Woman retires after 36 year of making a difference one child at a time

After graduation from Colorado Women's College in Denver in 1965, Kendell Wilson knew she wanted to be anything but a social worker.

Fate had other plans. In the profession for 36 years, she is retiring from her position as a social-welfare manager with Nevada's Division of Child and Family Services this week.

"As a social worker, you hope you make a difference and like any job, you get used to the pressures," she said. "You have to keep your sense of humor. It's a lot more challenging, than making widgets.

"I will miss this. Social work is a very crisis-oriented field and retirement will seem dull, for a while."

A native Nevadan, Wilson was born in Fallon and graduated from Sparks High School.

She took her first job in Elko in 1966 and as she talks of those early experiences, she has an easy smile and quick, dry wit.

"During the first two weeks on the job, I interviewed a man at the Pioneer Hotel, a favorite watering hole in Elko," she said.

"I was 23. I had to ask him, how much education he had. He turned away from the bar long enough to ask me if I had any money," she said. "I told him I was sorry, but I hadn't been paid myself, yet."

Working in Elko then meant a lot of time "in the trenches." Protective services, those that handle child-abuse cases, didn't exist until 1975 in Nevada and the work focused more on finding housing and setting up utilities.

"When I went to the hospital to have my daughter, I knew half the people in the waiting room," she said. "They were receiving either aid to dependent children, or old-age assistance."

Wilson has been married to her husband, John C. Wilson, for 37 years. The couple have two grown daughters and a son. Daughter Marla Morris is a social worker. Daughter Erin Wilson works for the Department of Transportation and Robert, their adopted son, just completed a tour of duty with the U.S. Marines.

"He was 12 when we adopted him and he was considered to have a number of problems, but none of them ever manifested," she said. "What he really needed to know, was that he had a stable home. He calmed down and worked hard, to fulfill his potential. He's a wonderful child and adopting him was the best thing that came out of this job."

Wilson said she's seen an evolution of the process over the past 36 years and social workers often get a bad rap because of past practices.

"When in doubt, we used to remove the children from the home. We found out that children lie, and sometimes parents won't take them back," she said. "We remove children when they're in danger, but we also spend more time working with the family to preserve unity. There are many resources, like (court-appointed special advocates) to help deal with problems. We still follow the cases, but we're just one part of the puzzle."

Wilson said she is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren, camping and jet skiing. She also might answer phones and mail from time to time, at the Division of Child and Family Services.


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