Staff remembers recently passed colleague as a positive force

Kathryn Steward lost her battle with cancer on May 11. Steward served as the Assistant Director of Health Education and Promotion at WKU since 2009. Staff Directory/WKU PR

Rebekah Alvey

Kathryn Steward was remembered by her fellow WKU staff members by starting meetings with Jimmy Fallon videos, having great comebacks to blonde jokes and being a constant positive force.

After working at WKU for almost 25 years, Steward had created a web of friends and supporters that reached the entire campus.

On May 11, Steward lost her battle with cancer.

Steward was a graduate of WKU and was one of the first student workers at the Preston Center when it was built. After working with the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, Steward returned to WKU in 2000 where she eventually became the assistant director of health education and promotion.

Stephen Rey, the director of intramural recreational sports, said Stewards’ passing was a tough loss for the WKU community.

“She was a fighter in her personal and professional life,” Alissa Arnold, assistant director of Health and Fitness, said.

Steward went through an eight-year on-and-off battle with cancer. Her battle started with breast cancer, then remission, lung cancer, then remission, and finally cancer that appeared in various organs.

Arnold said Steward fought until the end and would still be at work trying to get tasks done.

Lauren Tuttle, a student wellness coordination staff member who worked under Steward for four years, said Steward would be working no matter how she was feeling and still maintained a positive attitude.

Tuttle said Steward had a “can do” attitude and was working up to her last days, which inspired the people around her. Tuttle said Steward was also open about her journey and would post Facebook updates which encouraged others going through a similar situation.

Rey said Steward thought first of the people she worked with and was continuously hardworking. He recalled Steward’s final week and said that on Sunday, May 7, Steward had a seizure but still contacted Rey, asking to come into work Monday afternoon.

“That’s the type of individual she was,” Rey said, “she never quit.”

Arnold said she was able to collaborate on wellness programs with Steward like WellU. Arnold said Steward’s main impact was trying new health initiatives and finding different ways of collaborating on campus.

“Kathryn knew so many people across campus that the impact of her passing is felt across many departments,” Tuttle said. “She had her foot in everything, she was so busy, and a lot of people appreciated the work she did for them.”

Steward’s role on campus was more than a staff member, Tuttle said. She was also a positive figure on campus, she said, and Steward’s laugh was infectious. If you walked around campus with her, she said, she would be talking to everyone.

“She was a joy to everyone she came across,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle said Steward also had a close connection with students by supporting internships and creating a peer health education program called Topper Well. Tuttle said Steward had a passion for teaching about health and wellness, which rubbed off on the students around her.

Arnold said Steward was also involved with the Bowling Green community by serving on the Sexual Health Awareness Month Committee and the Save our Kids Coalition, a prescription drug safety group off campus.

Outside of work, Arnold said, Steward was an active mother to two children, a wife and member of her church. Arnold joked that fellow staff members and friends would remind her that she could say no to certain projects, but Steward would continue to tackle more projects.

“She was very passionate about what she did here on campus,” Arnold said

Rey said the entire intramural and recreational sports staff attended Steward’s funeral on May 16. Tuttle said it was hard to be sad looking at the presentations and pictures of Steward constantly smiling.

Arnold said there was a wide variety of people in attendance from students, community members and staff both past and present. Arnold said it was like a reunion for all the people Steward had impacted.

“You could almost hear her laugh and I think a lot of people appreciated that and will remember her in a positive way,” Tuttle said.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].