Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation
Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation

From Loved Ones & Friends

Letter from Mimi Weisbein

Dear Ellen, Frank and Michael,

Kate. It is so difficult to describe someone’s spirit in such finite terms as words. Rabbi Marks, so aptly named, did an outstanding job and I found that all of his points were on the mark. Each time I sit down to compose and organize my thoughts, I find myself rambling. Rather than wait to develop a more cohesive style, I am writing as it flows so please forgive me.

If not the first, then certainly one of the first friends Jess made at GA was Kate. It was a tumultuous year for Jess. She was dealing with the usual aspects of adolescence plus the adjustment to a new school, her sister leaving for college and the declining health of her dad. There were countless issues that arose and Kate was the one who would truly listen and offer the no nonsense perspective. It may not always have been what Jess wanted to hear, but it was far healthier than concentrating on the debilitating trivialities. She helped Jess brush away the debris and stay focused on the central path. When Jerry died later that year, Jess relied on her new good friend, Kate, to not only gather the others for the rituals, but to be a comfort when the others were not there. Kate, the counselor.

For some reason, I was driving to the Trenton train station one day with fourteen year old Kate and Jess in the car with me. I had never made this trip before and whenever I was uncertain about which way to go, Kate piped up with very confident directions. It’s my theory that most people do not pay attention to landmarks or intersections when they are not driving and especially when they have never driven. Yet, I felt comfortable allowing her to guide me and of course, she got us there without error. I remember thinking how amazing it was that she knew where to go on what was a complicated route at the time. I also remember thinking how amazing it was that I instinctively trusted her sense of direction. Of course, now I know that Kate knew how to get anywhere, even if she hadn’t been there herself. She had an internal GPS that did manage to take her far and wide. She was never a lost soul.

When I enter Jess’s bedroom here at home, Kate is everywhere. There are pictures from their trip across the country, from high school parties, from hanging out with the animals at your house, from the shore, from Arizona and from places I don’t recognize. Jess has somehow accumulated a collection of camping and hiking gear, most of which was Kate’s at one time. There was no question. If it worked for Kate, it worked for Jess. I even remember Kate checking the fit of a backpack on Jess and adjusting the straps here and there. She was our own REI representative.

During the senior year at GA, the class appeared to gel much more so than in previous years. It seemed as if more and more of them were clinging to each other as their remaining days at GA grew less and less. And…who offered them the comfort of a home base? Kate (and you, too). My recollection is that more often than not, Jess would head to your house or your barn on a weekend night to be with "everyone". Kate created the ambiance that drew her peers.

When Kate, Jess, Deb and Amy went to Arizona for their senior project, I was somewhat concerned about how they were fending for themselves while living in an isolated cabin without supervision. I spoke to Jess during their first week there and asked how they were managing with meals. She calmly told me that Kate was roasting a turkey for dinner that night. She spoke without any awe, as if this were something most seventeen year olds did routinely. At first I thought she was joking. Many adults I know are intimidated at the thought of making a turkey. Not only was Kate undaunted at the task, her companions were unfazed. No wonder her nursery school teacher felt comfortable leaving the room with three-year-old Kate in charge. She must have been born competent.

While I am talking turkey, I have one more tale to relate. Kate, in my opinion, was always a giver – not a taker. She gave her advice, shared her expertise, fed her friends, saw to the comfort of others and even shared her grandparents. I had a running joke with Kate that she never ate in our house. I was thinking it was part of this giving/taking characteristic but after listening to Rabbi Marks, perhaps my cooking wasn’t healthy enough because she did eat fruit here occasionally. In any event, I always have what I call the second night of Thanksgiving, where we have some repeat guests from the night before along with friends of my children to finish up the leftovers. Two Thanksgivings ago, I did my usual begging of Kate to please eat something I made and finally she relented. She even came to show me the platter she made. I was really pleased. The next day, I was deluged with phone calls. Something in the turkey had gone bad and made everyone who ate it, somewhat sick, including Kate. While I felt badly about "poisoning" everyone, I felt terrible about Kate. Had she listened to her own good judgment and not succumbed to my harassment, she would have felt fine. I canceled the leftover ritual at that point and offered pizza this year. Kate was wise beyond her years.

I want to close by saying that I too hate Mt. Bachelor. It took something as massive as that mountain to overwhelm Kate and it did it by deception – not strength. It never captured her spirit because that lives on in all of us who knew her and now it doesn’t have her at all.

Take comfort where you can.


Mimi Weisbein


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