Practicing artist, mathematician and author from Gonzales hits the century mark
When Katherine “Kitty” Baker talks about hitting triple digits, she’s not complaining about the grueling August heat.
She’s not complaining one bit. In fact, she’s actually celebrating.
Kitty is commemorating hitting the century mark, as she turned 100 years old this week.
And, as a respected and cherished artist, mathematician and author, Kitty has enjoyed a lifetime of learning and passing on what she has learned. And she looks forward to more and more of it.
“I hit the triple digits today,” she says over a cup of coffee and oatmeal cookies on a toasty Tuesday morning. “I am officially 100 years old.”
So to what does Kitty attribute her longevity?
“To the Cardwell family genes, my mother’s side” she beams unpretentiously. “I had one aunt who lived to be 108.”
Born in Lynchburg, Va. to Robert and Margaret Cardwell on Aug. 21, 1912, Kitty quickly displayed an interest in math and art. Her passion for those master crafts stayed with her well through her graduation from E.C. Glass High School in 1930.
“My father was an architect, and my mother was a school teacher,” she recalls of her beloved parents.
Kitty began her collegiate career at Randolph Macon’s College in Virginia, where she got her Bachelor of Arts with special honors in mathematics in 1934.
“I also minored in German and art,” she recalls. “My art teachers were Dr. Beatrice Von Keller and Georgia Morgan.”
From there, Kitty furthered her studies at the University of Chicago.
“I went there for a year and got my Bachelor of Science in mathematics in 1936,” she says.
Kitty later married the love of her life, Paul Baker, in December 1936.
“We had three daughters, and then came two granddaughters and four grandsons,” she beams.
Kitty then embarked on an impressive teaching career, including stints at Baylor University (1936-1963), Lynchburg College (1942-1944), Randolph Macon Woman’s College (1944-1946), San Antonio College (1964-1976) and Trinity University (part-time, 1965-66).
But the world of mathematics wasn’t the only one Kitty wanted to conquer. She also immersed herself in art and weaving, two pursuits which appropriately reflect the creative side of her personality.
“I studied art at Baylor,” she says. “I learned from Edmund Kinzinger, Austin Killian, Bruce Dean, Gay Wilson Turner and Reynould Arnould. I studied with Arnould in Paris in the summer of 1952.”
Kitty also studied art at Trinity University.
“I learned from Robert Tiemann and Jim Stoker while at Trinity,” she says.
Kitty later added weaving to her educational repertoire, studying under Hagar Celmins in San Antonio from 1969-75, and Margaret Demster in Dallas during spring 1977. In addition, she taught art at Arts Magnet High School in Dallas.
“When my late husband Paul and I were at Baylor, I was teaching math, and he was head of the drama department,” she says. “I had helped start the children’s theater there. A few years later, Jeanine Wagner, the woman who had been running the theater, co-wrote a book called ‘A Place for Ideas’ (1965).”
In 1963, the Bakers decided to make Gonzales their home.
“Paul and I came to Gonzales in ‘63, and I have lived here ever since,” she says. “It was definitely different back then. I remember there being a lot fewer people back in ’63.
“When we moved here, we worked at Waelder ISD as volunteers,” she says. “Paul and I later co-wrote ‘Making Sense with Five Senses’ (1993) based on the work we did with the children there.”
The Bakers worked in the Waelder classrooms for two years, and would have staff meetings with the teachers in which they discussed certain children who needed to learn in different ways.
“One child could learn more through sound, and another could learn through touch,” she explains. “We helped the teachers reach their students and unlock their potential in a whole new way. Through the methods explained in the book, you could take a kid who wasn’t paying attention in class and still get him involved. They could take something like chemistry and learn it through sound and rhythm.”
Kitty aptly refers to a learning technique she dubbed “integration of abilities.”
“We called it ‘Integration of Abilities’ because you sum up all the abilities a student has under a curve,” she explains. “We could overlap them with each other till you have a custom-fit learning technique based on that student’s needs.”
Kitty may be best known locally as a founder of the Discovery Center at the Presbyterian Church in Gonzales, where she helped mothers and children by taking care of youngsters during the week while giving them projects from which they could learn.
Along with good friends Joe and Catherine Davis, Kitty started the center in 1993.
“Prior to that, there had been no program where mothers could leave their children twice a week and go run their errands or do whatever they needed to do,” she says. “And Discovery featured an enriched program in which children were able to do a lot of painting, drawing, reading and story-telling.
“We had easels made so small children could stand up and paint,” she recalls. “I also helped paint and keep up a little playhouse for the kids, which is still there.”
Kitty added that the Discovery Center continues to do well, and includes children from all denominations.
“We have kids of all races, too,” she says. “The idea has always been to not just have Caucasian kids, but all ethnicities. The first little girl who joined the Discovery program just graduated high school, and she was 3 when she started. Now she’s going to college. I think that’s great.”
Kitty, family and friends will be celebrating her birthday at the Presbyterian Church Sunday, Aug. 26, and she can’t wait.
“We’re going to have a covered dish dinner after our service,” she says. “A lot of relatives and friends will be coming from out of town. I’m really looking forward to it.”