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Alimay Kendrick, Baltimore gardener and floral artist, dies

Alimay T. Kendrick was a gardener and a scientific and technical photographer at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Alimay T. Kendrick was a gardener and a scientific and technical photographer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. (HANDOUT / HANDOUT)

Alimay Thompson Kendrick, a master gardener whose artistry in ancient Japanese styles of floral arrangements inspired students and graced her Northwest Baltimore community, died of cardiac arrest Jan. 31 at Sinai Hospital. She was 94.

Mrs. Kendrick's award-winning arrangements, often of chrysanthemums and daffodils, revealed a strong and simple elegance, and have been displayed at the Walters Art Museum. A professional photographer, she applied techniques of form and balance to her cuttings arranged in the Japanese style of Ikebana.

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"She looked for details in everything," said her student Reva Lewie of Baltimore. "Everything had to be exact."

Mrs. Kendrick co-founded the For-Win-Ash Garden Club in 1959 to keep clean, green and beautiful the neighborhoods of Forest Park, Windsor Hills and Ashburton. She taught aspiring gardeners at Callaway Elementary School, served on the board of the Cylburn Arboretum, and in 1986 flew to tour the great gardens of Japan and learn from masters there.

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"Trees, flowers, stones, paths, streams should be represented as they grow in nature," she wrote after the visit, in a short account of her life. "The idea is to live in harmony with nature."

She was born in Chicago to William Thompson, a real estate investor, and Mary Edwards, a schoolteacher and homemaker. She was 6 years old when her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother outside Montgomery, Ala. Her Southern playmates called her "a damn Yankee."

After school, she rejoined her father in Washington, D.C., and earned admission to Howard University, but the outbreak of World War II intervened. Mrs. Kendrick worked for an Air Force mapping division in Washington.

"They were moving every six months so the enemy couldn't trace them," said her daughter, Karin Kendrick of Baltimore.

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She met her future husband, Webster Moyse Kendrick, a physicist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the couple married after the war. They first settled in Catonsville then moved to Callaway Avenue on the edge of Ashburton. She found work in 1957 as a medical photographer for the city morgue. She photographed injuries, autopsies and specimens from patients.

"She found it interesting, but unfortunately — for obvious reasons — they don't keep people in that position very long. It can get to you after a while," her daughter said.

Mrs. Kendrick then worked more than 20 years as a scientific and technical photographer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. She retired in 1982.

One day she took a class at the YMCA on Ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement. The form is based on a concept of forming a link to the outdoors, and arrangements can include leaves, grasses and flowerless branches.

"She was able to turn almost anything that involved flowers or wood or just simple elements; she was very creative," said her son, Ernest Kendrick, of Houston, Texas.

Mrs. Kendrick studied Ikebana further at the old Hutzler's department store, and from books borrowed from the Enoch Pratt Free Library. She started as an Ikebana instructor and in 1986 served as first vice president of Ikebana International.

Her service also continued in the For-Win-Ash Garden Club, and beginning in 1986 she served as vice president and then president. She taught students and young gardeners for more than a decade at Callaway Elementary in Northwest Baltimore. Her teachings expanded from floral arrangements and environmental stewardship to haiku poetry. In 1995 and 1996, she was selected as the elementary school's graduation speaker. In 1996, she received a city citation for her commitment to the students.

At her home on Callaway Avenue, she relished bird of paradise flowers. Her front yard bloomed with azaleas; the backyard with a tulip tree and daffodils.

"She could get more out of a day than any human being I know," he daughter said. "She was organized like you wouldn't believe."

Mrs. Kendrick was also remembered for her blunt approach in dealing with, say, a city or neighborhood official.

"She would tell you how down to earth some of them were, and how down to earth some of them needed to be," said her friend Dr. Jewel Moseley Gray of Baltimore. "She was a very good judge of character."

She served as a holiday designer at the Forest Park branch of the Enoch Pratt library, an institution the garden club often adopted. She also participated in the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland.

A memorial service is planned for noon Feb. 25 at Wylie Funeral Homes in Randallstown. Karin Kendrick will bring her mother's favorite flowers: pink roses.

In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Kendrick is survived by three grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and nine nieces and nephews. Her husband died in 1971.

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