GREENVILLE— Kathy Brewer, born to Wilton and Mary Jane Stone in Knoxville, Tenn., eventually made her way to Darke County, all the while playing various roles in life and various extracurricular activities.
She is a retired music educator; a daughter; wife and mother of two daughters, one of whom had Down syndrome; a piano player; singer; and now a seamstress.
She met Rick Brewer of Darke County, in college at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., where both were studying to be music teachers.
They wed on July 24, 1976; thus, will be celebrating 46 years of wedlock on their upcoming anniversary. Today, they share their home with their little Shorkie, Lucie.
The couple became parents of Elizabeth Boatman Brewer on May 2, 1981, and Mary Kathryn Brewer, on June 17, 1984.
Being a mother is just another one of Kathy’s greatest achievements. She said when they learned Elizabeth had Down syndrome, they were shocked at first.
“And, in all honesty, heart broken,” Kathy admitted. “We had no reason to expect any problems so it was very difficult to accept at first. The first month of her life, we had to wait on results from her blood tests to confirm the doctors’ suspicions. It was so hard just to wait. When it was confirmed, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders. That was when Rick went to the library and found out all he could about Down syndrome. That didn’t make it easier to accept, but it gave us ideas on what we could or should expect from her and what we could or should do for her.”
The couple decided they would bring her up to live well in this world.
“Because we knew the world wouldn’t adapt to her,” Kathy went on to explain. “One thing Rick found out was the earlier she would receive stimulation, the better off she would be. So when she was about six weeks old, we took her to Hopkinsville, Ky., to a program called Infant Stimulation. Children with Down’s have weak muscles and muscle tone, so the therapist started teaching us exercises to help her learn to roll over, push up and how to sit up. Children with Down’s can learn on their own; however, they tend to learn very slowly.
We even had to stick her tongue back in her mouth when she would get tired and just let it stick out of her mouth.”
The Brewers had to teach her how to cross-pattern crawl, which they said was a challenge.
“She fought us tooth and nail,” Kathy said. “We didn’t stop trying and she didn’t stop being stubborn. Down’s children can be extremely stubborn too. We tried bribing her with apples, soda, M&M’s and it made no difference.”
Then one day, Elizabeth dropped her ball.
“She was already walking, but she still had not mastered the crawling, and the ball went under the table,” Kathy said. “She bent right over, got on her hands and knees and crawled over to get her ball. I was so excited I squealed and clapped. I scared her so bad she dropped the ball again.”
When Elizabeth was still an infant, they nearly lost her.
“She developed croup and had to be hospitalized at least three times, maybe more,” Kathy recalled. “She had to be intubated because her throat would close down and she could not breathe. Such a horrible time. At one point she was hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Hospital for 17 days. We thought we would lose her. But that was a visit that made Mommy and Daddy realize how lucky we were. We saw children there with life-altering diseases and birth defects. When we took her home finally, we realized how blessed we were with this precious baby.”
According to Kathy, Elizabeth had upper respiratory issues which kept causing her to get sick.
“Allergies and asthma combined, and the last major illness she had was Adeno Viral pneumonia in both lungs A AND B,” she said. “She was finally on the road to better health. While she was in the hospital, we gave her the nickname of Eb, her initials. We went to see E.T. and the scene where he is lying on the floor reaching for Elliot’s Mom, crying, ‘ET phone home,’ all I could think of was Eb go home! It stuck.”
Kathy had this to say about Eb, “She had an incredible sense of humor, loved to dance, sing and be with our students from elementary school where I taught and high school where Rick taught. These students were so loving and accepting of her. This was when we lived in Kentucky, but she loved our students here at Bradford and Woodland Heights Elementary just as well. These students were so wonderful with her too.”
She continued, “One thing we always noticed about her was, she loved just about everyone…but if she didn’t, there was usually a good reason. I think many special needs children have that innate sense of a person’s sincerity and trustworthiness. She wanted independence and to have her ‘own life.’ She didn’t hesitate to tell me that, but she refused to see any limitations with herself. She lived to work, cheer at Wayne Industries basketball games, sing and dance in school. And I will brag on her because she was so well-behaved. Many with developmental disabilities are so well-behaved anyway.”
In the beginning, the Brewers had no idea she had Down’s and no reason to expect anything was wrong.
“When she was born, I cried for a month because she had Down’s,” Kathy noted. “She wasn’t the ‘perfect’ child every parent thinks they will have and whom we had prepared to have. When we finally got through the grieving stages and to total acceptance, life became a lot easier. She was such a blessing from God. In fact, my life verse that I held onto through her hard times and ours too, was Jeremiah 33:3. ‘Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know.’ Clearly, God was telling me this precious little girl was going to show us incredible and amazing things in her life. And she did.”
