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KATHRYN BRIGHT

  • Published Monday, March 12, 2007, at 7:44 a.m.

"When I think of Kathy," said Marcia Brown, "I think of laughter."

Brown grew up with Kathryn Bright. The cousins spent weekends at their grandparents' farm in Valley Center and Sunday mornings at the First Baptist Church there.

Marcia and Kathryn were the same age. Marcia remembers herself as "a nerd."

But not Kathryn.

"She was beautiful, funny, popular," said Brown, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. "And bright, too. Her name fit her well."

Kathryn was a member of the Valley Center Class of 1971. She went to the University of Kansas for a semester, then returned to Wichita, where she got a job at Coleman. She was 21 when she was killed.

There were five kids in the Bright family, and 18 cousins who would gather often. It was a close family, Brown said.

"We spent every Christmas together. No one missed a Christmas for many, many years," she said. They'd meet at Aunt Georgia's or at their grandparents' farm, where the kids would hook a cart to a little donkey named Candy and ride for hours.

In 1959, a photographer for The Evening Eagle took a photo of the clan that ran under the headline, "Youngsters find donkey pal."

Kathryn Bright is there in the middle, smiling.

"She was just a fun person to be around," Brown said.

Around age 9, Kathryn learned to play the ukulele. She hooked up with a group of kids who would dress in Hawaiian attire and sing for any who wanted to listen. "Kathy was always involved in something."

Later, Kathryn and her siblings would visit Brown's family farm in Butler County. They'd play outdoors, make mud pies, feed the animals, make curler caddies out of old bleach bottles and drive the car around the pasture.

"You couldn't even reach the pedal or brake," Brown said. "We would keep it in first gear and hope for the best."

Brown also remembers singing in a trio in church with Kathryn and her older sister, Karen. It was a well-loved hymn, "In the Garden":

And he walks with me

And he talks with me

And he tells me I am his own.

And the joy we share

As we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

Kathryn was joyful, beautiful, memorable, Brown said. She would have made a great mom.

"If she wasn't making me laugh, she was laughing herself. She was such a free spirit."

-- Suzanne Perez Tobias

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