Wife, mother, grandmother, literacy champion. Born Nov. 13, 1925, in Dorchester Crossing, N.B. Died Sept. 25, 2011, in Fredericton Junction, N.B., of a stroke, aged 85.
Bernadette McKendy was an unsung hero in the battle against illiteracy. For years, she went quietly about her work in the children’s section of the Nepisiguit Centennial Library in Bathurst, N.B., awakening love for the printed word in the hearts and souls of countless children. With her kind patience, caring spirit and welcoming smile, Bernadette not only made the library a child-friendly destination but also a place of delightful discoveries and exciting adventures.
Bernadette grew up on the family farm, one of four children of Charlie and Stella Connors. After attending Provincial Normal School in Fredericton, she became a teacher. Her first teaching assignment took her to Bathurst to a job at Bathurst Mines. Later she found employment as a lab tech at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Bathurst, where she met Arthur McKendy. They married in 1947 and had seven children: Charles, John, Kevin, Michael, Margaret-Mary, Cecilia and Mary Bernadette.
When her youngest child started school, Bernadette returned to teaching. In 1970, she accepted a position at the Nepisiguit Centennial Library. She spent the next 20 years there, introducing children to the joy of books and reading.
Her fame spread. Schoolchildren began to come to her for assistance finding material for assignments. Getting Mrs. McKendy’s help became the thing to do when faced with a thorny subject. Some of these projects were simple and straightforward, others weird and complicated. Either way, Bernadette devoted herself wholeheartedly to assisting everyone who came seeking her assistance.
She retired in 1991, but her days were still full volunteering for the CNIB, AIDS New Brunswick, Scottish and Irish Associations, Regional Suicide Prevention Committee and Alternatives to Violence, as well as other church and community organizations.
After Arthur’s death in 1993, Bernadette lived independently. In November, 2010, she suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in Bathurst. Her optimism never faltering, she was pleased to discover among her caregivers doctors, speech pathologists and nurses who had been part of her story hours at the library.
When she realized the limitations of her stroke would make it impossible for her to return home, she decided to move to a nursing home in the Fredericton area, where the majority of her children and 11 grandchildren live.
Up until the day before she died, Bernadette was exchanging “I love you” and “God bless” with loved ones. Her words were in keeping with the beautiful spirit of a woman who had given so much to the community of Bathurst and beyond.
By Gail MacMillan, Bernadette’s friend.