Kendal Dodge Butler (1940-2007)

Kendal, Arequipa, 1949

Kendal in Arequipa, Peru, 1949
(photograph by Hetty Hostetler)

    Like so many others, I first met Kendal when she was five years old—in the pages of How Green Was My Father (1947), which captured the story of David and Elva Dodge, their pig-tailed daughter Kendal, and a case of canned milk on a road trip from San Francisco to Guatemala via the Pan-American Highway. The book was a best-seller, due in no small part to the charming portrayal of the precocious little girl who made friends easily—with anyone—and frequently got her hapless father out of yet another jam. Over the course of five more books—through 1955’s Time Out For Turkey—readers got to go along for the ride as Kendal grew up in some of the most exotic places in the world (Mexico City, Guatemala City, Arequipa, Peru, the Amazon, the French Riviera, etc.) and became tri-lingual.

    Kendal Dodge was born October 12, 1940 in San Francisco, where she lived for five years until her parents began their lifelong wanderings. When she was thirteen, the family returned to the States so that she could attend high school. They settled in Princeton, New Jersey, which was about halfway between David’s publisher in New York and the headquarters of Holiday magazine in Philadelphia, which was footing the bill for much of the Dodge family’s travel. After her graduation from high school (the only four years at the same school in Kendal’s life) in 1957, she enrolled at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and her parents sold the Princeton house and hit the road again.

    In 1966, the Dodge family reunited in Mexico. David and Elva were staying at Lake Chapala while David was researching and writing an article on the gringo community there. Kendal, who was working for CBS in New York, came for a visit. Her mother introduced her to a local photographer named Joaquin Reynoso. Three weeks later Kendal and Joaquin were married. They lived in Guadalajara, where Kendal worked in Joaquin’s studio and taught part-time (French, Spanish, English, American History) at The Butler Institute, an American prep school. In 1967, her daughter Kendal (“Kendalita”) was born and David and Elva “retired” to San Miguel de Allende to be near their daughter and granddaughter.


    The marriage, unfortunately, was not a happy one. In 1971, Kendal and Kendalita left Mexico and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Kendal pursued a career in communications and occasionally performed in local theater. In December 1983, Kendal married her second husband, Frank Butler. Frank was the founder of The Butler Institute and had been her boss a decade earlier. They made their home in Walnut Creek, California.

    Frank died on July 7, 1995.

    In 1998, Kendal retired, sold the Walnut Creek house, and returned to San Miguel de Allende. Once back in Mexico, she quickly immersed herself in both the gringo and native communities. She indulged her love for acting by trying out for plays and getting the leads in several of them. She committed herself to public service by joining Jovenes Adelante (Youth Go Forward!), a program to provide scholarships to outstanding Mexican high school graduates to continue their educations. She became a board member of the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival, was active in the Center for Global Justice, taught Spanish classes at the Biblioteca Pública, and worked as a proofreader for Atención San Miguel, the local weekly newspaper. She also met, fell in love with, and became engaged to Bud Quinlist.

    Kendal’s cousin, Keith Wall, himself a resident of San Miguel de Allende, recalled Kendal’s foray into local library politics in a remembrance published in Atención shortly after her death:

    “People who did not yet know the name Kendal Butler were introduced to it with the contentious Biblioteca election of 2002, when she and a group of ‘radicals’ formed a slate of candidates and challenged the existing long-standing board, demanding more transparency and accountability in its operations and finances. Following heated debates and dramatic turns of events, the challengers won a very close election, and Kendal found herself President of the Biblioteca. However, the triumph was for her short-lived. The stress and exhaustion of an intense election, and grief over the loss of her fiancé Bud Quinlist, who had died unexpectedly shortly before, proved too much for her. After a short time in office, she stepped down.”

    On August 17, 2007, Kendal Dodge Butler succumbed to a year-long struggle with progressive illness. Before she died, she was able to leave Mexico, accompanied by her daughter and stepson, Lewis Butler, and travel to Park City, Utah to see her grandchildren one last time. The day after she arrived she passed away, surrounded by her family. Her ashes were returned to San Miguel and on August 27 were laid to rest near the graves of her parents.

    I met Kendal—for real, this time—in February 1997, and I was very proud to call her my friend for the next ten years. The story of how my wife and I contacted her can be found elsewhere on this website. Kendal was an enthusiastic supporter of my research into her father’s life and works and she provided me with access to family stories, documents, and photographs. When she moved to San Miguel, I was privileged to assist her in cleaning out a storage unit in Walnut Creek, where she had relocated many of her things in order to sell the house. Together we discovered much of the raw materials that went into the making of this website and I cannot thank her enough for allowing me to use it.

Kendal in Cannes

    Kendal in Cannes, France, ca. 1956
    (photographer unknown)

    The dedication in David Dodge’s novel, Carambola (1961)—which is about a man who goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his seventeen-year-old daughter—reads simply “This is for Kendal.” There’s nothing that I can do to improve on thatů


    This is for Kendal.



Randal Brandt, January 2010


Sources

Remembrances of family and friends published in Atención San Miguel, August 31, 2007:
http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org/archives/comm_2007_aug_31_eng.html

Butler, Kendal Dodge. Personal communications, 1997-2007.

Butler, Lewis. Personal communication, January 2010.

Camino Real Productions [photographs of Kendal starring in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen]:
http://www.caminorealabq.com/theatrical.htm

Selected bibliography of writings of Kendal Dodge Butler

“A Single Woman in San Miguel Allende.” In Luboff, Ken. Live Well in Mexico: How to Relocate, Retire, and Increase Your Standard of Living. Santa Fe, N.M.: John Muir Publications, 1999: [178-179].
Reprinted online: http://www.culturevulture.net/Destinations/SanMiguel.htm

Afterword to The Last Match, by David Dodge. New York: Hard Case Crime, 2006: [315]-319.

“March in San Miguel Unites Ex-Pats, Locals.” Center for Social Justice, May 2006:
http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/articles/report_may1.htm

“I Talk to Imelda.” In DiMarco, Cris K.A., ed., Solamente en San Miguel: Writings from the Authors’ Sala of San Miguel de Allende. Port Orchard, Wash.: Orchard House Press, 2007: [88]-91. [Excerpt from an unpublished mystery novel set in San Miguel de Allende]

Articles published in Atención San Miguel, August 31, 2007 (originally published Nov. 5, 2004 and May 20, 2005):
http://www.atencionsanmiguel.org/archives/foro_2007_aug_31_eng.html

Kendal Dodge Butler grave marker in San Miguel de Allende

    Kendal Dodge Butler grave marker in San Miguel de Allende
    (photograph by Eric Anderson, © 2010)



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