Clendenning, Kate Eva Justina Hughs (1926 -)
Inducted: October 29, 1997
Kate Clendenning has “put her heart and soul” into preserving the history of Blenheim and Kent, a permanent record that will enable future generations to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of dauntless pioneers.
At the same time, she has used her talents as a musician, composer and lyricist to produce musical works that are distinctively associated with her church and community.
Her second book, “Tracking Back” Volume Two, is a continuing compilation of the columns she has written for the Blenheim News Tribune, a labour of love started in 1984 to awaken interest in the rich history of Blenheim and Kent. She has succeeded to an impressive degree; and her column, still going strong after 13 years, has a large and loyal group of readers.
Mrs. Clendenning is painstaking in her research, and she has found in the personal recollections of older residents, a source of information that has added a wealth of colour and life to all that she has written. She asks, as well as answers questions in “Tracking Back”, and the response from her readers has enabled her to preserve priceless bits of history that would otherwise have been lost to posterity.
That very important contribution to her community is just a part of what she has done. For Canada’s Centennial, she adapted “Love of the Wild”, a novel written by Kent artist and poet Archie McKishnie, into a musical play. Eighteen years later, for Blenheim’s Centennial, she produced “Loyal” a musical about the War of 1812, “the one and only war fought on our land”. In addition, she has written a wealth of incidental music, often inspired by her own poetry, or that of Kent poets.
Mrs. Clendenning was given some of the credit that is due her in 1987, when the Blenheim and District Chamber of Commerce named her “Citizen of the Year”.
Provincial and federal plaques, recognizing her unique contribution to the community, were also presented at that awards ceremony.
Mrs. Clendenning was born in Kent Bridge, the daughter of Eva and Thomas Hughes. She attended S.S. 8, Camden Township, for her elementary education; then went on to Chatham Collegiate Institute. Her first job was at W.G. Thompson’s Kent Bridge office, where she gained knowledge of farm-oriented business.
Those were World War II years, and when her brother, Raymond, RCAF, was shot down, Kate and her sister, Maxine enlisted in the Canadian Army. She received her training and served at Edmonton, Prince Rupert and Vancouver. Victory in Europe and the Far East brought an end to the war, and Kate came home to attend Chatham Business College.
Mrs. Clendenning worked in Chatham at McClean and Heath until her marriage in 1954 to James Murray Clendenning. The Clendenning farm, at that time, was noted for its white bean production and later, soybeans and black tobacco. That was the beginning of her love affair with Blenheim and south Kent, set in ensuring years, to words and music.
Mrs. Clendenning became active in every phase of church and community life. She became a member of the New Scotland United Church, and of its United Church Women. She directed the Junior Choir at New Scotland for 25 years, and wrote music geared to small singing groups.
The New Scotland Junior Choir sang at the International Ploughing Match in Kent County in 1979, a song that combined Blair McKinnon’s words and her music. She was a founding member of the Historical Society of Blenheim and District, the catalyst for “Tracking Back”, her columns and books.
It was also the genesis of an ongoing campaign to found a Blenheim and District Museum, “to locate all our artifacts”, books and papers, and memories as they are recalled or found, for our pleasure and for future generations”.
Fellow members of the Society said that Mrs. Clendenning can listen to a Historical Society meeting, then condense it into a bright and interesting column. Her friends tend to use superlatives when they speak of her. “She is a super-lady. If she is asked to do something, she does it and does it well”, said one. Another described her as “modest”, and “self-effacing”. She always “seems surprised and a little embarrassed when people give her the praise she deserves.”
Her family has always come first in her life, but she has also found time for gardening, skating, reading, oil painting, along with her music and writing.
She and James Clendenning have four children: Dr. Martha Clendenning, Blenheim; Mary Genge, who operates “Hughes Creative” at the Lake; Elizabeth Clendenning, who lives at the Lake; and James Jr., on an adjoining farm. There are four grandchildren: Kate and Maggie Clendenning; and Fraser and Erin Genge.
A friend said, “every community needs a Kate Clendenning to make people realize the importance of its past. Thanks to her, we are aware of what it took to hack these communities out of a wolf-infested bush.” Another said, “She has inspired others to write down family histories, and it has all helped to build a wonderful community spirit.