When Kendall Harvey retired as a building contractor a few years ago, he didn’t really have a plan to keep him busy. He wasn’t one who liked to fish or hunt, and he didn’t particularly like watching TV. He wasn’t even much of a Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan. Kendall began to wonder if he did the right thing by quitting a job he did so well, and he soon got a little bored. So, even though he had some health problems, he thought about returning to his building career.
But one day he met a child with Down Syndrome at a local restaurant in his town, Columbia, in Adair County. That meeting turned Kendall in a different and rewarding direction. “I looked at the boy and asked him if he had a bike,” said Kendall, “and he said ‘Yes, it was tore up and it was getting fixed’.”
The boy’s mother looked at Kendall with knowing eyes. “He can’t ride one,” she said. “He just told you that.”
“Well, he’s getting ready to ride one,” said Kendall, eyes twinkling. After finding out a little more information about the child, the kind-hearted man went home and began to build a three-wheel bike. Within a week, the young boy was presented — sized up and made to meet his needs — a sharp new three-wheeler.
Kendall saw how happy the boy was, and that was all he needed to begin a new, and happier, retirement. He has now made over 150 of the three-wheel bikes for those with special needs, mostly children.
Kendall doesn’t charge for his services. He simply likes to help people. He’s been at his good work for about a decade in his downstairs workshop at his home in Columbia. He has a nice little system going. He receives donated bikes from places like local stores, then takes them apart and combines with other bike parts to make his own special brand. Other businesses give him scrap wood, metal and even pieces of carpet to use to make the three wheelers look good.
Kendall is a content man while putting the bikes together. “He sometimes stays down there a long time,” said his wife, Cecile. “He cares for everybody and the Lord has given him the ability to do these things to help others.”
Kendall has a picture album of the recipients with their bikes. A big smile comes over his face as he describes each person. “I built this little girl one and put dolls on it. She outgrew them, then I put a radio on it,” he said. Pointing to another picture, he explained the boy’s dreams. “This little fellow looks like he is about three, but he’s really eleven. He wants to be a lawyer and he’s sharp as a tack.” And there are more. “See this one. She runs up and hugs me every time she sees me. One of the little boys, when he got his bike, said ‘Am I dreaming?’ It made my day,” Kendall said.
Rod and Carole Embry, of Bowling Green, were happy to see their Down’s syndrome son, Alex, receive a red three-wheeler from Harvey. “Because of his selflessness, generosity, and genuine care for others, Mr. Harvey is a hero in our eyes,” said Rod.
The Adair County community knows Kendall as one with a caring heart, but they also know of him as a person who likes a little adventure. Several years ago, Harvey built his own “paraplane.” The odd-looking flying machine looks like a three-wheeler with a parachute attached. He was inspired by the fun he had in his earlier days with hang gliding.
“One Fourth of July, I flew that thing right onto the front yard of the Columbia courthouse,” he said. When his wife was asked if she flew up there with him, she laughed and said, “No, somebody had to stay on the ground and pray.” His three-wheeler flying days, said Kendall, “are probably over.”
Kendall and Cecile are a couple with strong religious faith, and their youngest son ministers to a large church in the South. While Cecile teaches and Kendall “hands out bulletins” in their local Nazarene church that Kendall built 40 years ago, it is clear Kendall shows his faith most powerfully through his three-wheeler work. And, as long as he stays healthy, it appears he will continue. “I started and couldn’t get stopped,” he said, matter-of-factly.
And that’s a good thing, because there are many Kentuckians blessed by Kendall Harvey’s three-wheel offering.
Note: Because of recent health problems, Kendall Harvey has had to discontinue his three-wheel bike project, but he still feels joyful seeing the many lives that have been made happier because of his unselfish desire to use his special talent for others.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. He will publish a version of “Everyday Heroes” for kids this summer. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.