After a rough start, an enviable life

Katharine Relkoff is one of those rare and enviable people: she has created the life she wished for; a large family, meaningful work, a lifestyle she loves in a place she enjoys, and all of this with...

Katharine Relkoff is one of those rare and enviable people: she has created the life she wished for; a large family, meaningful work, a lifestyle she loves in a place she enjoys, and all of this with a man who is a true partner and soul mate.

The path that led to these accomplishments was not an easy one, but her story is inspiring.

Vancouver was the scene of a childhood that was a happy one until her father was diagnosed with leukemia when Relkoff was 15. He was given two years to live, and though he lived for five it was a traumatic and terrible time for his wife and two daughters.

As the eldest, and with a mother too distraught to cope adequately with the situation, it fell upon Relkoff to take her father to his many appointments and treatments.

Adolescence is often a time of turmoil; Relkoff’s was coloured by her father’s illness and it was not surprising to learn that by the age of 19 she was married. A baby came within the year, and the marriage was already in trouble.

Pregnant again, she found herself living in a women’s shelter with her child while divorcing her husband. She was 23.

These are circumstances that prove a person’s mettle. This was her wake-up call and it led to a clear and conscious recognition that she could choose to be in charge: she could be responsible for how her life would be for herself, her child, and the child who was coming. Relkoff took it on; she took responsibility for her life. She was going to make it what she wanted.

She has never looked back; the enduring emotions from those troubled times has been gratitude for what she has been able to achieve, and pride in making good choices.

She found co-op housing and began taking the elective courses necessary to go into nursing, a career choice resulting from the many hours spent in hospitals with her father. She swore off men. With a three-year-old and a one-year-old, a full schedule of courses, and a goal, she not only had no inclination to meet a man, she had little time.

One of her girlfriends kept trying to set her up; she rejected every effort her friend made. Finally, she was asked “What would be the qualities of an acceptable man. Katharine emphasized kindness and commitment in her description. Her friend said “I know exactly the right guy.” Having resisted all up-front efforts to get them to meet, the friend finally resorted to trickery and managed to get Rick and Katharine together for dinner at her house.

Katharine says they talked for six hours. Rick says he knew immediately he wanted to marry her.

Rick became one of those good new choices Katharine was making for herself. In every reference to him throughout the interview, though her words brimmed with appreciation of him, it was the look on her face that told the most. It is a pleasant thing to witness, that unmistakable look of love and pleasure when she speaks of Rick.

Becoming a nurse was years of hard, and expensive, training. Katharine’s was made a little harder when she discovered she was pregnant—with twins. She is quick to credit Rick with making it all possible: he worked two jobs and looked after the two kids while Katharine got her degree.

Once Katharine was working, Rick elected to stay home with the four children. It was a good arrangement for both of them, giving Rick an opportunity to bond with the kids and Katharine a chance to work at a job she loved.

In her teens, Katharine, child of the city, had visited a friend in Quesnel and discovered small town life. From that time on, living in a small town was added to the dream of creating a large family.

In Shuswap, she and Rick lived that dream.

Twenty seven years ago, Rick had spent a year in Watson Lake. He’d worked for Ivan Raketti, building the town swimming pool. Memories of the place were good and often recounted. When the commuting involved in Katharine’s job in Shuswap got to be problematic and they were looking for another small town in which to relocate, Watson Lake was the natural choice.

They arrived here with their four children in 2000.

Nearly a year later, a premature baby was born at the hospital that was in need of advanced medical care, care her parents were unable to provide. Katharine and Rick took Sylvia home from the hospital and today this happy, healthy little girl is part of their family.

Watson Lake is a wonderful place for them to live, Katharine says.

Compared to other small towns, this one has almost every service they need. Most shopping can be done here, and there is a good choice of activities for their kids. The only thing missing, in her opinion, is airline service.

Katharine appreciates the lifestyle. Though her job is a good one and provides career satisfaction, her family is the most important part of her life. Being able to walk to work and to the schools frees her up to have more time with them; that time is what is of the utmost value to her. She mentions, too, the feeling of safety she enjoys, for herself and her children.

Asked how she thinks she is viewed by family and friends, Katharine says she believes “hard-working and fun-loving” would cover it. She hopes the community sees her as approachable and trustworthy.

Her best quality is patience, though that same patience means she sometimes allows situations to go too far, often not speaking out soon enough to prevent that invisible line in the sand being crossed. When that happens, she reveals, she tends to be somewhat unforgiving. She recognizes clearer communication would be a good thing and she tries for it; she needs a better early warning system.

Nothing much angers her, though spiteful people can do it.

As to what makes her happy? That’s easy—her family makes her happy. There is an underlying gratitude and appreciation for everything about her life. She wants to live long enough to have great grandchildren; she wants to be the one with the house where everyone gathers.

Spiritual matters are not expressed through organized religion. Katharine believes everyone is here who belongs here and each has a purpose. She believes there is something larger than us, than this.

And what would people most likely not know about Katharine?

She loves scary amusement park rides—the scarier the better. Rick, not a fan of such sensations, has held her purse at Knottsberry Farm, Disneyland and the PNE while she indulges herself in the rush.

Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer based in Watson Lake.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read