, Kendrick was drafted into the Navy. While in the service, he continued his education from 1968 to1974, on a Pacific Fleet Naval submarine patrolling near Guam and Hawaii. “These years had a lot of influence in forming who I am today,” Kendrick says. “Those six years changed my life.”
After his service in the Navy, Kendrick worked as a cook at a local Cask ‘n Cleaver restaurant. He eventually opened his own restaurant, grew to invest in real estate and finally opened a brokerage company.
He is inspired by his past and recalls someone who made a difference in his life.
“Billy Masters, who was my Boy Scout leader, made an impression on me,” Kendrick recalls. He stood for everything. He did not have a lot, and did not have a big, fancy house. But he had common sense. He was down-to-earth and incredibly wise. He was always there to help others.” Kendrick is also inspired by public leaders, namely Abraham Lincoln and Colin Powell, for the way they served their communities.
Kendrick believes that “success is satisfaction in how you live your life.” He is a testament to leadership in La Verne, especially now, as the first new mayor of the city in 26 years. Now he will take on his hometown issues with new purpose and with the challenge of a bad economy. He will also be expected to live up to, or exceed, the standards of Jon Blickenstaff, La Verne’s mayor from 1982 to 2009.
On March 16, members of La Verne’s City Council, business associates, his family and childhood friends packed into a small room in City Hall to witness Kendrick being sworn in as mayor. He had served as a councilman for four years, so this was a step forward for him.
“Don Kendrick is the best candidate for this job and is concerned with the importance of the people, teamwork of the employees on City Council, and he will implement the ideas and programs that he recognizes and believes in,” Blickenstaff says. “He has an incredibly strong passion for the city and serving the people.”
At the swearing in, Blickenstaff presented Kendrick with a wooden box that resembled the one that was given to him when he became mayor. Kendrick’s box was created by Ruben Guajardo, a La Verne-based artist and woodworker. Guajardo replicated the piece, which is a hand-crafted Mexican rosewood box containing a gavel. “It was such a nice way for Blickenstaff to leave his legacy,” Guajardo says.
Kendrick says Blickenstaff’s legacy comes down to one word, and that is complete “wisdom.”
“I did not want Blickenstaff to retire,” Kendrick says. “Last year, I tried to talk him out of it.”
According to Kendrick, Blickenstaff always looked for a win-win situation, no matter how controversial the issue he faced. “Blickenstaff always made everyone come together to make a decision, and if it was a good project, he would look for ways to make it work.”
La Verne City Council member Donna Nasmyth says the goal in the transition between mayors has been seamless. “Kendrick carries the same passion for the city as Blickenstaff,” Nasmyth says. She believes he was the best candidate for mayor and is in full support of his commitment in seeing the city thrive.
She says she knows that Kendrick will be creative in insuring the quality of life for the people of La Verne, and will continue to use the resources they currently have to improve it.
High on Kendrick’s list of concerns is the economy. “The economy is not just a Democratic or Republican concern but a concern of everyone in America, and we all have to work together to make it better,” Kendrick says. His primary focus is helping people get back to work. He says that the American people will have to bring back learning skills as his father once did. “The American people will have to create new jobs that have disappeared over time, to better the economy.”
Kendrick’s city agenda also includes ways to help build better city programs, build job skills and opportunities, maintain the safety of the community and be more ecologically friendly.
According to childhood friend, Charles E. Cable, Kendrick has always cared about the community. “Don has always been involved in helping raise a lot of money for charities and other fundraisers in La Verne,” Cable says.
Kendrick believes that politicians need to be more concerned about the people than themselves and said that he would rather not be categorized as a politician at all. Kendrick is founder of the Bonita Unified School District’s “Hands on History” program, which teaches third and fourth grade students about the last five eras of California history. He is currently creating a technical engineering program called “C-Tech” that will teach high school students about agriculture, auto work, construction and other practical trade jobs.
Kendrick says the city has a healthy reserve and will remain conservative during the slow economy without spending too much money. “We do not need to build Taj Mahals to make change,” he says.
Kendrick is also focused on maintaining the safety of the citizens of La Verne. “Most of all, I want people to feel safe in La Verne,” Kendrick says. “In addition, I would like to see the city become better stewards on how to address water, energy and recycling issues,” Kendrick says.
Kendrick is prepared to move forward for the good of the community, and despite any challenges that may arise, he believes “success is not about the destination, but the journey.”