In bringing a new equestrian facility to the inner-city high school where she teaches,
Maggie Kendall’s lifelong love of horses gallops full circle.
For Maggie (Folk) Kendall ’99, horse-riding was a hard habit to break.
She spent summers riding horses and doing chores on a farm owned by a friend of her
grandparents, Dick and Linnea (Lamson) Folk, both 1939 IWU alumni, near her hometown
of Mt. Morris, Ill. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan as a biology major and
secondary education minor, she launched a satisfying career as a teacher at a top
Chicago prep school. But she found herself pining for the open fields and animals
This December, Kendall found herself — students on one side and a horse on the other
—being handed a check for $100,000 toward her plan to build an indoor equestrian arena
on Chicago’s southwest side. Kendall won the “Dream Big Challenge” grant from Farmers
Insurance for her proposal to build the facility at the Chicago High School for Agriculture
Sciences (“Chicago Ag”). On Jan. 1, she found herself atop a float at the Rose Bowl
Parade in Pasadena, Calif., along with other teachers who had won Farmers’ Dream Big
Challenge. With her on the float was comedian and actor Jack Black, who also spoke
to Kendall’s students via a video posted on Facebook.
“Riding on the float in the Rose Bowl parade with Jack Black was one of the most incredible
experiences of my life,” says Kendall. “He was genuinely nice and surprisingly laid
back. The crowd cheered wildly when they saw him. Farmers Insurance really rolled
out the red carpet for the winning teachers and made us feel like we were on top of
At Chicago Ag, Kendall heads the agricultural science department and runs a therapeutic
riding program that benefits special-needs students, who comprise 13 percent of the
A college prep high school dedicated to helping urban students prepare for careers
in agriculture, Chicago Ag is the only one of its kind in the Midwest. Its 80-acre
campus includes the city’s only working farm, complete with horses, cows, pigs and
Kendall spent most of last summer working on an 80-page proposal for the indoor facility.
“I had to do a full budget with building costs, including electrical and plumbing,
and we visited a bunch of different facilities to figure out exactly what we wanted.”
Her vision for the facility was partly inspired by Chicago’s famously rough weather,
which severely limits the time her students have with the school’s specially trained
The indoor arena would not only extend the program year round, but would also offer
more opportunities to special needs children and adults throughout the area. With
a fee for lessons, the indoor facility would be self-sustaining, Kendall said, and
would attract riders from a wide geographic area.
Kendall believes her passion for the project helped it land a spot as a finalist.
“I believe so deeply in the value of this,” she says. “The people at Farmers said
the proposal was so heartfelt that it really spoke for itself.”
The proposal also reflects Kendall’s twin passions: teaching and horse-riding. It
sometimes amazes even her how well the two combine.
Among special education students, Kendall sees dramatic strides in “social, emotional
and communications” skills through riding. Two of her students won equestrian events
at the Special Olympics Illinois fall games in Rockford, with Shane Blake receiving
the George Moore Award for Equestrian Rider of the Year at the event.
“The award is definitely well deserved,” Kendall told the Beverly Review. “Shane is at the barn seven days a week. He cleans the stalls, fills the buckets and
rides twice a week for an hour at a time. He even comes in as a volunteer from 8 to
noon every Saturday and Sunday. I can’t imagine Shane without the barn; he’s devastated
if he can’t come.”
The impact can be even more profound among wheelchair-bound students “because you
get the emotional side, the empowerment of it. Kids will say things that are so moving,
like, ‘This horse gives me my legs.’”
Maggie Kendall came to Illinois Wesleyan with plans to be a doctor. But after working
at a county hospital in Chicago her junior year, she had second thoughts about her
career choice. Upon her return to campus, she began taking education courses. “I graduated
in four years with all my classes but I did my student teaching the fall after I graduated.”
Along with her grandparents, Kendall’s father Richard, Class of ’68, and an uncle
and great uncle all attended Wesleyan. She was glad she chose a school “with an environment
where I was able to have strong ideals. All my friends came from a similar background
where we valued family, character; being a good person and a good citizen.”
She also appreciates the diversity of her education, which “helped me to understand
and respect different cultures and races.” And her IWU coursework, which she describes
as “top-notch” and “rigorous,” prepared her for work at Walter Payton College Preparatory,
a public four-year magnet high school located in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood,
where Kendall taught biology and chemistry for 12 years.
“But while I was doing that I was still keeping my rural roots. I had a horse club
and I would drive a group of kids once a week out to where I kept my horse outside
the city, and I would teach them about horses.” During her final year at Payton Prep,
Kendall became certified to teach children with special needs how to ride horses.
That same year, she was invited by William Hook, principal of Chicago Ag, to head
the school’s animal science program. Hook told Kendall that he wanted to bring a strong
basic science component into the school’s animal science program.
“And that’s why my biology degree is so important,” Kendall says. “Because I’m really
teaching them biology, but it’s this amazing classroom where students are motivated
to learn about proteins, for example, because the animals in their care have specific
dietary needs based on their digestive system and their purpose. So the kids are just
so much more interested in learning, because they want to take good care of their
It’s hard to think of another school where shoveling manure is part of the coursework,
but Kendall says for many students it’s their favorite part of the day. “They’re proud
of it … it’s an accomplishment. I understand that because I’ve been doing that since
I was 6 years old and loving it but these kids love it, too — they love to work and
get out of the classroom. It’s immediate gratification. It’s dirty, and you work hard,
and it’s clean, they see it clean. But the driving force is that the animals have
to be taken care of.”
With encouragement from the surrounding community, Kendall’s vision for an indoor
riding facility has grown, from four walls and a roof “to something that’s more like
a community center with seating, office space and a heated viewing room” where parents
can comfortably watch their children ride. As a result, the initial estimate of $500,000
to complete the project has increased to around $600,000. But Kendall believes in
the project and has begun the process of gaining additional sponsorship from industry
and community partners.
When the Farmers check was presented, Kendall stepped forward to speak. After the
cheers from Chicago Ag’s students and staff quieted, she told them that even though
her name was on the check, the award belonged to everyone — as did the responsibility.
“The thing about it is everybody has a part. Agricultural mechanics students will
help build the facility; finance students will do the billing and schedule lessons,
and horticulture students will grow the hay we need!” she said to cheers and laughter.
Afterwards, Kendall reflected on winning the grant and on the path that led her to
this moment. “This job brings together who I am and what I know. But it wasn’t something
I expected or really prepared for,” she admits, smiling and shaking her head with
a hint of disbelief. “I feel like it happened by the stars aligning. I’m very grateful.”
IWU Assistant Director for Communications Kim Hill and student writer Danielle Kamp
’15 contributed reporting to this article.