Most Plattsburgh State students are familiar with the changes Chartwells has made to various campus dining locations, including the reduction of hours that Algonquin Dining Hall is now open and the addition of Einstein Bros. Bagels to Hawkins Hall.
But there is one particular factor that has remained constant for those students.
That would be Penny Kendall, the well-known and beloved Chartwells employee who has swiped her way into students’ hearts for 15 years.
Though students feel as if they know Kendall intimately through their interactions with her at Clinton Dining Hall, many expressed shock when news broke that she would be retiring at the end of the fall semester.
As she prepares to bid farewell to the campus community in December, Kendall took a look back at the events that led her developing close bonds with countless people.
Growing up in Dannemora, located about five miles from Plattsburgh, Kendall said she had a beautiful childhood and credited her community and particularly her parents for her curious and outgoing personality.
“We lived outside of the main part of the town, so we were out in the country and ran in the woods all the time,” Kendall said.
As a young woman, Kendall entered nursing school in what is now Saranac Hall on the PSUC campus. After finishing the first of two years, she decided to leave nursing when one of her patients died in her arms.
“I said, ‘That’s it for me.’”
At 26, Kendall and her husband, Manny, moved to Tampa, Florida, when he was transferred for his job.
“He created the largest generator in the world on wheels, so he worked on a lot of movie sets,” Kendall said. “I would go with him and meet all of these outrageous movie actors and actresses — met people like Tuesday Weld and Jane Fonda, had dinner with George Hamilton, got drunk with George Kennedy. He was a character, I’ll tell you!”
After divorcing her husband, Kendall relocated to Debary, Florida, and began bartending at The Apple Cart, which she and her two best friends bought it and ran it together.
“We did very well. We packed that bar every single day. There was never an empty seat, trust me,” Kendall said.
Along with a front room with a bar and pool tables, the restaurant also featured a large back dining room complete with a bandstand area where a live band played five nights a week.
Eventually, Kendall sold her share of The Apple Cart and began working at The Barn for a man who had a great influence on her life at that time.
“He ended up being my best male friend for many, many years,” Kendall said. “We were never romantically connected or anything, but he was a good man and a good man in my life.”
While in Tampa, Kendall and her second husband coached a youth baseball team, consisting of 16- to 18-year-old boys. Kendall said the two of them took the team camping every weekend, as well as providing them with outlets to do activities such as canoeing.
Kendall also spent time working at a racetrack in Florida, where she said she knew everybody concerned with the track, but left after reuniting with her childhood sweetheart, Ron, and moving back up to the North Country.
Kendall spent no time idling upon her return, finding work at the Cardinal Pub in downtown Plattsburgh for about one year before deciding she was finished with the bar business. It was then that Kendall said she heard about an open position in Clinton serving food.
She applied and was hired on the spot by Mark Brothers, who is now director of operations at the Sundowner.
Though Kendall enjoyed her work serving food to students every day because of the level of interaction she could have with them, Brothers decided he wanted her to try her hand at being a cashier. Despite her initial hesitance, she tried it on a two-week trial basis.
“Well, I worked the two weeks and said, ‘You’re never getting this job back; I’m keeping this job forever.’”
It is at the top of the staircase where Kendall has remained for nearly 15 years and has built irreplaceable friendships with both PSUC students and faculty.
“We’ve had fun. All these years, the kids have had fun,” Kendall said. “I tell jokes, and they tell me their stories — all their love affair stories, and when they break up and when they went out and got loaded the night before. They’re so funny. A lot of them I have to keep to myself, but between the kid and I, we laugh, but I keep the secrets.”
During her time at PSUC, Kendall has become an integral part of the campus community, patronizing every event from sporting to theatrical and musical, as well as academic and extracurricular and taking photos to hang on the Clinton bulletin boards.
“I want all the kids to know what they have accomplished,” she said.
PSUC College Auxiliary Services Director Wayne Duprey said it is Kendall’s ability to bond with students each year that has made the transition for new and returning students “seamless.”
“You can replace the cashier piece, but the personality is difficult, if at all replaceable,” Duprey said.
Along with being voted a recipient of the PSUC Phenomenal Woman’s Award by students, Kendall has also received the Nancy Recette Award for Support Staff and the national Employee of the Year award by Chartwells — the first time a PSUC employee was given the honor — for going above and beyond her duties.
After her retirement in December, Kendall said she and her husband plan to head back to Florida. Her daughter, Christina, who has worked in the Sundowner at the sushi station, plans to follow her mother as well.
“I just want to sit back at the beach. I wish I could wear a bikini still, but I can’t!” Kendall said.
Still, Kendall believes she will continue to visit the PSUC campus, at least for the next few years, until the kids she knows have left.
“That’s the hard part,” she said. “Don’t make me cry.”
Email Maggie McVey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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