Janice "Karen" Kendall, August 18, 2016
BB: This is Bree Boettner with the Detroit Historical Society Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I’m here at Grosse Pointe War Memorial with Karen. Thank you, Karen, for sitting down with us today. Alright Karen could you please start with where and when you were born?
JK: Okay I was born in 1943 which incidentally was a year of a race riot. I was born July 23rd. So, this is a momentous day for me anyway.
BB: Yeah! [laughs] My goodness. And you grew up in the city of Detroit?
JK: Yes, I did.
BB: Where did you grow up?
JK: I grew up at 3907 Fairview off Mack Avenue in Detroit Michigan approximately twelve–ten minutes from downtown Detroit.
BB: And your parents what are their names and perhaps their occupations?
JK: Okay. Sophia Schram(??) is my mother and she was a mother and a housewife and my father Russell Schram(??) worked for the city of Detroit for the water department.
BB: Okay and do you have any siblings?
JK: I have—I had 14 brothers and sisters 13 lived.
BB: Wow, my goodness. That’s a lot of siblings! [laughs] That must have kept you busy growing up. [laughs]
JK: It was good for my memory. [laughs]
BB: Yes, wow. That’s phenomenal. That’s phenomenal. So, all of you guys lived together downtown I imagine?
JK: Well in Detroit—in the Detroit area. We grew up there. My mother had moved up the street with more children from down the street—the same street. Fortunately, we were in a school that was at the end of the block. Most of us attended that St. Bernard grade in high school with exception of the last two because it was closed.
BB: What was living in Detroit like when you were growing up?
JK: Well, it was wonderful and because of such a large family we didn’t have the extravagance of being social and doing a lot and spending a lot of money but what we did have was what really counted. We went to Belle Isle. We had picnics—my mother loved it by the speedboats. And we would go downtown with her on the bus and she’d always have ice cream at Sanders. And she’d do her shopping and then she was happy and she’d take the bus back home. So, we had the wonderful natural things of —wonderful playgrounds and tennis courts down the street from us. And just growing up interchanging with all the people in the neighborhood was great. At that time, most women didn’t drive. So, you know, walked down to local stores. It was wonderful. It’s like what its getting back to now. They’re trying to have it where people walk and go places and that was the same thing. It took up time it took up energy and it was a great type of life.
BB: And your community specifically what was your community like?
JK: It was primarily a mixed community. As I got older we did get—well I grew up and there were Afro-Americans at school and as the neighborhood—I got older then we had more of Afro-Americans in that area. My mother actually at one time lived down the street from the Mills Brothers. And they said it was wonderful!
BB: Wow! [laughs]
JK: They would practice singing on the porch. There things that I still hear because I had older sisters and that they had—I never heard before. And that to me was so exciting.
BB: That is really exciting.
JK: Yeah and of course Hudson’s was always beautiful and I remember this twelfth floor was all Santa Claus decorated. And that was something for a lot of people and the famous more Maurice salad from Hudson’s. And my twin sister and I we did some modeling.
BB: What? So, you brought some pictures?
JK: Yeah, we were in the Miss Detroit contest. I always say we weren’t number one but we were in the top ten. [laughs].
JK: And it was so interesting downtown because these two commercial artists, twins, worked at Hudson’s. And this ironically—I didn’t realize I had this on the bottom. I just pulled it out—but this is Pat Gainer who was Miss Detroit from our High School. And she was six feet at the time most people were short. And she was way before her time and she had beautiful red hair. I did an auto show in New York. I forget if it was Chicago or New York but she was at that too. She was doing it. But it was a lively bustling downtown. My twin and I worked both at National Bank of Detroit—the same bank and they didn’t even realize we were twins. The men were all getting dizzy. They’d say, “We’d see one coming this way and how did she get over here?” [laughs]
BB: [laughs] You’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. That was funny.
JK: Yeah but it was so much fun. Downtown was just wonderful. And we’d go on the grass by Cobo Hall and we’d tan ourselves. And then go back to work. And everything was downtown- all the stores. You’d have coffee and doughnuts and then they had the Coney Island that’s still there on Lafayette. So, I—
BB: So, you enjoyed being here?
JK: I enjoyed it. I loved downtown Detroit. I loved where I lived. And there was the Vanity Ballroom which is closed. It’s on Jefferson. And the schools would have two dances a year and it was beautiful. I wish they’d refurbish it. So, there was just- it was a lot of fun.
BB: So what year did you graduate from High School?
