A few months ago, I received an email from someone about a gentleman born in Point Pleasant who had become a famous rock climber. He was so famous, his obituary appeared in the New York Times shortly after his death this past March. By all accounts, he appeared to be a remarkable person with remarkable achievements. After some research, I discovered Royal Robbins, who passed away at 82, was born in Point Pleasant in 1935 and as a teenager left the area, growing up around Los Angeles, Calif. His obituary in the Times said he was the “conscience of rock climbing” and was passionate about “clean climbing” which meant, leaving the rock unblemished, with little to no trace you were there. The Times went on to say he “planted” routes around Yosemite, areas in California and out west, becoming, as the Times put it, “a pioneer in rock climbing and a respected voice of a sport that grew up with him.” He was also the founder of the outdoor clothing company that bore his name. Still, another obituary, which appeared in his local newspaper in Modesto, Calif., spoke about the things most obituaries do – his surviving family members, his membership in Rotary, and how he and his wife Liz received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Greater Yosemite Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
In reading Mr. Robbins’ obituaries and multiple accounts of his life, I was reminded, yet again, of the uniqueness of our area when it comes to the people who have called it home, though some longer than others. As I’ve gotten older I’ve had the equally unique experience of handling obituaries of people I’ve come to know in the communities I’ve worked in. I never think, when I’m attending an event with that person, will they be in my email one day? But, it happened again last month. I was rushing around at the end of my work day (which is also obituary deadline), checking the emails when I saw Kathryn Hart’s name in the subject line. I knew she’d been ill, but Kathryn was one of those forces of nature that to me, seemed unstoppable.
Hart, who lived in Racine and passed away at 73, was the only president of the Racine Area Community Organization (RACO), a group which was founded in 1992 and is committed to community service and has raised thousands of dollars in scholarship money for graduating seniors of Southern High School. When I began my career with Ohio Valley Publishing at The Daily Sentinel in Meigs County, one of my coverage areas was Racine. I felt at home in Racine, as if there were an underground tunnel connecting it and the “other side of the river” where I was from. To this day, my favorite moment covering a village council meeting (and I’ve covered many) happened at Racine and involved Mayor Scott Hill (Kathryn’s “very special adoptive son” as noted in her obituary). That council moment makes me smile to this day and no, I’m not describing it here. You had to be there, like Kathryn was everywhere in Racine.
She could be found every year at the Southern High School senior awards assembly, passing out those RACO scholarships and pausing to explain the one named in honor of her parents – Edison and Mabel Brace. I didn’t know the couple, but I’d sat through so many awards assemblies, I knew at least their connection to Kathryn who kept their memories alive through her deeds. I’d also see her at the annual RACO Yard Sales at Star Mill Park, which were fundraisers for those scholarships. You could find anything at those yard sales, and I imagine still do. I stopped by one year and visited with Kathryn and the RACO ladies, interviewing them about the sales and we had a few laughs about the more unique items which had been donated over the years. One of those memorable donations included a stray Viagra pill (in a dresser drawer as I recall) which was likely accidentally donated but never claimed. The RACO ladies were always appreciative of the support. After all, the Viagra couldn’t be sold but the furniture it came with, could.
I’d also see Kathryn and her RACO ladies working the Meigs County Fair gates every year. I’d stop and chat before heading in for a long day of livestock shows – I’m certain that Viagra pill and its anonymous owner came up in those entertaining conversations. Sometimes, Kathryn would stop in at the Sentinel, saying hello to all but always making a point to talk to Charlene Hoeflich, the general manager at the time. Before she left the office, you could hear her tell Charlene in that big voice, “I love ya!” But before it could be said back, the door was closing and she was on to the next stop in that busy pace she maintained. However, she was never too busy to serve on the Meigs County Council on Aging, where she was a past president, or to give her time to the Star Mill Park Board, the Racine Party in the Park Committee and more. Not to mention, she was a supporter of the Racine Fire Department and Racine in general.
After I was moved from the Sentinel to the Point Pleasant Register, I’d see Kathryn on Facebook and we’d exchange a few messages here and there. She always invited me back to Racine and especially, to those RACO Yard Sales. I started calling her “the Queen of Racine” on my posts to her Facebook page and she never seemed to mind, in fact, I think she owned and deserved that title.
Though I knew she’d been ill, it still came as a shock to see her in my email that day. Shortly after she passed away, I exchanged some messages with Kathryn’s friend, Ann Zirkle, who is also in RACO and who I came to know while at the Sentinel. Zirkle said Kathryn had been sick for so long, that it hadn’t hit her yet she was gone. It appears Kathryn had kept keeping on, despite her illness. “I am blessed for her being my friend all these years,” Zirkle told me, something I don’t think she’d mind me sharing. Certainly, it’s a sentiment shared by many.
She died literally days before the senior awards assembly at Southern High School this year. At the assembly, 10 RACO scholarships valued at $1,000 each were presented to the Class of 2017. An amazing feat, considering, this annual tradition began in 1993 when the first two RACO scholarships were presented and valued at $200 each. As reported by the Sentinel, filling in for Hart this year at the award’s assembly was her husband Dale, who told those gathered that his late wife didn’t have the opportunity to further her education but made it her mission to make sure local youth, did. It’s hoped those who have benefited from Kathryn and RACO’s generosity will someday pay it forward to the next generation in some way. After all, actions teach far more than words.
No, not everyone’s obituary appears in the New York Times but the point is that it appear in a newspaper where at least someone will know your name. Hopefully, someone here remembers Mr. Robbins. I know many here will remember Kathryn.
Long may her memory reign.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-304-675-1333, ext. 1992, or 1-740-446-2342, ext. 2102.