BlogLemuel Kenley: Honoring a Mentor and Friend

January 7, 2024by Frank Love2

In my previous blog, “Why Is It Important to Know If I am Arguing or Not?,” I discussed the importance of being able to discern between argument and discussion in a loving relationship. Today, I want to share with you a more personal story about a different kind of loving relationship, between myself and someone I consider a mentor.

About five years ago, I needed help with a home improvement project. Similar projects regularly cost $80,000. I didn’t have that kind of money available. Therefore, I was looking for a way to bootstrap. I had physical resources available (particularly those of my two sons and me). I also had friends and family who were willing to help. What I needed was someone who knew what to do. I needed someone with skill and technical expertise to guide the efforts of the laborers.  Lucky for me, I found someone that not only helped me complete this project, but who became a mentor to both myself and my boys.

Cold Call Leads to a Lasting Friendship
I began to do a version of cold calling to an array of people who were in my contacts and were associated with the construction business. About twenty years prior, I had met Mr. Lemuel Kenley or his business partner at the time. I didn’t recall which of the two of them that I had met, but I had the company’s contact information in my phone. Mr. Kenley responded to my text.

We met, and I explained that I had limited financial resources but a significant workforce available to me. He reviewed the project and the scope of services that were needed. We set a scope, a price, and our relationship began.

Mr. Kenley would tell me what to do in simple layman’s terms: Break up the top level of concrete and haul it to the backyard. Once that’s done, call me. I’ll come and haul it away. It’ll be $300 for me to handle the hauling.

Once I had the marching orders, I activated my troops (my sons and my friends) to execute a day of grueling backbreaking labor. We loaded and carried tons of material up stairs and for a distance of about 75 feet. Mr. Kenley hauled it away. Repeat.

Multigenerational Mentoring Moments
As the job became more technical, it required more of Mr. Kenley’s time. He couldn’t just tell us what to do and leave. He had to take us to the stores that had the necessary equipment and materials, then stay with us as we carried, installed, and placed items appropriately.

Along the way, a different dynamic developed. There was mentoring. There was care. There were laughs. There were stories shared. And all of this was happening between males of different generations. Mr. Kenley was of my father’s generation. I was about 45. My sons were roughly 12 and 15.

It was common for me to share Mr. Kenley stories with my parents, my wife, and the rest of my family about the work that we completed under his tutelage that day. They were learning about him and meeting him without ever setting eyes on him.

I was not only being mentored, I was saving money while effectively advancing an important project. And I was connecting with my sons in a way that would not have been possible without Mr. Kenley’s guidance. To my surprise, I was creating a multigenerational loving relationship.

The Value of Loving, Mentoring Relationships
It is worth noting that multigenerational loving relationships are not foreign to me or my boys. My mothers (yes, I have two: my biological mother and my father’s wife for the past 20 years—she pulls her own weight as a mother and grandmother in the family) and father are important to our everyday lives.

However, this relationship was different as there was a construction component involved. I had always wanted to know how to build stuff. Learning skills I value and doing this project alongside my sons was a treasured gift. Mr. Kenley made it possible.

In addition to growing my skills and construction know-how, Mr. Kenley fed my confidence in a way only an older man can do for his junior. He told me, more than once, “I like the job you are doing with your boys. You’re doing really good. You don’t see fathers working with their boys very much like you are.”

The impact was even greater, as he would make these comments in front of my sons. His words warmed my heart. Then he turned his gaze to my sons and said, “Listen to your father. He’s doing a good job with you all.”

Loving Relationships Allow for Imperfections
Things with Mr. Kenley weren’t perfect; he was a hustler, a wheeler and dealer. Money was the source of the only conflicts we had. He wasn’t above tacking on an additional fee or periodically changing the amount we had agreed on. But after a few of these money misunderstandings, I began to write down every figure we discussed. 

But even in the midst of our money conflicts, a few important elements remained constant: I had grown to love this man, and he always brought value to our project. I rationalized that he was probably under money pressure, and he deserved my understanding. And I suspected that everyone who was close to Mr. Kenley had a periodic money spat with him. Our misunderstandings didn’t really bother me, as there was always more love than conflict between us.

