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Katherine Karkkainen

County Native Is
Arkansas’ Best

By Jeanne Sager
LONG EDDY — January 23, 2004–Who’d have ever imagined?
The top art teacher in all of Arkansas is a smalltown girl from Long Eddy. And she’s come a long way from her Sullivan County roots.
Katherine Karkkainen was born and raised in Long Eddy, graduated in 1979 from Delaware Valley Central School and went off to get a fine arts degree from SUNY Geneseo.
She’s worked for Kodak in Rochester as a commercial artist, and she spent a year teaching in Virginia Beach, Va. before moving even farther south with husband Paul, a contractor from North Little Rock, Ark.
She’s been there for nine years, and now she’s teaching eighth and ninth graders about one of the things she loves most in this world – art.
It was her passion and interest that earned Karkkainen a nomination from her fellow art teachers for the top teaching distinction.
And after putting together a hefty application, Karkkainen learned that she’d won on the middle school level for her work at Cabot Junior High North.
It was a little overwhelming to be honored, she admitted, but a nice feeling overall.
Karkkainen ties her love of art back to her beginnings – for as long as she can remember, she was drawing.
It was something her parents, Francis “Corky” and Helen Karkkainen, encouraged in their daughter.
A lot of parents try to push their children toward a career with a little more certainty and stability, Karkkainen noted.
“But they kind of let me find my own way,” she recalled. “It helped that they were always very supportive of me going into the arts.”
Her dad says he wanted her to continue with her art as far as it took her.
“I don’t believe in breaking one’s spirit,” Francis Karkkainen said. “I don’t like to burst her bubble.”
The Karkkainens are proud of their daughter – when they visit Arkansas and meet with Katherine’s students, they all have the highest praise for her, Francis said.
Almost as influential in Karkkainen’s life was the former Marion Rutledge (now Passante), who taught elementary art when Karkkainen was a small child at Delaware Valley and later taught her high school art classes.
“I loved her,” Karkkainen said. “She was a great role model.
“She brought art to life – she really enjoyed it, and she brought that to us.”
Passante was thrilled to hear about the success of one of her students.
“She was an exceptional student, very creative, very talented,” Passante recalled. “This made my day – art was always something I wanted children to succeed at.”
This honor is well deserved, she continued, and its nice to know that Karkkainen chose to get into teaching and share her love of art.
Karkkainen said she actually didn’t realize she wanted to be a teacher until she was at Kodak. The company sent some of their staff into the schools to mentor children.
“Once I was back in the classroom, I kind of got the itch,” she recalled.
So when Kodak was starting layoffs and offering employees buyouts to go back to college, Karkkainen jumped at the chance to go to Nazareth and get her teaching certificate.
She then headed south, winding up in Virginia where she hoped to escape the cold winters of her hometown.
It was there that she met Sadler, who was doing a job in the Virginia Beach area. After a year there, Karkkainen joined Sadler in Arkansas.
She’s been teaching there ever since.
“I do what I do because I enjoy it, and I try to do the best for my kids,” Karkkainen explained.
Meanwhile, she does her own work at home, mostly fiber art which she gives as gifts to friends and family.
“It seems like once you start selling it, you lose the fun,” she explained. “But when I’m teaching, I’m watching the kids create and I really want to be doing my own thing – so when I get home, I’m still pumped up to do it.”

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