Derby’s Kim Patterson admits that her family history played a role in her initial decision to enlist in the Air Force – where her father served for 42 years – back in 1978.
“When you are born into a military family, everyone serves,” Patterson said.
Along with her father, her godfather served in the Army (with the two sometimes running missions together) and her aunt was a nurse in the South Pacific during WWII. Beyond that, Patterson added to her military family along the way, with a variety of assignments over her 20 years in the Air Force before retiring as a major in 1998.
Initially, Patterson began her service career as one of the first female AWACS (airborne warning and control system) controllers in the Air Force – tasked with telling fighters how to shoot in an air battle. On her first day of training, she learned that if she did not pass her AWACS class she would no longer be in the Air Force, which she admitted was a pretty strong motivator.
Having a knack for it, Patterson was asked to stay on as an instructor, but she proceeded to move from base to base and fill different roles for the Air Force – whether in Germany, Panama (while Manuel Noriega was in power) or elsewhere.
“I look back now and I just shake my head and think, ‘what were they thinking when they gave me all that responsibility?’” Patterson said. “At the time, I felt like I was doing something that was important, something that was necessary to keep our freedoms.”
One such responsibility was commanding a 1,000-person Equipment Maintenance Squadron, which serviced the likes of Air Force One, among other aircraft.
While serving in Panama, Patterson said she was struck by the poverty she saw, and one experience there continues to stick with her – as a young boy she met shimmed up a tree to retrieve a piece of fruit to give to her. In some ways, that was indicative of the approach Patterson took to her military career.
“It’s not about the ribbons for me; it’s about the lives you touched,” Patterson said. “I don’t have a lot of medals. That wasn’t important to me, but what was important to me was making sure that the people who worked for me knew how important they were and how important the job they were doing was.”
Her unassuming nature allowed Patterson to run certain missions others couldn’t and, while she heard a variety of perspectives about women in the military during her time in service, she knows she was making a difference. She and some fellow servicewomen she worked with at Luke Air Force Base were setting an example, too.
“We were really ground-setting for the future of women in the Air Force. Dads would come and ask me for my autograph because they wanted their little daughters to know that women could do things like what I was doing,” Patterson said. “When people think veteran, they think men, but there are so many women that served.”
Now retired, Patterson still finds ways to get involved and serve her community – whether ministering to the homeless (seeing fellow veterans among them) or helping weekly at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita.
Most recently, Patterson volunteered her time to staff the Moving Wall (Vietnam War) Memorial on its recent stop in Valley Center, helping people find names of friends and family on the wall, or simply sitting and talking with veterans who visited the memorial.
While Patterson has no family (that she knows of) on the wall, Vietnam veterans were among some of the first pilots Patterson worked with during her time in the Air Force. She even met some who had stayed at the Hanoi Hilton – an infamous POW camp during the Vietnam War.
Hearing a variety of opinions on the U.S. military no matter her role, Patterson just continued to do her job and still maintains a willingness to serve her country.
“There’s always going to be some kind of political infighting. That’s not our agenda; our agenda is to protect the country, represent our country and to follow the orders of those above us,” Patterson said. “I would do it again.”
Election night 2021 was a new experience for many candidates in Derby, with several running for the first time this year.
While the Derby Board of Education was guaranteed to see some fresh faces for three at-large terms, that was not as certain on the Derby City Council. However, the council will also see an infusion of new members as Tom Keil (running unopposed in Ward I) was the only incumbent to retain his seat.
Elizabeth Stanton (Ward II), Rick Coleman (Ward III) and Chris Unkel (Ward IV) were all elected to their first terms on the Derby City Council – with Coleman and Unkel both prevailing over incumbents Andrew Swindle and John McIntosh.
Getting out into the community informed what Unkel sees as his role as a council member and how he hopes to serve his constituents.
“What I realized was I’m a representative of Ward IV so I have to take the pulse of where Ward IV is at and run with it, and vote how my constituents would want,” Unkel said. “Really what I want to do moving forward as a representative is to actually represent the people.”
Like the city council, the Derby school board will have a number of new members serving USD 260. The only current board members running for school board, Robin Folkerts and Andy Watkins, both sought to fill an unexpired term – which Watkins won.
Joining Watkins on the school board will be Jennifer Neel, Michael Blankenship and Robyn Pearman as the top vote-getters for three at-large positions.
