Memories of Karen Bittermann Kitzmiller

1947 - 2001

MAY 22, 2001

Karen B. Kitzmiller

MONTPELIER -- Karen (Bittermann) Kitzmiller, 53, died Sunday, May 20, 2001 following a four and a half-year battle with breast cancer. She passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by her family.

Karen was born in Champaign, Illinois on November 28, 1947, the daughter of Ann & Norm Bittermann. She attended public schools in Ohio, Florida and Maryland, and graduated from Cornell University in 1969.

Karen was married in 1975 to Warren F. Kitzmiller, and lived her entire married life in Montpelier. She and Warren have two daughters, Amy and Carrie. In addition to her family, survivors include her parents, Ann & Norm Bittermann of Berlin, VT, her sister-in-law Susan Bittermann and nieces Jessica & Vanessa Bittermann of Middlesex,VT, and her brother Kent (Rusty) Bittermann, his wife Margaret and nieces Kristina, Kim, and Emma, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Prior to her marriage, Karen was Assistant Director to the South Boston Girl's Club, a group worker with Tufts Mental Health in South Boston, working with mothers in adult education, and was Director of the YWCA in Charlestown, MA. She moved to Vermont in 1974, and was first employed at the Central Vermont Community Action Council, establishing food shelves and community gardens in Orange, Washington and Lamoille Counties. Later, she was employed by the Vermont Office on Aging, managing the Senior Meals Programs for Vermont.

In 1986, Karen left state government to run Montpelier Guest Home, a bed and breakfast lodging business in her home. She was also a skilled silk-screen artist whose hand-screened drawings of Vermont farm scenes and flower note cards were sold by many area craft stores and galleries.

Karen is best known as a Representative in the Vermont legislature, a position to which she was elected for six terms, starting in 1991. She served on the House Health and Welfare committee. In recent years, since her own cancer diagnosis, she was a champion of issues relating to cancer and itsˇ¦ treatment, fighting for patient rights and insurance coverage. She was also instrumental in passage of the recent campaign finance reform law, working to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Karen was the Breast Cancer Survivor of the Year for 1998, the Vermont State Medical Society Citizen of the Year for 1997, the Central Vermont Business and Professional Women "Woman of Achievement" for 1997. She has been Chair of the Governor's Commission on Affirmative Action, and Chair of the Commission on Public Health Care Values and Priorities.

In Karenˇ¦s honor, her fellow Board Members of the Vermont Promise Fund intend to establish the Karen Kitzmiller Promise Fund at the University of Vermont College of Medicine Office of Clinical Trials, with funds in excess of $250,000.

An ardent supporter of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, Karen was instrumental in opening the Board of Directors to a public trustee, which forever changed the character of the library.

Her flower and vegetable gardens were very important to her life, as were family vacations, bicycling, cross-country skiing and time spent at her family camp on a remote island in the woods of Maine.

Karen lived a wonderful life that was balanced between family, friends and career. Her life will be celebrated at a memorial service at the Old Meeting House Church in East Montpelier Center on Saturday, May 26, 2001 at 2pm. Because of very limited parking near the church, people who can are asked to take a shuttle bus, which will run from Montpelier High School and stop at Main Street Middle School on the way to and from the church, beginning at noon.

In lieu of flowers, people who wish to may make charitable donations to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, Montpelier 05602, or the Montpelier City Parks Fund, c/o City Manager's Office, City Hall, Montpelier 05602.

Carrie - Amy - Warren - Karen

Memories of Karen

In early December 1999, Karen told me about a Christmas gift she was planning for her daughters. She wanted to assemble a collection of memories and impressions that would allow her girls to see her from a different perspective. She wanted them to know there were other facets of "mom". The following is my contribution to Karen's book:

It was the early sixties when Karen and I first met. Our friendship evolved gradually as we shared class after class together. We were college-bound students on the "academic" track. I was a good student and made fine grades, but I was never really smart like Karen. Karen just "exuded smartness" and I was awed by her intelligence. Best of all it was a gentle intelligence. Karen didn't flaunt her smarts or use them to intimidate or impress others. Although subtle, it was very apparent that Karen had brains. I knew it. We all knew it.

I'm afraid my memory of those days has softened and events that were once so vibrant have faded and retreated to some inaccessible corner of my mind, refusing to be coaxed out again. What I do remember is a tall, slender, attractive young girl - serene, composed, capable, ethical, kind, a high achiever. At that awkward time when most of us were desperately trying to get a handle on some sort of personal identity, Karen seemed to have a firm sense of self. I remember her as confident and secure when most of us were plagued with insecurities and self doubt. To her credit, she had no proclivities toward judgmental thinking or pettiness. Our friendship was easy and comfortable and true. I could relax around Karen. We were girlfriends.

We endured a dreadful art class together. It still amazes me that such an experience didn't destroy any desire either of us had for future creative endeavors. One memorable project forced us to spend hours tediously gluing teeny pieces of colored class together to create a questionable mosaic. In Mr. Downey's POD class we collaborated on an oral report sort of a 60 Minutes style expose of abuses in the funeral industry. I have no idea how we landed on that topic, but most likely it was Karen's idea since she was clearly more in tune with social issues than I was at that time. If it hadn't been the early sixties, I imagine we would have been buddies on some sports team. We were both athletic, but girls weren't encouraged to be physically active and so we shared some rather awful first period gym classes - probably playing field hockey. During those early foggy mornings I anguished about my hairdo. Karen tolerated my silliness, didn't burden herself with such trivial vanities. But then, her signature pageboy was always in place ("Cleopatra on the Nile" she appropriately signed one picture in my yearbook). We skipped class once and hid in the bathroom and counted to 500 - quite a daring act for such "good" girls. In the final days of our senior year when the teachers had long since abandoned any effort to maintain our attention, Karen and I entertained ourselves with an ongoing game of "dots". We covered a huge piece of cardboard with hundreds of rows of dots. We carried it from class to class, connecting the dots and initialing the resultant squares. It was a fitting finale to the many games of dots we secretly played in class over the years.

But more than anything else I remember the laughter. We laughed and giggled until we could hardly breathe. Karen had the most delightful, wacky, off-center sense of humor. In this respect we were perfectly in sync and very well- matched. I recall one passage in The Catcher in the Rye that we found particularly comical and it never failed to induce near-hysteria. We would read it aloud to each other and we were off again - laughing uncontrollably until we felt weak and our sides ached. It was glorious.

As I write this and mourn the loss of some of the details and fragments of our friendship, I know in my heart that it is my memory of the wholeness and the pure joy of the time spent together that really matters. There is a part of me that is better and happier for sharing such times with Karen. She is part of me and always will be, forever.

Judy Gordon

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