The Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes Park University alumni who have distinguished themselves through career, service or community achievements.

   Bob Kendrick, '85
      Distinguished Alumnus, 2013

“I told my parents I was headed west, or at least to the Midwest — somewhere called Parkville,” said Bob Kendrick, ’85. His plan was prompted by a letter from Park University offering him a basketball scholarship. “I was chasing that basketball. So I packed my bags and drove all the way from Crawfordville, Ga.,” he added. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’ve never looked back.”

Yet his vision of chasing the basketball shifted to a life of leadership off the court, spreading the word about great men who pursued a slightly smaller ball.

After graduating from Park with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications arts in 1985, Kendrick began his association with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum as a volunteer while working for 10 years in promotions for The Kansas City Star. The NLBM is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving the rich history of African-American baseball and its profound impact on the social advancement of America.

After serving on the NLBM’s board of directors, Kendrick joined the NLBM’s staff as its first marketing director in 1998, and he was promoted to vice president of marketing in 2009.

“The organization grabbed hold of me, and once I met Buck O’Neil, it was all over,” Kendrick said about working with the beloved unofficial NLBM spokesperson. O’Neil, who had been a first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, died at the age of 94 in 2006.

“I worked with one of the greatest human beings who ever walked the earth,” Kendrick said. “By example, Buck O’Neil taught me his philosophy on life — that it’s easier to love than to hate.”

O’Neil would be proud of Kendrick’s success. Since Kendrick was named president of the NLBM in 2011, Museum attendance has increased to almost 60,000 visitors last year. And the Museum had a $300,000 profit in 2013, its most successful year since 2007, sparking a feature story about Kendrick’s leadership of the NLBM in The New York Times on Aug. 23.

“The Museum tells a story that is much bigger than the game of baseball,” Kendrick said. “We’re talking about an institution that played a pivotal role in the social advancement of America. Most people don’t fully understand its significance,” he said about the Negro Leagues, which operated between 1920 and 1960.

With this year’s release of the movie “42” about the life of Jackie Robinson — who played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs before becoming the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball — Kendrick helped bring the spotlight to the NLBM with a red-carpet fundraising event in Kansas City. Cast members, including Harrison Ford, conducted national media interviews from the NLBM’s “Field of Legends” exhibit.

Currently, Kendrick is developing the NLBM’s Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, to be housed in the 100-year-old YMCA building on Paseo Boulevard in Kansas City, Mo., one of the first YMCA facilities for African-Americans in the country and the birthplace of the Negro Leagues. It will provide expanded space for NLBM programs, including curriculum focused on the math and science of baseball.

With success bringing the national spotlight to the NLBM, Kendrick has enjoyed the perks of his job, hosting dignitaries and celebrities such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, Patti Labelle and Maya Angelou, not to mention many notable sports icons.

Kendrick’s most memorable Museum tour? “Hands down, it was Hank Aaron. It doesn’t get any better than that for me,” he said. “I idolized Hank Aaron as a kid growing up in Georgia. When I was with him, I was reduced to an admiring 12-year-old.”