Cover photo for Kathy Kolkhorst's Obituary
Kathy Kolkhorst Profile Photo
1969 Kathy 2020

Kathy Kolkhorst

December 31, 1969 — September 10, 2020

In the presence of loving family and friends, Kathy died of complications of acute leukemia in Missoula, MT, on September 10, 2020.

Friends describe her as having had an outsized influence on her home community of Juneau, and say she will be remembered as a person of deep inspiration and great energy, willing to do the grunt work as readily as assuming leadership when needed, and for her eagerness to launch others on journeys of discovery.

Of the many and diverse projects she initiated, or donated to, or volunteered for, she took great pride in her founding role and 30-year term as chair of Juneau Jazz and Classics, and as the founding chair and a lead fundraiser for the life-size breaching whale sculpture by Skip Wallen in the Bill Overstreet Park.

Kathy was born September 21, 1949, on Staten Island, New York, to Bernard and Jane (Shaw) Kolkhorst. Her father, a US Coast Guard officer, moved his family in 1956 to Kodiak where he took command of the US-CGS Bittersweet, a buoy tender and icebreaker. Kathy’s two years in Kodiak, when Alaska was on the threshold of statehood, were transformative — the dawning of her interest in Alaska history, Native culture, and politics.

In 1958 the family moved back east where Kathy graduated from high school, attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and in 1977 graduated from the University of Connecticut law school.

Twenty years after leaving Alaska she returned to accept a clerkship with Alaska Supreme Court justice Robert Boochever, then serving in Juneau.

It was in Juneau that she met her future husband Bill Ruddy and within a few years joined his private law practice with Jim Bradley.

The couple raised four children and, according to Kathy, their biggest fight during 34 years of marriage was about keeping or throwing out an aging can of 100% maple syrup.

When she married Bill, Kathy signed on to the life-time project of the M/V Princeton Hall, a 65’ classic wooden vessel built in Sitka where it was launched just weeks after America’s declaration of war on Japan.

Through her association with the Princeton Hall, Kathy met Cyril George Sr. who had helped construct the boat while a high school student at Sheldon Jackson School. Their friendship blossomed, leading to Kathy’s deep interest in Alaska Native culture, language, and history. She was adopted into the Deisheetaan Clan of Angoon.

Many of her contributions included small, quiet gestures like frequent note cards to friends, and the material aid and encouragement she gave to young, rural students.

Kathy based her life on family, friends, and faith. Before her death she expressed confidence in knowing where she is going and approached the end of her life without fear.

Kathy was preceded in death by her father Bernard, her mother Jane, and husband Bill. She is survived by her siblings Steve (Mary Jo) Kolk-horst, Hank (Sherri) Kolkhorst, and Kristen (Chip) Nelson; two children from Bill’s first marriage: Lydia (Tariq) of Jakarta, Indonesia, and Sean (Pauline) of Aberdeen, Scotland; and two children of the marriage: Anna (Jason) Speichinger of Lusaka, Zambia, and Elena (Forrest) Merrill of Mis-soula, Montana; and grandchildren Ezra, Ruth, and Joel Speichinger; and Skye and Talon Merrill; and many foreign exchange students, mostly from Russia.

A memorial will be held in Juneau, early summer 2021.

Kathy’s family may be contacted at PO Box 1138, Frenchtown, MT 59834
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