There were lots of late nights when Kendall Warnock sat in his car in a grocery store parking lot.
He was working up his courage to go inside and grab groceries. In his hand he held his currency – food stamps.
As a now 38-year-old, Kendall said he has no problem talking about his late night shopping trips to avoid the stares of fellow shoppers. He knows shame is part of his story, but it’s not his entire story.
Kendall’s story starts in his hometown of Rosalie, Nebraska, within the bounds of the Omaha Indian Reservation. It was a village of 90 people and few job opportunities – his dad managed a filling station just outside of town and his mom worked odd jobs to make ends meet for Kendall and his four siblings.
His parents worked hard to provide for their large family, but they needed the added help of food stamps and commodity foods. Kendall laughed, still remembering his boyhood excitement over getting commodity cheese on their bi-weekly trip to Winnebago, it was the best cheese around.
(We’ll be clear, Kendall isn’t trying to send some message about food stamps or poverty. He isn’t trying to prove some point, this is part of his story.)
As he grew older, Kendall realized he wanted a life beyond the bounds of Rosalie. Those years in his hometown positively shaped him, and Rosalie will always be his home, but Kendall wanted more, and that’s how he ended up in that grocery store parking lot.
He said he vividly remembers those moments before he went inside the store, thinking ‘Is Lincoln really where I belong? Will I make it? Will I have to move back home?’
Kendall said he desperately wanted there to be more to his story, he just wasn’t sure if there would be. However, what he was certain of was how to work hard, a trait he inherited from his parents.
So, he hauled trash and mowed yards, taking whatever job he could to put himself through school and help support his parents who were struggling to pay their bills back home. For a season, Kendall even dropped out of school to work more hours to help his parents.
As he started working more hours he noticed how easy it was for him to fit into the automotive industry. He’d grown up helping his dad at the filling station after school and on weekends and always wanted to do something different, but the truth was, Kendall was great with people and cars.
For the first time in a long time, Kendall said things started to make sense and point him toward his next step in life. He started to work fewer odd jobs and more industry-related positions, and in 2005 he opened A1 Automotive.
In the years after starting his own business, Kendall’s life changed a lot. Not everything changed at once, but things definitely changed.
He went from being an owner to a boss, a single guy to a husband and a dad. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college. He dug into the Lincoln community and sought out mentors and friends to help him dream big, but stay grounded. In 2010, he added the title Chief of Logistics for Lincoln Fire and Rescue to the list as well.
Kendall said that while it might be easy for others to look on and see how he grew up with little and is ‘making it’ now, that’s not how he sees his story.
“I haven’t made it,” he said. “But I feel good about the journey.”
But what keeps him going? Why does he work 80+ hours a week? Why is he up every day at 4:00am? Why does he push so hard?
Kendall paused for a moment and then said he’s just used to the work. It’s in him and part of who he is. But it also comes back to those moments in his car, in the nearly vacant grocery store parking lot.
“I’m afraid to fail,” he said. “I’m 100% afraid to go back … I can’t imagine depending on someone else again.”
Kendall admitted that his fear is borderline unhealthy, but it’s also pushed him in ways he couldn’t have pushed himself.
His story is one of perseverance and struggle, of low moments and dark years, but it’s also the story of a man who isn’t afraid to put in long hours to serve his family and community.
You won’t find Kendall sitting in dark parking lots, working up the courage to go inside and use his food stamps, but those moments have changed his story, and that matters.