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The City Journals

Community rallies to support family of Churchill student Henry Kendell

Jul 01, 2022 08:45AM ● By Heather Lawrence

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

In the past few months, the Kendell family of Millcreek has learned that some events are so shattering they divide your life into a “before” and “after.” They’ve also learned that a community can “rise up and cover them in an overwhelming wave of love” and support.

They learned these things because their son and brother Henry Kendell, an eighth grader at Churchill Jr. High, died in a skiing accident on Feb. 13. Since then, life hasn’t been the same.

“It’s a strange irony that at our time of deepest pain, we also feel the deepest outpouring of love from family, friends, neighbors and strangers,” said Allison Kendell, Henry’s mother.

Henry’s interests were vast. He loved mountain biking, tennis, art, the cello, his dogs, yellow and “Tom Sawyer.” He organized neighborhood night games and cousin sleepovers.    

He is the youngest of a tight-knit family: parents Scott and Allison, and their children, Annie, William, Sarah and Henry.  

“The two older kids moved back in after Henry died. I think they’re relying on each other to work through it,” Kendell said.

Kendell herself feels stuck. “I don’t want to leave the house, but it’s hard to be here and not have him here.”

The family recently went on a trip to France. “We needed to learn that we can live in this new reality and make memories together,” Kendell said. They took a picture of Henry along so he would be with them.

Allison thought about what Henry would have liked on the trip. “He would have enjoyed the paintings. He was always drawing, doodling. He was getting very good,” Kendell said.

The day of Henry’s accident at Alta, the ski patrol and Life Flight did everything they could to save him, but it all happened so fast. Later, they invited the Kendells to visit the site.  

“They took us to where it happened and walked us through the events. It was hard, but helpful to be in the place where his spirit left this life,” Kendell said.

His father Scott got Henry’s phone from the ski patrol. He said they spent hours watching videos he’d made with his friends and laughing.

“My heart is so full of measures of grief and gratitude. Henry was joyful and funny and playful always. We have received so much love and kindness that we cannot possibly begin to catalogue it all,” Scott said at Henry’s service.  

The night of the accident, Churchill principal Trent Hendricks called the family. Other staff members and students reached out. His English teacher Mrs. Gunther had her class write Valentines for the family.

Henry would have started at Skyline in the fall, and one night several Skyline students brought a signed banner to the Kendells.

“They had all written notes to us, even though they didn’t know us or our son. Each of those messages really touched me. These are the gestures that help me make it through each day.

“It helps when people acknowledge what you’ve been through, and show that Henry’s life mattered,” Kendell said.

Organizing a funeral for Henry was hard. “We were all so sad, we weren’t sure we could do it,” Kendell said.  

But as the memories of Henry poured in, the Kendells realized that a service would be their way to honor him. That gave them a purpose.

Each family member spoke, offered a prayer or played music at the service. They also let his many cousins share their memories. 

“Henry was close to all of his cousins, and they shared things with us we didn’t know about him. We learned about his Louis Armstrong impression, and other goofy things he’d do just to make people laugh,” Kendell said.

The Kendells have set up two needs-based scholarships with Henry’s tennis and mountain biking teams, Liberty Hills Tennis and Skyline Mountain Biking.

Coach Spencer Marchant was Henry’s tennis coach for more than seven years. He said that Henry was a promising tennis player, but more importantly he was just an all-around kind-hearted kid.

“Henry was beloved by all our coaches and team members. He comes from an amazing family. They are the best of the best,” Marchant said.

His mountain biking coach Erik Johnson at Skyline said, “Henry was a beloved member of our team and a light to everyone around him. Donations to our fund made in Henry’s name will be used to help less advantaged riders participate on the team.”

Donations for the tennis scholarship can be made at www.libertyhillstennis.com/donate. For information on donating to the mountain biking team, email coach Johnson at [email protected].  

“Henry lived in the moment. He was playful, kind and a joy to raise. Suddenly, my whole book of life is different. It’s sad and sudden, and I just have to make it through the day,” Kendell said.

The Kendells will have more hard times ahead, like celebrating Henry’s 15th birthday on July 31. But they are buoyed up by loving gestures big and small. Kendell appreciates things like the yellow ribbons tied on the overpass at Churchill and in her neighborhood.

She said one day a painting of Henry and his dog done by a stranger showed up at their house. She hung it in her room because she said it captures him so well and gives her peace that he’s in a happy place.

At the funeral luncheon, someone took the time to bake cello-shaped cookies and decorate the tables with tennis centerpieces.

 “What we’ve learned is the power of a community to lift and support someone is remarkable, and we all have the opportunity and power to do that. I hope in the future I can be in tune to others around me and what they might need,” Kendell said.

“Though this experience is my worst nightmare, I can see that this world is a beautiful place,” Kendell said. “I’m just so sad that Henry’s not here to be a part of it.”