Born Kathryn Gail Whittaker in 1947 in Upland, CA, she was raised on an itinerant labor camp in Cucamonga by her father Merle, the camp superintendent, and mother Marjorie, a bookkeeper. From following Merle on his daily rounds, she acquired early on a love for tools, handicraft, and creative problem-solving which she applied to both personal and professional projects throughout her life. As a girl she also loved horses, make-believe, and the outdoors; and though something of a tomboy, she was selected to M.C. the graduation ceremonies of her high school in both her junior and senior years, which she did with wit and aplomb.
In 1966, a mutual friend introduced her to her future husband. On their second date he won her heart by surprising her with an elaborate picnic lunch; shortly thereafter in January, 1967, they eloped to Las Vegas, where they were married in the Chapel of the Bells, embarking on a loving partnership that lasted 51 years. In 1970 the couple moved to Northern California and settled in Vallejo, exploring the used book stores and movie theaters of the Bay Area while Ed worked in a hospital setting and Kathryn applied her design skills dressing windows at Levi’s Department Store.
When their son Chandler was born in 1980, Kathryn largely retired from professional life to become a devoted mother and homemaker, working again briefly at a Waldorf school and as an afternoon caretaker for disabled youths. The family moved to Napa in 1985, when Chandler entered school; a somewhat shy and anxious youth, Chandler was reassured by the message, “There’s always a way”, which Kathryn scrawled inside the lid of his Peanuts lunch box in permanent marker. Ever-encouraging of Chandler’s creativity, Kathryn in fact masterminded some of his finest achievements in grade school, such as the amazing papier mache puppet of his homemade cartoon hero ‘Mega Mouse’ which they made together as a project for his 4’th grade class. Throughout his youth, Edgar and Kathryn provided their son a safe and loving context for intellectual adventurousness and creative freedom, and he credits Kathryn in particular with instilling in him good sense, a high E.Q., and a love of personally-crafted, outside-the-box solutions to life’s problems.
Around their home, Kathryn fashioned whimsical displays out of old toys, postcards, salt and pepper shakers, advertising materials, and other funky, soulful items which struck her fancy in the second-hand shops and street fairs she loved so much. In these one could see a series of ever-evolving windows into the tender charm and good cheer which were her most essential qualities, along with the great delight she took in the creative repurposing of small, sweet, simple things. In later years, she took part in a group of yarn and wool spinners and craftswomen, ultimately hosting their weekly gatherings, and helping to devise projects and plan parties; friends remember her as one of the guiding spirits of the group.
Kathryn is survived by her husband Edgar, son Chandler, and sisters Rose Combs, Merla Beltz, and Kimberly Melendrez. It was Edgar’s great good fortune to spend 51 years with his beloved Kathryn, who made of their life together an art.