In an attempt to learn more about Kathleen, we wanted to find out how people remember her. This task turned out to be nearly impossible, because over the course of seven months, over a hundred people have told stories, each being different and unique, about a special memory they have of Kathleen.
No one would just say “she was funny”, they’d add an anecdote, like the time in home economics class when she presented chocolate covered insects as a dish. And in college, she combined her two majors, oceanography and home economics to put together an entire cookbook that had seaweed as the main ingredient in every dish. People remember her for her “sense of adventure”; friends laugh about her literally running away to join the circus for a short stint of time and when she moved to the wilds of Alaska where she gave birth to her daughter Lisa. She inspired her children to be adventurous by taking them scuba diving and for rides in a hot air balloon. She was “thoughtful”, one friend says she’d call every time it rained, just to tell them the rain made her think of them. Many recalled her strength, a former colleague recalled Kathleen as “someone who wouldn’t take much gruff from anybody.” But mostly, she is remembered for being exceptionally kind and loving. Timm Heisey says his mom was known for baking extraordinary birthday cakes, and children could pick their favorite character to have the cake molded after. If she got invited to a wedding, she’d always offer to make the wedding cake instead of buying a wedding gift. Timm says she’d spent two weeks making a wedding cake, and it wouldn’t be a simple cake, she made them up to 6 tiers tall – “and then she’d still end up buying a wedding gift too.” That was just the kind of a person she was.
Faculty and family remember when Kathleen found out there was a child in McFarland who wasn’t going to school because he had a skin disorder that made it very easy for him to overheat, so he kept inside his home with the air conditioning on. When Kathleen heard this, she went to the family and told them they would make sure the child was kept in air conditioned rooms only at school. The boy’s parents told her it wouldn’t work because they couldn’t drive him to school because they didn’t have AC in their cars. The solution to Kathleen was simple, she had AC in her car, so she took it upon herself to drive him to school and then drive him home afterwards. The child was bald, and Kathleen was worried he might be bullied. She explained to her 700 students that he was just like them, and they needed to embrace him. She motivated them to go above and beyond. Looking back, people remember he became “everyone’s little brother”, all the students looked out for him.
On the anniversary of her death, nearly a hundred former students wrote to us with their memories of their beloved principal. Students told us they would go to school early every single morning so they can spend some time with Kathleen before classes began. On student’s birthdays at Browning Road Elementary, she’d call students to her office to give them a little gift, students said the gesture made them feel, special, important, and loved. Faculty recalled how they’d walk past her office and see her sitting cross-legged on her office floor with a child while meeting them, just to make them feel more comfortable. Retired faculty members also said Kathleen would drive students to the doctor when they’re parents told her they couldn’t do it. Lisa Heisey said she had to share the title of “mom” with the huge number of students who felt so close to Kathleen; they’d refer to her as their mom. Timm Heisey said it always blew him away to see children running to his mom every morning to give her a big hug. Students felt protected by Kathleen. On February 24th 1998, a flood hit McFarland, and Kathleen took charge and got every one of her 700 students home safely. Students remember Kathleen carrying them and holding them up as she trekked through the high rising water, just to get them safely across the road to their arms of their parents. She is also remembered for not accepting the answer “I’m fine” when asking a student how they’re doing. Students recall that she wanted them to feel fantastic, so it became known at Browning Road that if Kathleen asks, “how are you?” the answer is “fantastic”.
Kathleen is also remembered by hundreds of her former students from the McFarland Learning Center, where Kathleen worked with troubled teens and fought to help them get off drugs, get out of gangs, and realize their self worth. Kathleen was known to tell teenage girls how she had been a single mother all her life, and to talk to them about her struggles so they felt she could relate to them. One former student spoke at the McFarland Memorial Service for Kathleen and said, “she changed my whole life around”, and said Kathleen was the reason she got out a gang. She said Kathleen was there to help her when the high school student was pregnant. “She went with me for my pregnancy test. She paid for it. She was so mad at me but said everything was going to work out.” Other students said she played a critical role in their lives because “she was very supportive of all our ideas.”
There are simply too many unique stories and memories of Kathleen to list them all. Even though the individual stories differ, everyone who remembers her will never forget her.