BB: Okay and did you go to college? Did you attend college in the area?
JK: I didn’t finish college. I took a course when I was at NBD [National Bank of Detroit] referenced to at U of D [University of Detroit]. I went to—did some classes at Macomb Community College. I never really finished college. I worked as a legal secretary for three years at a law office and then I ended up temping all over Downtown Detroit Southfield and did—
BB: So you did work downtown?
JK: Quite a bit.
BB: Okay so you hung around. Okay so because that’s bringing us into the sixties how did you first hear about what was going on the summer of 1967?
JK: I was downtown and at that point I lived at the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] downtown which is now—I think they put the Gem Theatre there. I was doing legal secretarial. I was doing part-time modeling and I was ambitious and wanted to make money. So, I worked at the London Chop House which had the second best wine list in the United States. So, I’d go there. I only worked there six months from six to two in the morning. So, that day on my birthday my mom and my brother came to take me out which was very nice and I think it was the Chin Tiki restaurant. And I thought, Well, this is starting out good. And then we were invited to a party, I believe in Birmingham, July 23rd 1967, from some wonderful people at the London Chop House. So, I was actually in Birmingham and that evening around the pool that’s when the Race Riot—I heard it broke out and I couldn’t go back downtown. They said “You can’t go back there” and I said “Well gee its where I live” but I couldn’t go back there. So, it was kind of heart-breaking to me. And I was afraid. And at the same time my mother’s neighbor had an army tank I believe go down the street. And so, I couldn’t go back there. So, I think over one of my married sister’s houses. So, it was devastating and everything just went downhill after that. What I heard was the media publicized it. And someone that had worked with the Detroit News that lived on my block—they said when they did it that’s what really brought it down. If it could have kind of been concealed or something—where it just took everybody—was frightened. So that’s what happened.
BB: You had gotten off work and you went to Birmingham. Afterwards, because it lasted for that week did you have—did any of your places because you worked at multiple place you said—did any of your work bosses ever call you and tell you about like not coming into work? Or did they close down? Or—
JK: You know I have no idea on that because I was a temp. And at that I time I had worked three—so I was a temp. So, I can’t ever remember that week. The only thing was the London Chop House six to two in the morning on that shift I worked. So, I don’t know. I don’t know if I just quit or what. I actually don’t recall.
BB: Did you come down—you came back downtown. When did you come back downtown? Cause you lived downtown.
JK: Well my family just encouraged me to get out of there. And that’s what I did. I packed up my stuff and I left. As far as I can remember. And that was the end of it but I loved downtown. And when I moved in the suburbs or whatever, I’ll tell you it was the biggest disappointment of my whole life. Because downtown there was so much energy and it was all there. And I saw so many different people and I worked in different places and it was exciting. And then it was all like—in the suburbs are just different—laid back.
BB: Did you have—did you see anything when you were heading back downtown to pack up your apartment? Did you see anything, any of the aftermath of what had happened at Twelfth and Clairmount? Any of the National Guardsmen? Was there anything you can remember about the event specifically?
JK: I remember somebody a shadow or somebody hoovering over when I went down to the Y [Young Women's Christian Association]. I think they were on the roof and that kind of—it scared me. No, I didn’t go down for 20 years.
BB: Wow. So, you left and you left?
JK: I left. Well there was an addition which I don’t even know if I should mention. But the gentleman that I got married—well I was it’s a little bit hazy. But we went out on New Year’s Eve near Mount Clemens and I was with my brothers and some married sisters and their husbands. And they said, come back to our house. Well I didn’t. I went back to the Y. And as I sat in front of there—it was like three in the morning. And I put my head on his shoulder and I actually dozed off. And what happened is we got—they were going to rob us. And I got hit on the head with a gun. And I had a concussion and stitches and it was terrible. It was just terrible. It was just fast and it was terrible. But we survived. And there was a couple behind us sitting there and they robbed them. But because my—then my boyfriend—my former husband was in Vietnam he reacted. And he grabbed the guy off me that hit me on the head with the gun as I was trying to run in the Y. So, I think that saved our lives. But after that I was scared to even—so actually when the Fox Theater was going twenty years later I went down to the Fox Theater. We went with another couple and it was like that thing where— ‘cause that was kind of near where I lived and that was the first time I actually felt something. But once I went down there I wanted to go right back. [laughs]
BB: Yeah you got that energy again. You got that energy again.
