Kathryn Wiquest Harner
October 7, 1937 – September 26, 2023
Last updated 10/17/2023 at 10:19am
Kathryn "Kate" was born to Lora and F. Engles Wiquest on October 7, 1937, in Barre, Vermont. Her father was a vice president at the Rock of Ages granite quarry and her mother was the nurse at the school where Kate and her younger sister, Gail, attended. Kate's parents nurtured her early love of music, even working a concession at the local fair to buy her first French horn, which she soon mastered. Although her family moved to California seeking better opportunities when Kate was 14, she always considered herself a Vermonter. Kate often recounted childhood memories of growing up in a small town - being welcomed by a neighbor with a hot cookie as she walked home from school, ice-skating on Joe's Pond in the winter, diving from its platform to swim with her friends in the summer, and spending special times at her grandmother's "wee hoos" in the countryside.
The summer before Kate's sophomore year, the Wiquests arrived at their new home in Whittier, California, where Kate learned of a summer band program. Don Harner, a trumpet player in the band, could not resist asking this new girl on a date and the rest is history. Kate attended Whittier High School and graduated from Whittier College on a music scholarship in 1959 after marrying Don in 1957. In fact, they just celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary, 71 years after they first met in band camp. As she was fond of saying with a wink and a smile, "He's a keeper!"
Don's medical education and career eventually led them from southern California to Santa Cruz County, where Kate taught elementary school for several years and while Don served a tour in Vietnam and she was left to tend to their young family on her own. After life returned to normal, Kate and Don spent their free time enjoying the outdoors; hiking and running on the wooded trails of Nisene Marks State Park or cycling the country roads. Kate was always thankful to have raised her family in Santa Cruz (Aptos) and made the most of the natural beauty that the coastal city offered, taking charge of family activities such as beekeeping, gardening, hiking, and backpacking. She instilled a lifelong love of the great outdoors in her children and grandchildren. Kate later earned her master's degree in Spanish and reestablished her teaching career to teach Spanish for several years.
Although it was hard to leave Santa Cruz and the lifelong friends they had made, upon retiring, Kate and Don sold their home, put their possessions in storage, and hit the road in an RV. They roamed around America without an itinerary, living one day at a time, for over four years. When their kids asked when they were going to settle down, they said they just needed to find the perfect place to live.
That place was Sisters, in a house they built on the banks of Whychus Creek. Many family memories have been made at this home, with its views of the creek, birds of all types, deer, wild turkeys, and even an occasional river otter. Kate's famous homemade croissants at the Thanksgiving dinner, followed by a Christmas tree hunt and big snowball fight in the woods were annual favorites with the grandkids.
Kate was a lifelong advocate of physical fitness and wholesome eating and was especially an inspiration to other young women. She could be seen running alongside the main roads in town before anyone had heard of Jazzercize or Jane Fonda workouts. At any age, Kate could be counted on to sport daring fashions while hosting gourmet meals with some new recipe she had discovered. Always seeking to learn new things, Kate was an avid reader who participated in many book clubs and enjoyed the lifelong relationships made through those connections.
She craved adventure and exploration and pursued her passions by traveling to every continent except Antarctica over the course of her lifetime. Kate's most memorable travels involved the people and sights of India, where she returned with two of her granddaughters who still consider those one-on-one trips with their grandma to be most meaningful experience of their lives. Don and Kate also arranged summer trips with the grandkids to the Olympic, Crater Lake, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks, while singing along to classic country songs in the truck.
Following a catastrophic fall, Kate spent her last days in her home on the creek, surrounded by her family, sharing favorite memories of a life lived to the fullest. We find solace in her own words, "Never feel sorry for me when my time comes. I've been so blessed with this fabulous life!"
Kate is survived by her loving husband, Don; sister Gail Conaway and nephews Jim, David, and Michael Martin, nephew Steven Harner, cousins Maureen Morton, Brooks Goddard, and Andrew Goddard, daughter Lisa Hillas, her husband, Jim, and grandchildren Jack, Annika, and Devon; son Mark Harner and his wife, Lori, and grandchildren Cade and Sage; and son Craig Harner and his wife, Janine, grandson Aaron, and his wife, Kasey, and great-grandchildren Asher, Tate, and Max. No public memorial service is planned. Instead, please remember Kate with a peaceful walk in gratitude for the natural beauty that surrounds us all. A special thank-you to Partners In Care and Elite Homecare NW for their invaluable support through this difficult time.