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Moments in Time: Kathy King
Kathy King. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - When Kathy King is asked to whom she most relates, she doesn't choose an artist such as van Gogh or Picasso. Instead, after watching movies with her granddaughter, she feels more like Tinkerbell, the fictional fairy from "Peter Pan." She associates herself with the animated pixie mostly because Tink is a curious, risk-taking problem-solver who often causes trouble - but always has the best of intentions.

Many would agree King can sprinkle fairy dust on just about anything and turn it to magic. The Monroe High School art teacher has given her talents in so many ways throughout Monroe that the city has become her canvas - and one she won't be finished with anytime soon.

King was born in Smithville, Missouri, but Wichita, Kansas, was home. She was the middle child between two sisters. She said hers were active, involved parents: Her father was their softball coach, and her mother was a Scout leader. For fun, the family spent lots of time camping and she has fond memories of watching her father, a fly fisherman, and of hiking alongside her mother.

"We didn't have a lot of money, but we always had a chance to do things together," King recalled.

Her father didn't graduate from high school but worked as an experimental mechanic for Cessna. King recalls spending time in his garage workshop, always being included in his projects.

School was difficult for King, as she is dyslexic and reading was a stumbling block. In fourth grade, King's teacher told her mother that King was artistic, so her mother put her in oil painting classes on Saturday mornings. The lessons introduced King to a world of art she fell in love with.

At age 12, King hit yet another roadblock when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, leading to several surgeries and lengthy hospital stays. It made things difficult for her as a student, but she pressed on.

She attended Wichita Heights High School and was active in choir. She could almost always be found in the art room. The 1972 graduate said there wasn't a lot of encouragement to go on to school, but her desire to become a graphic designer, a fairly new field of study, took her to Wichita State University, a college close to home.

There, the more classes she took, the more she loved education, and she quickly changed her major to teaching.

Her junior year, King dropped out and married her husband, John. But she later finished college and eventually landed her first job teaching middle school art in Carthage, Missouri, for two years.

"I love middle school," she said. "Kids in middle school aren't afraid to do anything."

Eventually, John's work as a food scientist brought the family to Wisconsin. King was staying home with their young children and became involved with the Monroe Art Center and the Hand in Hand program for elderly shut-ins to allow them a day out.

King said she wasn't prepared for the cold winter months of Wisconsin, but it wasn't long before she realized that people were still going outside, smiling and taking it in stride. She decided that she, too, could choose to embrace the weather or be miserable. So the family took up cross country skiing.

King joined the Jaycees and she and her husband became active in the YMCA programs and coaching. She also began teaching painting in her home.

When her youngest daughter, Jenny, was ready to start kindergarten, King was ready to go back to work and taught art part time for Black Hawk Middle School for three years. From there, she moved to Monticello and taught art for three years. She landed the position at MHS as the art teacher in 1997 and hasn't looked back.

"I think I was always meant to be a teacher," King said. "I have high expectations of myself, and I have high expectations of my students. I'm always trying to push them. I get a lot of satisfaction out of where I can take them with their art."

King said her struggles as a youngster have made her a more relatable teacher and she consciously tries to understand what any student might be going through. She tries to pass along the message to use struggles for growth and is very proud that several students have gone on to work in the field of art.

"I'm inspired by the people around me," King said. "I'm always thinking about how to change or twist things - it's because of teaching - I think like that."

She tries to get her students to make things that mean something to them. Before her students graduate, they have the opportunity to make something with King, and many of them opt for her famous "butt mug" - a mug shaped like a backside that they take with them to college. King laughs at the thought of everyone wanting one to keep.

King has spent a lot of time creating art for others. She has given hundreds, maybe thousands, of artistic pieces and paintings, as well as offered classes and courses in Monroe and surrounding communities over the years. She has donated her paintings to the Monroe Woman's Club, Father Campion fundraisers, the YMCA, United Way, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Monroe Theatre Guild, the Humane Society, Monroe Arts Center and the Food Pantry - to name a few.

"I don't have a lot of funds to donate, but I have a talent to donate," she said. "I'm a person that just likes giving back."

She may be best known for the mural she created at Baumgartner's, completed in 2000. The 12-foot mural isn't just a reflection of the town and the tavern, it also reflects patrons who became characters in the work. King listened to the patrons and regulars and their stories while she worked on the mural - they all have a place in the painting.

King has also done murals for Poncho & Lefty's, Perk's and the Behring Senior Center and has taken on large projects for the hospital - the permanent cross in front of the building and the nativity scene redo.

In 1996, King started her Monroe series, painting a different detailed picture of Monroe each Cheese Days. She has now finished the series but will still do Monroe paintings.

"Monroe is such a great little place to live," she said. "It's been really good to us."

King sees the importance of giving others the opportunity for art. She began a "Mad Mudders" group after students from a class she taught at Blackhawk Technical College didn't want the class to end.

When her students didn't have enough time during art class to finish projects, and she heard about adults wanting time to make art, King began "Art After Dark," a program where people are welcomed into the high school two evenings per month to create art as they please.

She has also painted the school play sets for the past 17 years and helped with costumes and makeup.

But her involvement hasn't stopped at art. She also spent seven years as the track coach and was the football cheerleading coach for seven years. She was a Monroe Optimist, and still helps with club events when she can.

In fact, there's little that King won't try. When her children were learning to play the violin, King jumped on board and learned, too - and kept on playing long after them. Now, she plays the African drums with a group at Union Presbyterian church on Wednesday nights and has accompanied students at the fine arts festival.

For the past 16 years, King has gone with her sister to a clay camp outside of Dodgeville; it's where King's love for making pottery began.

This November, the Monroe Arts Center will reveal art from King, a personal look at art she is making as a reflection of herself.

"This will be a milestone because it will be just about the art and not making something for someone," she said. Although she tries to teach her students to create art for themselves, she said she rarely does that because she's so often creating for others.

Retirement isn't on the radar for King just yet - she still loves what she does. But one day, she does dream of working as a full-time artist. She said she's finally becoming more confident with her art.

"I'm never happy with all of my work," she said. "There's always something I wish I had done better."

Two of her three children have also followed in their mother's artistic footsteps and are making livings in the art field as well.

Her son Jeff works for the Denver Art Museum in Colorado, and her daughter Jenny is a high school art teacher in Denver. She has six grandchildren and enjoys spending time with them. King also enjoys having breakfast with friends once a week and goes to yoga whenever she can.

Although many might tell King that she needs to slow down, she just can't bring herself to agree with them.

"It all goes back to when I was a kid and I had cancer," she said. "Every day is an opportunity to accomplish something.

"I have too much stuff to do in this world. I always want to do more."