Kathryn Campbell Merriam (Kay), 87, of Pocatello, Idaho, died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism at Pocatello Regional Medical Center on December 4, 2019. As her dear friend Ralph Hauser observed, “a bright star has gone out of the sky.” Kay was born to Lodema and Edgar Merton Campbell on May 5th, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. She was the fourth of five daughters. Kay spent her childhood riding her horse Molly around Los Angeles, through orange groves and vegetable farms that are now covered with freeways and housing developments. Kay’s love of nature was fostered at an early age, when her family spent weekends at their cabin at Mt. Baldy and summers in Yosemite National Park. As she recalled, “It was so neat because we would see the wild animals, mostly deer and black bears, swim in the Merced River, take hikes and, on Saturday nights, watch the Fire Fall. Those times strengthened my appreciation for environmental issues, mountain areas and taking long hikes.”
Kay loved travel and adventure. After college, she and friend Barbara Reeds spent an entire year traveling around Europe. A highlight was the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina D’Ampesso, Italy. As she described, “We were two young women spending a year in Europe. On that beautiful day, when the Cortina festivities began, we halted comparisons of architecture, art, churches, food, people, and languages and focused on this sparkling event. We sat in the snow to watch ski jumping. What I remember the most is the camaraderie. People from various countries easily mixed with one another.” She would later travel extensively in Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Kay also volunteered for the Peace Corps in South Africa between 1999 and 2000. In her own words, “All of these trips have been taken to enhance my understanding of the human condition and to enjoy environmental assets of other countries. It is important to me to discover ideas, attitudes and perceptions and interact with the people of each country.”
Kay started working in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1949, where she met her husband, John Merriam, who was a climbing ranger. She and John were married on August 14, 1960 in Arcadia, California. They moved to Idaho in 1964, where John was the chair of the Department of Economics at Idaho State University (ISU). As she described, “our attraction to Idaho was based on backpacking for both of us; fishing and climbing for John and having places to ride a horse for me. We very quickly discovered that the amazing beauty of Idaho’s mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, wildlife and unique wildflowers and trees were often nicely hidden from highways. The most compelling of all the trails and destinations we explored was the White Clouds.” She and John became deeply involved in a grass-roots effort to curtail molybdenum mining in the White Clouds and in 1970 the area was established as a wilderness study area and protected from becoming an open pit mine. After John Merriam died in 1973, Idaho Senator Frank Church asked Kay if she would like to have a mountain named after John in honor of his efforts. She selected the mountain adjacent to Castle Peak in the White Clouds, now known as Merriam Peak. In 2015, Merriam Peak and the surrounding area was officially established as the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness as part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Kay’s career was dedicated to education. After graduating in 1949 from John Muir High School in Pasadena, she received her B.A. in Education from the University of Los Angeles in 1954, where she was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority. She then earned a Master’s degree in Education from ISU in 1966. Kay taught in the public schools in both California and Idaho. After her husband died, she went back to school and earned a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut in 1984. She was very interested in how people learned and focused her PhD, “Latent development of outstanding ability,” on people who had become successful despite a lack of formal education. Based on this understanding, she opened her own business, called ‘Synthesis’, to help students who were not well served by traditional education, including gifted and talented students as well as students at risk of dropping out. She focused on addressing individual learning styles and sparking creativity in her students.
In addition to her academic interest in creativity, Kay was extremely creative in her personal life. She was talented at a diverse array of creative pursuits, including painting, drawing, music, poetry, embroidery, batik, and crochet. Early in her career, she published a number of drawings to illustrate instructional materials. Later in life, after taking a plant identification class from Dr. Karl Holte at ISU, she used colored pencils to produce many detailed and beautiful botanical illustrations. She also loved photography and was deeply inspired by Ansel Adams, who she invited to stay at her and John’s home during his visit to ISU in the early 1960s.
Kay was an active member of a large number of community organizations, including the Idaho Native Plant Society, Portneuf Audubon Society, Bannock County Democrats, Idaho Conservation League, the Sierra Club, and the Bannock Humane Society. She was a member of the Bannock County Planning and Zoning Commission beginning in 1984 and served as the Chairperson from 1988-1999. She was an active member of the League of Women Voters between 1972-2003, and served as both the state and local president. She led a number of large initiatives to educate voters on important issues including Judicial Independence, Nuclear Waste Disposal and Land Use Planning. Later in life she taught classes on gifted, personality style, judicial independence, and how to paint a barn quilt for New Knowledge Adventures.
Beginning in 2005, Kay hosted a monthly television program entitled ‘Conversations.’ She interviewed experts about a diverse set of topics, ranging from water use to playing the guitar. She also wrote articles for the Idaho State Journal, allowing her to share her perspectives on events in Idaho. She was often recognized for her contributions, including most recently on November 1, 2019 by the NAACP, who awarded her the Medgars Evers Award for Distinguished Service for, “... your significant contributions to the community through your time, actions, talents, and your dedication to increasing the knowledge of our community on social justice, liberty and freedom.“
Kay was quick to make friends with people of all ages and backgrounds. Her only criteria for friendship was that you were a real person, someone who was authentic and sincere. She maintained many close, life-long friendships. As Gwen Herron, a friend she had maintained since elementary school, remarked, “I always felt good after talking to her”. Kay’s spirit of adventure, love of nature, commitment to education, and community activism will live on in all of the people whose lives were touched by her. Kay will be remembered for her spirit of adventure, love of nature, commitment to education, and community. She will be greatly missed.
Kay is survived by her two daughters, Kyle Merriam (Kevin McAllister) and Jennifer Merriam, a large extended family, and many dear personal friends. She was predeceased by her parents, husband, sisters Jean Whalley, Lois Berry, Joan Thompson and Hiedi Estep, and by her two infant sons, Michael and Jeffrey.
In honor of Kay, the family asks that donations in her memory be made to the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust (sagebrushlandtrust.org, 208 241-4662).
The family has decided to postpone the Celebration of Life for Kay Merriam until a future date as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Please check back for updates or contact Jennifer Merriam (email@example.com) for more information.
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