Periodically, the boys and I would stop by Mr. Kenley’s home to negotiate our next steps. We would bring him some fried fish or Chick-fil-A; the boys would leave with a computer or a similar display of Mr. Kenley’s love and appreciation for them. I would leave with a piece of meat he had harvested from one of his recent hunting trips.

Saying Goodbye to a Mentor and Friend
As our project was approaching completion, Mr. Kenley’s health began to decline. But the connection remained. When visiting, Mr. Kenley would mention how he was going to take the boys and me hunting once he felt better. But better never came. His health continually deteriorated.

The boys and I last saw him at Georgetown University Hospital about six months ago. He was resting. When he woke, we sat with him for a few minutes, but he was tired and not really up for company. We took pictures and said our goodbyes.

Not long afterward, when I saw Mrs. Kenley’s name appear on my caller ID, I answered with sorrow. I knew why she was calling . . . 

During Mr. Kenley’s funeral service, one of the testimonials related to a neighbor whose house had been broken into. The neighbor recalled that upon his return to his house, Mr. Kenley informed him of the break-in and that he had taken it upon himself to board the window in order to secure the property.

As I listened to this story, I chuckled to myself, knowing where the story was going, as I was pretty sure Mr. Kenley had figured out a way to both do some work for his neighbor and make some money. Over the years working with Mr. Kenley, it was clear to me that he was skilled in figuring out ways to make money!

Honoring A Valued Mentor
People come into our lives, often as gifts. Mr. Kenley was a gift to me, my boys, and my family. It is an honor and a pleasure to sing his praises and share my very human experience with him.

Being clear about the love and appreciation we have for others is an important part of building loving relationships. 

At times, I have had the opportunity to speak of my appreciation for someone, and for whatever reason, I didn’t do so. Three of these missed opportunities still haunt me. Until recently, I was unsure how to resolve this conflict. There was simply a hole where lost moments existed in my psyche. However, after my most recent blown opportunity with Mr. Kenley, I realized this platform offered an opportunity to help me (and maybe you) fill that hole.

A Missed Opportunity for Personal Testimony
As I write this blog, tears are streaming from my eyes. A part of me wished that I had communicated what I have shared here to the church full of people who gathered to honor Mr. Lemuel Kenley at his funeral. Why didn’t I?

I didn’t know whether his funeral would offer a chance for anyone gathered to share a testimonial; if there would be testimonials or if there was the opportunity to give a testimonial, if the people would be pre-selected. 

I didn’t know if I should have stood at the front of the room as though I were the fifth speaker and given the Mrs. Kenley a look that sought her permission? I risked being judged as inappropriate. I didn’t want that.

All of these rationales are about me and my experience—protecting myself and my ego—not honoring Mr. Kenley. I see that now.

Mr. Kenley, thank you for the instruction, love and appreciation you showed my sons and me.  We love and appreciate you.

Finding the Time to Celebrate the Important People in Our Lives
Things tend to work out the way that they are supposed to. A part of me wishes I would have shared this testimonial at the funeral. A part of me is sorry that I didn’t. However, this was probably as it should be. And no matter the medium that was or is being used to honor Mr. Kenley, what is most important is that Mr. Kenley be honored.  

Thank you, readers, for embarking on and remaining with me on this journey of expression and appreciation. If we are lucky, life will give us loving relationships and the opportunity to celebrate the people in them. The time to do so may be now or later. That is a conversation that we get to have with ourselves. But if you are feeling a hole that is similar to the one that I experienced, work to fill it. There is still a meaningful opportunity waiting for you.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

In my next blog post, “The Importance of Tempering Ultimatums,” I consider how making ultimatums is harmful to relationships and suggest another way to work through differences.

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Frank Love coaches individuals toward creating a loving culture in their family. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.
Key Word Phrases

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  • Mustafa Santiago Ali

    January 10, 2024 at 11:55 AM

    A powerful reminder to always share with those we value their flowers. Thank you for gifting this important and often-forgotten information with all of your readers.


  • Elizabeth Ransom

    January 10, 2024 at 4:57 PM

    Great reading! I knew him since I was 17 years old. Always gifted with helping others. He built a garage for my Sister. She loved it… he put his extra twist in the design. Remember the good old days…especially Morgan…Rest Well LK.


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