Kathleen B. O’Daniel

Jan. 18, 1950 – Oct. 9, 2020

A Skagway woman who taught us all how to care for one another has been taken from us. After visitations by family and dear friends over her final days, Kathleen Beatrice O’Daniel, 70, died quietly at home during the early morning of Oct. 9, succumbing to a 10-month bout with a rare form of cancer.

Kathleen was born at the White Pass Hospital in Skagway on Jan. 18, 1950, the second child of Bea Hillery (Lingle) and the late Johnny O’Daniel. She was proud of her family heritage, which dated back to the Klondike Gold Rush on her mother’s side; her great-grandfather was a professional card dealer in Skagway during that period.

Kathleen attended kindergarten at the Pius X Mission School and then all grades at Skagway Public School, where she graduated in 1968.  After moving to Juneau in 1981, she decided to go to college and earned her teaching degree from the University of Alaska Southeast in 1988.

She then taught fourth grade for 20 years at Mendenhall River Elementary School in Juneau, retiring from the job of her dreams in 2010. Besides touching the minds and hearts of hundreds of students and parents, she also hosted/supervised student teachers for the University, instilling her love in her student teachers.

During her illness, waves of cards, letters and emails poured in from former students, parents and co-workers.

“Kathy is truly an amazing woman whose life has made a difference to so many,” wrote a fellow teacher who was part of a book club with her. “Even in her battle with cancer she has shown us how to live with hope, humor and kindness to others.”

A parent of one of the hundreds of children she taught wrote, “Rest in peace Kathleen O’Daniel, one of the finest teachers I have ever known. So many memories for every child she taught. She was there for so many children and parents in her life and the list was always a long list to get into her class, reading loft and (seeing her) pot-bellied pig.”

Kathleen married Bob Deitrick, a former Skagway teacher, after a three-year courtship. They always celebrated the anniversaries of their first date, Oct. 12, 1980 in Skagway, and their marriage, Dec. 31, 1983 on the banks of the Yukon River in Whitehorse, YT.  It was a quick marriage ceremony with the temperature being 45 below! Bob and Kathleen’s love of the outdoors and travel continued throughout their marriage.  Kathleen was also an avid book reader and loved sharing stories with others, including her students.

While Kathleen taught in Juneau, she and Bob hosted many Skagway friends and family over the years at their Teel Court home. In summers, they would head north to their Carcross, Yukon beachfront cabin, which had belonged to her late aunt Virginia Burfield, and was just down the street from her mom’s cabin. They bought canoes and joined the family on several paddling adventures on Yukon rivers. She was a strong and determined woman, and bravely finished the 2004 Yukon River Quest with her brother John only two weeks after having a non-cancerous cyst removed from her breast.

A year after Kathleen’s retirement in 2010, Bob and Kathleen moved back to Skagway, having built a new home on the site of her old home, and sharing it with her elderly mother whom they cared for.

Immediately upon her return to Skagway in 2011, Kathy became involved in volunteer efforts to care for seniors and others in need. She became active with Big Dippers and was a strong voice on the Skagway Senior Citizens Ad-Hoc Committee, which developed ideas for a senior assisted living center.  She also co-founded the Skagway Good Neighbors Volunteers for those needing help in the community.  She organized and coordinated a group of volunteers who helped with anything from hospice type care to chores around the home.

These efforts led to her receiving the Helen B. Clark Award for Community Volunteer Service in 2014. 

“With the support of her husband Bob she had tirelessly cared for many in this community and has instilled high values in her children, who in turn are involved in caring for others,” noted her nominating statement.

The annual award, named for her aunt Helen, was a surprise, given to her at a school burger feed at the Elks just before Christmas.

She said then that she is driven to care for the elderly because of the village that raised her: “I just want to give back to them. If they can stay here and age in place, then that’s what I want them to do. I want them to be happy…. I look around this room and see people I grew up with. I see people who babysat for me. There are just so many connections here. I’m home.”

Kathleen hosted gatherings at her home like “Skagway Rocks,” where people would come by weekly to paint rocks. She also hosted a monthly Wednesday gathering session for friends to get together, share treats and “gab.” An avid reader, she also had a Little Free Library built by her front gate.  

Most of all, Kathleen loved her big family, all close by in Skagway, Haines and Juneau.

In addition to her husband and mother, she is survived by brothers Mike (Sylvia) O’Daniel, John (Janet) O’Daniel, and sister Dorothy (Jeff) Brady, all of Skagway; step-brothers Ron and Mike Davis of Sitka; her three children, Kolin (Cari) O’Daniel of Haines, Kevin (Katie Chapman) Enloe of Juneau, and Vanessa (Josue Velazquez) Deitrick of Juneau; 10 grandchildren (Connor, Kyrstin, Asia, Tommy, Donovan, Grayson, Presley, Chloe, Kaelin, Brandon); three great grandchildren (Konnor, Kyler, Thaddeus); and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins in Skagway.

She was preceded in death by her daughter Maliece, father Johnny, step-father Benny Lingle, and step-sister Robin Lingle.

Memorial gifts in the name of Kathleen O’Daniel may be made to Skagway’s Fran Delisle Cancer Fund and Juneau’s Cancer Connection.