By Melissa Wagoner
“It’s hard to even somewhat capture my mom in words, let alone the impact she had…” Molly Bray-Yurovchak said of her mother, Kathi Douglas, who died from pancreatic cancer on Dec. 31, 2022. “There are so many fun stories to tell.”
A teacher at Victor Point Elementary School for the entirety of her 43-year career, Douglas labeled herself a lifelong learner, according to Molly.
“She wanted to make a difference in the world and found so much joy in teaching… It was really her lifelong mission to make sure all of her students had an inclusive and equitable education. She found joy in creating an environment where every child had the space to truly be themselves so that they could thrive.”
A graduate of the Elementary Education program at Western Oregon University in the fall of 1979, Douglas accepted the position at Victor Point Elementary right out of college and never looked back.
“I believe it was the first job she applied for…” Molly said. “She never once considered teaching anywhere else. She felt that Victor Point was such a special place.”
Trained as an elementary school teacher, Douglas could have taught any of the lower grades but a chance opening meant she ended up teaching second grade.
“[S]he always told us her very favorite age was second grade…” Molly said, recalling that, though Douglas did have a short stint in both the first and third grade classrooms as well as in the administration office, the majority of her career was teaching second grade. “She always said that for her, it was the perfect, most magical age to teach.”
And teach she did, with a kind of dedication that Myers said went far beyond the classroom walls.
“Kathi loved her students and showed an interest in them outside of school,” she added.
“[S]he would go the extra mile for her students and advocate for what they needed,” former Victor Point Principal Kevin Palmer said. “Students enjoyed being in Mrs. Douglas’s class, and were well-prepared for the next grade.”
“My fondest memories of Kathi are her wonderful sense of humor and contagious laugh,” Vonda Myers – who taught first grade in a neighboring classroom for 15 years – said of Kathi’s overall demeanor. “No matter what was happening, she had a lighthearted attitude.”
Similarly, Palmer said, “She didn’t take herself too seriously and was quick to laugh, and it was a great laugh… very contagious.”
Along with her work inside the classroom, Douglas began assisting with Victor Point’s second through eighth grade theater productions in 2007, including the addition of a musical component in 2014.
“Kathi loved acting and dancing,” Megan Lierman, Douglas’ theater co-director, said. “She was so creative and was able to bring such expertise to the program. Through her leadership students were able to grow as individuals and perform high quality performances. Even past students who are in their adulthood have core memories of their times during the play productions and recognize the growth they had through the love and commitment of Kathi.”
These thoughts were echoed by fellow teacher Cindy Ziesemer, who said, “She and Megan worked strategically in every aspect of programs and productions, from initial auditions to the cast party, enlisting countless PTCC supports and volunteer hours. They gave students a unique, high quality experience to build and showcase talent on stage in song, dance and acting. Those memories last lifetimes.”
The program was so important to Douglas that, even after she suffered a debilitating stroke in December 2021 that led to her retirement from teaching in 2022, she continued directing the annual production.
“She had decided to stay involved and help with the 2023 production,” Molly said, “so really, up until her passing, she was part of the program.”
Outside of school her interests were reading, cooking and traveling according to Molly who remembered, “Back in 2015, we all decided to go on a trip with mom to Ireland and Scotland, and from then on, she really had the travel bug. She loved meeting new people, learning world history – she was a huge historical fiction and non-fiction fan – and trying all of the local foods.
“She and I traveled to Italy, France, and Hawaii together also. One of her favorite things was taking a cooking class with me in Tuscany. But even in our travels, she was still thinking about her classes. She would always say things like, ‘Oh, I just did a Paris lesson with the class! I need to get some postcards for the kids.’ Or, ‘I taught my class about Venice this last spring!’ It brought her so much joy to think about what she could bring back to teach or show her classes.”
Bringing her love of travel back to her students was just one of the many ways Douglas enhanced her students’ learning.
“She put so much time and effort into growing as an educator so she could best support her students,” Molly said. “She was always looking into grants for her classroom and how she could bring more music, art, and theater to her students. She once got a grant to bring ukuleles to all of her students and taught them how to play! Mom was a true example of putting everything into what you love.”
But Douglas’ life didn’t revolve solely around the classroom and her students. She was also “a passionate Trail Blazer fan,” according to Stephanie Traeger, PE teacher for the past seven years.
“If you needed an update on any player or game score, you could count on Kathi to fill you in,” Traeger said. “Plus, she would always dress that part too, Blazer gear on game days was a must.”
And then of course there was her family – three daughters – Molly, Amelia and Emma – and her husband, Tom.
“She was the funniest, brightest, most caring mom,” Molly said. “Honestly, I always felt like I had the world’s best mom. My friends all loved her because she was so down-to-earth and could always understand and empathize with everyone she met.”
It’s impossible to sum up her 43-year career, let alone the 66 years she was alive.
“She will live on in their memories for a lifetime,” Cindy Morman, who began working with Douglas in 1989, said. “Teachers and other staff who had the pleasure of working with her will miss her enthusiasm, creativity, and smiling face. I feel honored to call her friend and colleague for many years.”
“Her presence brought stability, leadership, professionalism, a wonderful sense of humor, and great love for the Victor Point community, including the students, parents, staff and more,” Tiffany Schmidt, a kindergarten teacher at Victor Point for the past six years, agreed.
“She was just so immensely special.” Molly added.