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Whether you called her Kay, Kathy, Katya, Grams, “Ms. Tell It Like It Is” – or her personal favorite “Katherine Queen of all the Russias”, once you met Kay, you would never forget her. Katherine died peacefully, in her faith, of cancer on Sunday July 8, 2018 – ending a long, event filled and memorable life.
Katherine was born on August 17, 1932 in Vancouver, British Columbia to Russian immigrant parents, Maxim Kerchuck and Vera (Wiera) Omelaniec (Omelianetz). She was proud of both her Canadian citizenship and Russian heritage, and although living in the United States since 1950, she retained her Canadian citizenship till the end of her life.
Kathy was known as a hard worker by everyone that knew her. She began her work life at the White Lunch Diner in Vancouver as a busgirl at age 11. She stayed in the restaurant and bar industry in various positions, server, barmaid, owner, until she retired from Oki Diner, Lihue, Kaua’i, Hawai’i at the bright age of 77. And yes, she was still working 8-10 hours a day when she retired,
Katherine basically ran away from home at 17 and married an American sailor named Robert Danner stationed on nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Kathy (as she was called then) entered the United States through the city of Blaine Washington and never looked back. Danner was soon transferred to Millington Naval Air Station just outside Memphis Tennessee. While there, Katherine acquired her lifelong love of Elvis Presley and gospel choir music. After a short time, the couple was transferred to Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station, Oahu, Hawai’i, but sadly divorced in 1956.
Kathy remained in Hawai’i and in 1959 married her second husband, Laurence Duhrkoop, Fire Marshall for the 14th Naval District, 23 years her senior. In 1960, the couple joyfully and rather unexpectedly welcomed what would be Katherine’s only child, a daughter, Lori Michelle. Again though, the couple divorced. Katherine was a single mom for most of Lori Michelle’s life, always independent, resourceful and working hard to make ends meet.
In 1966, Katherine took on her greatest family challenge marrying successful businessman and local boy James (Kimo) Aalapuna Boyd, Jr., in the process taking on 4 stepsons ranging in age from 4 to 15. Although Katherine put her whole heart into making a success of this blended family, the marriage was dissolved in 1967.
After the divorce Katherine felt the need for a new start and moved her daughter and herself to the outer island of Kaua’i, called the Garden Isle for it’s primitive and unspoiled forests, mountains and rivers. There she worked as a barmaid for Richard Schmidt in the Koloa Bar and Grill (who many years later became her 4th and last husband). The following year she struck out on her own and opened Kay’s Bar and Grill in Hanapepe. This was her proudest moment when she felt she achieved success as an independent business woman. After many years in business, Kay closed the bar and returned to working as a server for familial reasons. During the time she owned the bar, Katherine was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent surgery and became a proud and loud cancer survivor.
In 1976, at the tender age of 44, she (prematurely in her mind) became a grandmother when Lori Michelle gave birth to the little boy who became the light of Katherine’s life, Michael Sean. Katherine was a wonderful grandmother and you can see the happiness in her eyes whenever you look at a picture of the two of them together. And now finally, with her passing, they are united again in the afterlife as Michal Sean was tragically killed in an accident in 1982 at just 6 years old, an event that Kay never truly recovered from and remained broken hearted for her “Little Mikey” until the end of her life.
Katherine continued to live and work on Kaua’i until 2009, when she retired as a server from Oki Diner and moved to Dunlap Tennessee to be near her daughter, Lori, and granddaughter, Christine. Fun loving by nature, Katherine was known on hot days to invite golfers off the 17th fairway of the Mt. Airy Golf Course over to her backyard gazebo to “cool off and have a cool drink”. Kay was brave and outgoing and never met a stranger in her life.
Unfortunately, soon after arriving in Tennessee, Katherine was diagnosed with dementia and slowly declined in physical and mental capacity over the last 9 years of her life due to strokes and falls. She never lost her optimism and spunk though and you never knew what you were going to hear when talking to Ms. Katherine – also known as “Ms. Tell It Like It Is” to many of the NHC Chattanooga staff – where she spent her last several years.
Katherine is survived by her daughter Lori Michelle Sanders, of Blaine Washington. Her granddaughter Christine Theresa Houston, also of Blaine Washington. Her elder sister Lepa Meronuik of White Rock, British Columbia and Lepa’s daughters Sophia and Christina, as well as many cousins living British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.
Katherine is pre-deceased by her much loved grandson Michal Sean Duhrkoop, her beloved father Maxim, her mother Vera, and all four of her husbands (Danner, Laurence, Kimo and Richard).
The family wishes to extend special thanks to all the caregivers who helped take care of “Ms. Kay” during her declining years – especially those at NHC Chattanooga who have shown what the true heart and soul of a caregiver is.
As we say in Hawai’i …to all of you Mahalo Nui Loa, A Hui Hou Kākou
Many Thanks, Until We Meet Again.