Garden club helped cultivate city neighborhoods

Surviving founder of For-Win-Ash Club recalls early days

Alimay Thompson Kendrick

Alimay Thompson Kendrick, the sole surviving founding member of the For-Win-Ash Club, recently celebrated her 90th birthday. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / June 27, 2012)

Alimay Thompson Kendrick sits in her dining room and recalls the first meeting of a neighborhood club she joined in 1959. It was a garden club, composed of both men and women, all African-American, formed to represent the neighborhoods of Forest Park, Windsor Hills and Ashburton. It was named For-Win-Ash and its aim was to keep these communities green, clean and beautiful.

Most of Baltimore remained racially divided at that time, although public schools were integrating. Black professionals were moving into the three neighborhoods and adjacent areas, such as Callaway-Garrison, where she and her husband, physicist Webster Moyse Kendrick, had recently bought a home.

This week, Alimay Kendrick celebrated her 90th birthday and discussed what it is like being the sole surviving founding member of the For-Win-Ash Club.

Surrounded by photographs of the dozens of flower arrangements she made, she described its meetings and how the club continues.

"This old duck stays busy," she said of herself.

She also recalled how she had taken classes at the Graduate School of Photography in Washington, D.C. As a child living in her native Chicago, her father, a real estate investor, gave her a Brownie camera. She later used his larger camera, which used both film and glass-plate negatives.

"You have to know chemistry. I learned my craft," she said. "I was also good at judging exposures."

Kendrick did not mind taking chances in the neighborhood where she settled or in the unusual job she held.

When a post opened as a photographer at the medical examiner's office, she accepted the assignment and rode the No. 32 streetcar to the downtown job. Her office was at 700 Fleet St., near today's Marriott Waterfront Hotel. It was then the city morgue, and she was the city's medical-forensic photographer.

She worked closely with Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. Russell S. Fisher, in the late 1950s.

In 1970, she and other garden club members took a brave step. They paid $200 and set up a booth at the first Baltimore City Fair, then held in the Charles Center. The move proved to be a winner. It showed those who attended that these Northwest Baltimore communities were thriving and well-kept, and that they shared the same spirit and values of other Baltimore neighborhoods. She took photos of every club members' home and displayed them at the outdoor festival.

"People were shocked at first when they saw the For-Win-Ash club's booth," said her daughter, Karen Marie Kendrick. "People thought we had turned these areas into a slum. People saw that the neighborhood had property values that were increasing."

Karen Marie Kendrick was 9 years old when she and her parents moved to Callaway Avenue, when the neighborhood was largely Jewish.

"Some people were nice to me, but I found I could not join the Girl Scouts," she said. "People were not hostile to me, but it wasn't easy."

She said she was welcomed into the public schools and received a sound education. She went on to Forest Park High School, Howard University and University of Maryland School of Law. Her brother, Dr. Ernest Allan Kendrick, is a forensic psychiatrist.

Soon the neighborhood attracted many more African-American families and the garden club quietly flourished. For many years, For-Win-Ash members paid a token 25 cents at each meeting.

Members such as Alimay Kendrick volunteered at her children's schools, Mordecai Gist Elementary, and later at Callaway Elementary School, where she taught after-school classes at a Young Gardeners' Club. She also adopted the area's nearby greensward, the Cylburn Arboretum, where she was a board member and did photography. She was the holiday designer at the Forest Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, an institution the club often adopted. She also was active in the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland.

"Things will work out for you," Kendrick said as she considered her nine decades, "As long as you have an open mind."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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