Katherine Courtney Wyatt
Loving mother, tireless teacher, world traveler
Mary Katherine Courtney Wyatt, a longtime Claremont resident, died in Pomona on March 30, 2014 following a pacemaker implant that went awry. She was 99.
She was born in Maryville, Missouri on September 24, 1914, the second daughter of William E. and Bess S. Courtney. She and her older sister Ellen lived with their parents in Kansas City, Missouri, while summers were spent with their mother’s relatives in Maryville as the only nieces of nine doting aunts and uncles.
From an early age the sisters took the stage, performing songs, dances and readings for local groups. Ellen never recovered from the fact that, as the older and taller, in their dance performances she had to be “the boy” while dainty little Katherine enjoyed all the feminine costumes.
As a 9-year-old, Katherine starred as “Jane” in a major Kansas City theater production of Booth Tarkington’s “Seventeen.” In rave reviews, the Kansas City Star proclaimed that little Miss Courtney’s poise and performance stole the show. Her love of performing carried over into leading roles in both high school and college dramatic productions. She wasn’t, however, just a performer. Because of her all-around excellence, she was named the “100% Girl” at Central Junior High School in 1927-28. After four years of parties, friends and fun, she graduated from Central High School in 1931 as a member of the National Honor Society.
Her college career took her to Central College in Fayette, Missouri, where she met a handsome drum major and fellow actor, Wilber “Wil” Wyatt. Although the attraction was immediate, he wasn’t the only man in her life. Following her graduation from Central College in 1935, she and her sister Ellen shared both an apartment in Kansas City and a brand-new 1936 $600 Chevrolet. They drove it on travels to Colorado and also to California, including one particularly foggy trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco; after stopping for the night at Lucia Lodge, they were shocked to discover just how high up they were and how far below the ocean was.
Wil finally persuaded her to become Mrs. Wyatt and they were married in Kansas City on February 16, 1941. Shortly thereafter they moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri and when World War II intervened, she moved to Chicago to stay with her parents while he was in the Marine Corps. It was while she was living in Chicago that her daughters, Suzanne and Courtney, were born. Even then, between the births of the two girls, she managed a trip to join her husband in San Diego for several months before he was shipped to the South Pacific.
Those trips west made it clear that California was the place where the Wyatts wanted to raise their family. They headed to San Diego in 1945, first to military housing in La Jolla and then to a tiny, tiny house in Ocean Beach, where third daughter Mary Pat was born. During those years, she took great joy in raising her daughters. The family continued her love of travel with car trips to Sequoia, San Francisco, Carlsbad Caverns and farther beyond to Victoria, Vancouver and Montana as well as to visit friends and family in Kansas and Missouri.
In 1963, Mr. Wyatt’s work took the family north to the Bay Area, where they settled in Orinda. She loved exploring San Francisco and sending detailed letters to her college daughters about the exciting experiences of parades, restaurants and shops in San Francisco. After a year and a half, the family relocated to southern California and, in 1965, to Claremont.
It was in Claremont that Mrs. Wyatt became a substitute teacher, almost exclusively with the Claremont Unified School District, continuing to do so until she was 95 (her age was never, ever publicized). It was a job that allowed the flexibility to travel with Wil, both for business and pleasure. And travel they did—to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Fiji, Hawaii, the Philippines, up the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks and throughout Europe and the United States.
Following her husband’s death in 1975, Mrs. Wyatt said, “Well, I’ll never go anywhere again.” Little did she know! The following years included multiple trips to Germany to visit Courtney, her husband Richard Krakauer and their two boys Christopher and Richard and to Alaska to see Mary Pat and husband Paul Voelckers and their sons James and Matt, as well as journeys to France, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean. When the far-flung adventures subsided, she traveled regularly between her home in Claremont and her daughters’ homes in Healdsburg and Walnut Creek.
She was predeceased by her husband Wil, by her sister Ellen Brand, by her brothers-in-law Ralph E. Brand, Paul V. Wyatt and H. D. Wyatt, and by her sisters-in-law Eldean Wyatt and Mary Ellen Wyatt.
She is survived by her daughters Suzanne, Courtney and husband Richard and Mary Pat and husband Paul; by her grandsons Matthew Voelckers, James Voelckers and wife Ren DeCherney and Christopher and Richard Krakauer; and by her step-granddaughters Julie Krakauer and Becky Lindsay.
She also leaves her niece Katherine Brand Ross and her husband Otto, nephews Ralph C. Brand and J. R. Wyatt and his wife Peggy, great-nieces Jillian Brooks and Holly Holwager, great-nephew Tym Holwager and longtime good buddy Judy Dodd.
A celebration of Katherine’s life will be held on what would have been her 100th birthday on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 from 2 until 4 p.m. at 2564 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont. Friends are invited to attend and share remembrances of this remarkable woman.