When her children were growing up, Katharine “Kitty” Stark Caldwell ’74 (pictured above) watched them return from summer camps and travels transformed. “Whether they were at a wilderness camp or doing community service, they would always come back and be so inspired and energized,” said Caldwell, who is originally from Wytheville, Virginia, but now lives in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. “It made such a huge difference in their lives, and I thought if my children were feeling this, just think what this kind of opportunity could do for someone from a low-income family.”
So in 2000, she created the Passport Scholars Program, a nonprofit organization that provides financially disadvantaged public school students in Hamilton County, Tennessee, the opportunity and support needed to travel abroad or to a variety of summer enrichment programs across the United States.
Caldwell headed the program for six years and still keeps in touch with many of its participants. “It’s wonderful to hear their enthusiasm and their ideas when they come back,” she said. “It’s a real feel-good moment in my life when I hear how impactful that summer has been for the students, and what a difference it has made in their lives.”
The program is now a part of the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, of which Caldwell is a board member.
Giving back has long been a vital part of Caldwell’s life, and the Passport Scholars Program is just one of the organizations she has been involved with, both at home and across the nation. After graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College with an art history degree, Caldwell attended graduate school at the University of Cincinnati before meeting and marrying her husband of 35 years, Hacker, and raising four children. “I was always interested in history and political science,” Caldwell said. “I didn’t even know art history really existed as something to study until I was at R-MWC.”
That love of art has become an everyday passion in her life. She and her husband are actively involved in the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Randolph’s own Maier Museum of Art. “Both Hacker and I are very civic-minded and committed to the arts and to educational institutions,” Caldwell said. “That’s what is important to us.”
Her love of the College prompted Caldwell to accept a position on the Board of Trustees in 2002, and she and her husband are generous donors. In 2008, the Caldwells gave a $1 million gift to the College.
“I always felt like the College was the first place where adults took me seriously,” Caldwell said. “Your ideas were valued, and I feel like that is still the case today. Being on the Board has been an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, and I’ve developed a lot of close relationships and have grown and learned so much.”