Hazel Kendrix (inset) was already 46 years old and the mother of 10 children in 1969 when she decided to leave her rural Louisiana home, the only place she had ever lived, and move with her children to Milwaukee in search of a better life.
“I married a man,” she explained recently when asked what prompted her to move, “and he was mean, so I left him. I’ve never looked back.”
When she first moved, she had one friend in Milwaukee, a girlfriend from the same rural area in Louisiana where Hazel had previously spent all of her life. Hazel and her 10 children stayed with that friend until Hazel found a job as a waitress at a fancy restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. Hazel worked there for about 10 years before retiring sometime in the 1970s. Eventually almost all Hazel’s childhood friends from Louisiana followed her to Milwaukee. “They were so glad to leave Louisiana,” she recalled.
The only job Hazel had ever had in Louisiana was picking cotton at harvest time. “I didn’t like it,” she said, “but I had to do it. I was never a lazy person.”
When she started working as a waitress in Milwaukee, Hazel said that she relied on her older children to babysit the younger ones while she was away. “That was how we were able to make it,” she said.
Soon after her 97th birthday, Hazel moved in with one of her great grandchildren, Dominique. Even though it is difficult for her to do much of the cleaning and maintenance chores around the house nowadays, she still likes to stay busy. “I am not a lazy person,” she said for the third time during the interview. For the most part Hazel is able to get around the house without the use of a walker. When she goes out, she usually travels with a wheelchair just in case she gets tired.
“I don’t go out much anymore, maybe to church or Potawatomi (Hotel and Casino),” she said.
There are exceptions when she still “kicks up her heels,” such as the 100th birthday party her extended family threw for her at the Masonic Lodge in Brookfield on February 6, 2023.
“That was the happiest day of my life in Milwaukee,” she said. “I am so glad that the Lord let me live to see all of these days.”