Rick and Kathy indicated they were sort of thrown into an empty nest with Eb’s passing on Dec. 3, 2018.
“When she died I was numb,” Kathy said. “Of course, I cried. We all did. Her sister and Daddy and I were going through the motions. Our families were in disbelief as well. But I want to say, all her cousins from here in Ohio, aunts, uncles, close family friends, all came to the hospital and stayed. We all sang that precious child into heaven, singing her favorite church songs. I knew the angels were there to escort her to our heavenly Father and that she was in the arms of Jesus. I knew He was saying to her, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant!’ My whole family came from Tennessee and her funeral was one of the most beautiful services I have ever seen. I have never seen so many people attend a funeral. She was so greatly loved.”
It has been the hardest three years of their lives.
“I miss her hugs,” Kathy said. “She gave the best hugs. I miss her laughter, her exuberance for life and her fixing my hair. I would sit on the floor in front of her and she would brush my hair, put it up in bands and hair clips. We would have movie marathons when her daddy would go out of town. We watched so many of them we would know what lines were coming up and say them to each other. ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat!’ That was our favorite quote.”
The two sisters did get to graduate together in 2003, Kathy said.
“Mary Kathryn has had a rough time because she had to return to the University of Missouri but we love our memories of our times together,” Kathy said.
Mary Kathryn, nicknamed by the family as MK, is living in Fort Lupton, Col., with her husband, Erich, whom she married April 18, 2020. He is from Pennsylvania and has his degree as an electrical engineer.”
“To coin a phrase they ‘coron-eloped,'” Kathy said. “We had planned to go to the wedding but, because of Covid, everyone had to cancel their trip. We still got to see MK and Erich get married on Live Feed. The minister, organist, matron of honor and her husband were there.”
Mary Kathryn has her doctorate in vocal music and pedagogy, as well as vocal performance. She has written two books on the Vocal Music of Verdi and Art Songs he composed.
“Her second book hopefully will be distributed sometime this year,” Kathy said. “She is teaching at the University of Colorado at Greeley and completing her third year.”
Kathy herself graduated from Knoxville Central High School in 1972 and graduated from Austin Peay State University in 1978.
Having earned her master’s degree in music education from Wright State University, she worked for five years at Elkton Elementary in Elkton Ky., from 1978-83, and after moving to Greenville, taught at Woodland Heights Elementary for 23 years and at South School for two years until she retired in 2011.”
Kathy, who attends Greenville First Baptist Church where she also plays piano, is a former member (for 20 years) of the Dayton Opera Chorus, In her younger days, she was active with the Darke County Civic Theater, where she played Mamita in ‘Gigi,’ and the Mother Superior in ‘The Sound of Music.’
“Mary Kathryn also was in this and played the part of Marta, one of the younger children,”shesaid. “That was fun to be in a musical with my youngest. Then, in ‘The Music Man,’ all four of us were in this together. The last musical I performed in was with The Towne and Country Players as ‘Mame.'”
When did her musical talent become evident?
“I was surrounded by music when I was growing up,” said Kathy. “I was the baby of five and all of my siblings either sang or played an instrument. My mother played piano and gave lessons and she was also a singer. My grandmother and great-grandmother played piano as well as organs in their churches. I always loved to sing with records my mother would play…Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I would make up my own songs when I was climbing trees and swinging.”
Kathy said she began piano lessons when she was 8 and voice lessons at the age of 12.
“I loved drama, so singing unrequited love songs (art songs) was such great fun,” she said.
She then entered vocal competitions in eighth grade through Y-Teens as well as through the Music Teacher National Conference.
“When I won these, it confirmed in my mind this was meant for me,” she said. “Eventually, I began learning arias from operas and learned Italian, French and German.”
She said she played the lead roles from musicals: Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz;’ Julie in ‘Showboat’ (Julie) and at University of Tennessee Choral Camp; and Carmen in the opera of the same name.
In college, she said, the performing continued, thanks to vocal scholarships she received. The first was to Middle Tennessee State University and then Austin Peay State University. While there, she entered the Miss APSU Pageant in 1974 and won, and then represented APSU at The Miss Tennessee Pageant, winning one of 10 scholarships that enabled her to continue her education.
Kathy, who just this last year became a member of the Darke County Republican Women, is now a seamstress and loves making alterations and repairs.
“I took home economics class in my eighth and ninth grades,” said Kathy, who loves doing ribbon embroidery. “My mother was an incredibly talented seamstress so I learned many things from her as well. She would create such beautiful wedding gowns and she made all of my gowns for proms, competitions and, of course, for my wedding. I learned one thing about myself though…I prefer altering clothes…hemming, replacing zippers, repairing seams, letting out seams or taking in seams. I do not have any desire to cut out patterns, then cut out the cloth and then sew together. Since I am retired, it occupies most of my time.”