"Kathy is the strongest woman I've ever met," said Extension Nutritionist Nichole Harms. "Kathy is one-of-a-kind -- exceptional caliber. You will not find a person who complains less than Kathy."
When people enter the basement of the Oregon County Courthouse and go to the end of the hallway to the Extension office, usually, the first person they see is Kathy, either at her desk answering her phone or helping one of the other Extension employees or anyone who comes into the Extension office. "She's a Jackie-of-all-trades at the Extension office," Harms said.
Kathy was also a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and had many adventures during those years.
She was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1947. Her father was in the Air Force, and in 1948 the family moved to Georgia to live on an air force base. In 1953, the family moved to California. She graduated from high school in 1965 and attended Pierce Junior College for a time. In 1967, she joined the Navy. "That was the last time I saw California," she said about joining the Navy.
Kathy was stationed at Bainbridge, Md., for basic training.
She was at Pensacola, Fla., twice. While there, she attended Naval photographic classes and became a Naval photographer. Kathy's eyes gleamed with fond memories as she looked back at all the places she was stationed. She fondly remembered the little Mo-ped she drove around Hawaii, when she was stationed there and the caricature one of her colleagues drew of her riding it with her little transistor radio strapped to it and a turtle barely keeping up the same speed and a sign pointing the way to Florida in the background. When she was stationed at Hawaii she said, "That's as close as I got back to California."
She was also stationed at Lake Hurst, N.J., Washington, D.C. area, Puerto Rico, Norfolk, Va., twice, Memphis, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla.
While she was stationed in the D.C. area, she worked at the Naval Photo Center and at the Pentagon. "I worked in the area where it got hit (on 9/11)," Kathy said.
At the photo center she had photographic lab duties. Keep in mind this was some time before the simplicity of digital cameras. "We had to be able to do it from start to finish," Kathy said.
"At the Pentagon, I was in two groups there," Kathy said. "One of them was briefing (and preparing) the CNO (chief of naval operations) every morning. And, then, I was with the Pentagon Bicentennial Tour Guide Service. We took people on tours of the Pentagon. The only part of the Pentagon that was open to the public up to that point was the concourse area, which was a shopping mall. And, then, for the bicentennial, they opened a certain section and took people on tours."
In Puerto Rico, Kathy worked at the Naval Photo Lab there and she started working on her air crew qualifications.
In 1979, Kirk Douglas was filming the movie, "Final Countdown," about a ship that goes into a time warp and goes back to the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. "Most of that filming was done in Norfolk," Kathy said. While she was stationed there she led actors and film crews around the base and helped with logistics and acted as liaison between the film crew and the base. Her admiral, who was the Commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic, held a party at his house for the cast and as a Naval photographer she went to take pictures. Kirk Douglas happened to be at the party, and the admiral took Kathy's camera and took a picture of her and Douglas together at the party.
She was awarded Sailor of the Year in 1979 while stationed in Norfolk.
In Memphis, Kathy did her instructor training. Then, in Orlando, in 1984, she was assigned to recruit training command. "One of the most challenging, and one of the most rewarding at the same time, assignments that I had," Kathy described her recruit training command. "That was where we took the recruits as they came in from day one through 10 weeks of training before they went to the fleet."
"(We) taught them how to walk, how to march, how to make turns, how to salute, how to talk, how not to talk or when not to talk, how to fold a pair of trousers, how to fold a towel, how to make a bunk, how we wanted it made and the simple thing of why we wanted it made a certain way," Kathy said. "And the simple reason is because we wanted to see how you could follow instructions."
"The simple fact was, can you follow instructions? If you can't follow simple instructions on how to make a bunk, you're going to be in trouble on how to follow instructions on a manual on how to repair a $1,000 piece of equipment or a $50 piece of aircraft," Kathy said.
"If it wasn't the way that we liked it, we tore it apart," she said. "After a while, they finally caught on, and a lot of times it was another recruit that would show them (how it was done properly) and what that did was to bring them together as a group."
"That was the challenge to get all these women working together as one group," Kathy said.
Kathy said they would get recruits from all walks of life. She said when someone comes in they get a diddy bag, which is a laundry bag full of all the items they will need. "I had one (recruit) actually come to me -- brought a tooth brush back up to me, and said she was done with it," Kathy said. "I said, 'what do you mean you're done with it,' and she said, 'well I'm done somebody else can have it now.' I said, 'hon', you get to keep that toothbrush. That toothbrush is yours forever, and she almost started crying. So, I had a feeling that this kid came from a family that there was probably like one toothbrush in the bathroom and every body used it."
She said they would also get recruits in that had every thing and wanted every thing. "It was a melting pot," Kathy said.
She said when the recruits graduated from training, it was always rewarding to watch them and see the difference in them from when they began training to when they graduated.
Kathy retired out of Norfolk, Va., in 1989. She and her husband, Lonnie, who she met in the Navy while she was taking pictures of the base out of a helicopter, moved to Alton that same year. She said they had heard of Alton through reality agencies and liked what they saw and heard about the community. She and Lonnie have two daughters and two granddaughters who live in Orlando, Fla.
Kathy experienced a lot during her service with the Navy and values her time spent in it. "Don't be afraid to volunteer (in the service). You just never know what it's going to lead to," she said.