JK: Yeah it came and it went. It had a purpose. I think it was like something ready to top the boiling water to top off and get it? And I was—[laughs]
BB: What suburb did you go to?
JK: Warren Woods.
BB: And you had stayed there or did you move around in the suburb area the Metro Detroit area?
JK: No. Actually, I spent 25 years in Warren. I have two sons. So my son moved—he was in bands and he lived in Detroit. So, I wanted to be—one son was out of state in Boston—so I wanted to be near him and ironically there just happened to be a gorgeous place in Grosse Pointe and I took it! [laughs]
BB: Wow! So, you live in Grosse Pointe now?
JK: For twenty years, yeah. When I moved here it wasn’t—I’m a very down to earth person. It was the beauty of Grosse Pointe and the fact that my son was close that moved me here. It just aesthetically it is just an amazingly beautiful place. And then you tend to do more and there’s interesting things going on. So that’s nice too. And that’s only ten twelve minutes from downtown now and downtown’s—it’s not on its way, it’s come back. So, it’s kind of nice.
BB: So now that we’re coming into the present what are your thoughts about the city of Detroit now?
JK: Well, I think it’s amazing. I think they’re doing everything they should. The Riverwalk is just—boy, It’s amazing cause I go to New York to visit my sons. And I brought him and we did the Riverwalk and he said “Wow.” They have the carousel and its beautiful. And he was pretty impressed. And they’re connecting everything together very well. It’s almost a shame though that—well maybe eventually it’ll spread out too cause it’s still small compared to New York. But it’s got everything and it’s just amazing. In fact, last Christmas—I think it was last Christmas—my sister and I went down there and we couldn’t believe it. The whole thing was lit up and people all over. And she said “I can’t believe it. This is Detroit.” I mean it was—
BB: The tree lighting ceremony is phenomenal. There are so many people that show up for it.
JK: Yeah, everybody was just all over the place and she and I both couldn’t believe it. She took somebody else down there. She says, “look this is Detroit!” And the fact that you can go over the bridge and be in Canada. So, it’s nice. And Wayne State is so underrated. It’s probably the third best in law. It’s great in medical and it’s such an underrated college. When you think about it and you travel the DIA [Detroit Institute of Art] is state of the art. I’ve been to so many theatres in New York and the Fox Theatre outdoes them all the way around: it’s beauty it’s size and everything. When you think about what we have here it’s pretty darn good.
BB: So, for the future generations a part of this project is for our younger generations to understand Detroit’s history. So, is there any advice or any wisdom that you would give our future generations that are going to make Detroit a better city hopefully? [laughs]
JK: A smile goes a long way and not everybody is outgoing. And I think that if people just exchange a smile and then open—so to speak—their hearts and just accept everybody, I mean—I think it’d be great. It’s just not knowing. A lot of people have never been exposed to other cultures and that. So, I think if they just opened up and just accepted there’s so much to learn. It’s just fabulous. I think if the jobs—cause it’s been mostly the motor city. So, like Chicago and New York are entertainment—they’re diversified. So, I think if downtown Detroit and metropolitan Detroit get more diversified in what’s going on then it’ll be great. Even the kids—when I was in Warren and the kids graduated from college most of them actually went away. And I was shocked. They had to go to Ann Arbor they had to go away and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if there was something here that they didn’t have to go away? I always say everybody comes back to Michigan. [laughs] I know people and they come back to Michigan.
BB: No, it’s so true. It’s so true. There’s been a lot of people that have left and come back.
JK: Yeah and they go—they say, “oh its great here, we left and that”—but five years later they’re back. [Laughs]
BB: [Laughs] That happens. That does happen.
JK: I don’t know if it’s the hot dogs or—[laughs]
BB: We’ll blame it on the coneys.
JK: —and the beer gardens maybe. [Laughs]
BB: There you go. Well is there any other information you’d like to provide for us for the ’67 project? Any other memories or stories you can think of?
JK: Let me see. Historically—well the only thing—it sounds sad but I was downtown with my sister. Well I saw the motorcade with Robert Kennedy and his wife. That was nice. And that’s another thing about downtown. You don’t see that in—its always in a downtown area you see celebrities and what not. Real quickly, I can’t think—
BB: That’s okay. If you think of anything else in particular, you’re more than welcome to contact us. We can always add a written history onto your oral history online. Well, thank you so much Karen. I do appreciate you coming in and hanging out with us and giving us your personal stories about what happened in the past. Thank you
,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed March 20, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/578.