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.