Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

I’m missing Katharine already

September 29, 2005

Baldwin City seems empty right now. Katharine Kelly isn't with us anymore. She's been in and around Baldwin for 96 years. It's just not the same without her.

For the past seven years, I've had the honor, pleasure and whatever else you want to call it to see Katharine almost every day of the week. Without fail, rain or shine, she was at the Baldwin City Public Library everyday during the week.

You could count on her like a clock. Now that clock has stopped.

Since the word of her suffering a massive stroke came Tuesday morning, everyone around the library area has felt the same. There was immediate sadness to think that this great woman had suffered. When the news spread fast Tuesday afternoon that the stroke had claimed her, that sadness deepened.

There was disbelief.

No one wanted to believe anything could happen to Katharine, or Miss Kelley as she's called by many of her former elementary students. Truthfully, we did occasionally talk about her inevitable passing. As she crept past 90 and on up the ladder to 96, she slowed. Everyone knew it. It wouldn't be the same without her.

It isn't.

I got to know Katharine from almost daily encounters. If I needed to know anything -- and I do mean anything -- about Baldwin City history, it was a short walk over to the library. I always came back with much more than I'd gone over there for. She was always a pleasure to talk to.

I'm going to miss those talks.

What that woman did for Baldwin is unbelievable. Whether it was teaching several generations of students in elementary school, her never-tiring work on preserving both Baldwin City and the Santa Fe Trail's history or just simply doing one of her favorite pastimes -- bird watching -- she did it with a flair that was unequaled.

Of course, there was plenty of comic relief, too. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She loved to laugh. I loved to laugh with her. She was never afraid to poke fun at herself. She was in a class by herself.

Just last Monday, we were sharing a laugh. As I worked on the story about her sister, Martha Smith, turning 100, I went to the library to ask Katharine about the birthday cards Martha had received. I specifically wanted to know if she'd gotten one from President George Bush. Katharine laughed. She said, "Yes, she did, but she can't find it. It's in a pile over at her house somewhere."

She was adamant, too, when the television crew came to her house for her sister's birthday celebration when the Vinland Elementary School children came and sang Martha happy birthday. The TV crew wanted to interview Katharine, too. "No," she said, "this is Martha's hour."

Luckily, I was there. I talked her into it. I told her the story wasn't just about Martha, but her as well. I said, you're right, it's Martha's hour, but you're an important part of that, too. You've been with Martha most of those 100 years.

So, she decided to go ahead with the interview. Then the joke was on the TV crew. You can't expect Katharine to get started on a subject and stop.

We all knew that there was a stop in sight. We all had noticed her slowing down, having more and more trouble getting around. The biggest sign came in June. It was time for her driver's license to be renewed. It didn't happen.

We'd all kept an eye out for Katharine when she came wheeling into the parking lot at the library. We always watched to make sure everything was OK as she backed out and drove to the post office. She always made it, somehow.

We all wondered what would happen once the driver's license was gone. It certainly didn't keep her from her daily trip to the library. Her nephew, Edwin Smith, took over as chauffer. He'd bring her down everyday, helping gently to get her in and out of the car and to and from the library.

But, that was the way with Katharine. She always made it work, whatever it was. This past year she was awarded by so many groups and organizations for her work. The Baldwin High School alumni association proclaimed her the teacher of the century. Not bad for a Vinland High School graduate. Baker University, where she did graduate from, honored her at spring graduation. The Santa Fe Trail Historical Society created an honor just for her. How fitting. There were many others.

No, there's no doubt in my mind. The list or stack of Katharine Kelley's accomplishments is probably taller than she was. She deserved them all. She was the epitome of Baldwin City. She will be missed terribly, is an understatement.

It just won't be the same without her.

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