R.L. Kuykendall — a well-known advocate for the Lufkin community and the East Texas public school system — passed away Oct. 17, 2019, in Lufkin at the age of 85.
Although not born in East Texas, he found his way here from the Houston and Galveston areas in 1969.
Kuykendall was born in Houston in 1933 and moved to Galveston when he was still small. His childhood was spent in an integrated neighborhood, where he described his friendships in a 2013 interview with Jonathan Gerland for The History Center as “black, white, purple, green, and we grew up, we did everything but go to school together.”
Kuykendall would pass by the school closest to his home and continue the 8-mile walk to his designated school. Following his primary and secondary education, Kuykendall joined the United States Navy.
It was after his time in the Navy that Kuykendall began his journey toward a teaching career. First majoring in music at Texas Southern University, he took that degree and became a band director in small school districts around Southeast Texas, including Coldspring. He eventually married a music teacher from Lufkin named Viola Tims.
The first integrated experience Kuykendall had in a school was when he was teaching at Dunbar Junior High School in 1969 and 1970. In that same interview with Gerland, Kuykendall said of the experience of teaching in an integrated school: “I hate to say it, but that didn’t mean anything to me. What meant to me was my teaching.”
That passion for teaching was what led him up the ladder of the education system. From Dunbar he went on to be an assistant principal and then principal at Crockett High School. In the early 1980s, Kuykendall returned to Dunbar as assistant principal and eventually became principal of Garrett Primary School.
Kuykendall retired from working in the school system in 1997, and began his second career in 1998 when he was elected to the Lufkin City Council. Throughout his life, Kuykendall wore many hats. He was on the Planning & Zoning Commission for Lufkin, the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and was even involved in a project to preserve African American history in Lufkin with the Rev. Bettie Kennedy. Mayor Bob Brown said of Kuykendall’s work relationship with Kennedy: “When you put those two giving and creative minds together, they could get a lot of stuff done.”
City council member Robert Shankle shared some insight into his friend’s life, saying Kuykendall held his position in city council as one of great responsibility. Shankle described him as “very active in the community. Making sure the community knew what was going on. ... Whatever he could do to improve Ward 1, he would do.”
Throughout his time on the city council, Kuykendall helped implement a prescription discount program and a groundbreaking group called Undoing Racism. Shankle said that he was “just a good, honest man who tried to make a difference in his community.”
Brown had similar memories to share about Kuykendall. Brown had met him while Kuykendall was still in the education field, and as their friendship grew through the city council, he discovered him to be “a very quiet gentleman who got things done. He spoke softly and accomplished more than most people. ... He worked by example and was the leader of North Lufkin. I respected him deeply.”
Even after Kuykendall was diagnosed with dementia, he continued reading history books. As he said to Jonathan Gerland in 2013, “I don’t know if I will remember ... but I just enjoy reading history books. I was a history teacher ... I just like reading and that is my pastime.”
Services for Kuykendall are pending with All Families Mortuary.