“I just want to be a voice for everybody. I want to be a voice for the kids, a voice for our teachers and a voice for our community,” Neel said of her initial priorities. “The first thing I’m going to do is I just want to listen. I want to hear what people’s concerns are and we’re just going to take it one step at a time.”
Except for the unexpired seat Watkins was elected to fill for two years, all winning candidates will serve four-year terms starting Jan. 1, 2022.
While it was a new experience for many candidates this year, they are ready to get to work – and grateful for the support that got them to this point.
“These off-year elections don’t typically get these many people out and it’s pretty amazing that people want to actually step up and care. They went the extra mile and investigated who they were voting for; that’s pretty encouraging,” Neel said. “I am so incredibly grateful to our community and to all the people who supported me and helped me through this.”
Final unofficial results from the local races are listed below:
Derby City Council, Ward I
Tom Keil 471 96.91%
Derby City Council, Ward II
Jessica Rhein 233 30.26%
Elizabeth Stanton 529 68.70%
Derby City Council, Ward III
Rick Coleman 340 61.15%
Andrew Swindle 211 37.95%
Derby City Council, Ward IV
John McIntosh 243 31.52%
Chris Unkel 527 68.35%
Derby BOE, at-large (unexpired term)
Robin Folkerts 1,305 43.13%
Andy Watkins 1,705 56.34%
Derby BOE, at-large
Michael D. Blankenship 1,510 17.88%
Amy M. Bruso 1,017 12.04%
Dixie A. Chapman 613 7.26%
Jennifer Neel 1,688 19.99%
Robyn M. Pearman 1,201 14.22%
Claudia D. Peebler 1,169 13.84%
Dale Rotramel Jr 932 11.03%
Alan Turner 276 3.27%
After Rhonda Kemp’s daughter, Lacy, died in a drug overdose seven years ago, she looked to find ways to make something positive out of the tragedy.
The Derby resident works with other families struggling with drug addictions and wrote a grief book called “Remarkable You: Revisiting Love, Regrets & Celebrations,” which was recently published.
The book is an interactive one that poses questions to readers and asks them to put down their thoughts.
Kemp terms it as a method that “guides the user to reminisce about the life of the loved one they are missing.”
So far, she’s had positive response from users, especially those who are using it in grief groups.
When someone close to us dies, Kemp said, most people do not know what to say, so they avoid any conversation about the loved one.
Kemp’s aim is for the journal to allow the grieving one to, in a way, “talk” to their loved ones, adding to a necessary conversation.
Kemp really didn’t plan on writing a book, but just started writing down sentences to spur reminiscences that she shared and didn’t want to forget. The start of the book actually was done on her phone and involved simple memories, such as Lacy’s favorite food or vacations they might have taken together.
“It’s really a big collection of information about the person who is gone,” she said. “It kind of feels like you’re revisiting their life.”
Losing a child is a devastating experience, she said.
“You can’t accept it or get your head around it,” she said.
Guiding users in their thoughts
But people do have to accept it, and keeping a journal is one way to work through the grief, she said.
Therapists say that if a grieving person writes down their thoughts, that they can “let them go,” helping the healing process.
However, staring at a blank sheet of paper is a hard task for most people, so this format, with questions to prompt them, makes it easier, Kemp said.
“This will lead the person through [their] thoughts without having to do a lot of work,” she said. “It’s guiding them.”
The first section, on “you,” has questions such as: “A clear memory of us being us is ...?” and “You were very content when ...? and “You were able to overcome ...?”
The journal also will serve as a historic record of the deceased person and something the family can hold onto, share and pass on to future generations, she said.
Mennonite Press in Newton publishes the book and Kemp orders copies on an as-needed basis.
She sells them for $10.99 each and they are available at Watermark Books in Wichita under the “local authors” section, or online at Amazon.com. She’s hoping to get more independent book sellers to carry it or a major publisher to pick it up.
Many people face the grieving path
The book is not a religious one, although Kemp said she wouldn’t mind to have another version that is more spiritually oriented in the future.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people going through grief, she said. And it’s not just the loss of a person; people grieve over the loss of a pet, too, whom many consider their family.
Kemp moved to Derby in 2002 and is married to Tom Kemp, a local builder.
She’s open about her deceased daughter’s drug problems, saying that Lacy started taking them in her late teens after two knee operations.
Later on in her 20s, she turned to drugs because “she liked the feeling.” But the drugs led to health problems, such as a lot of kidney stones and a racing heartbeat.
“Your body can’t filter so much of that,” Kemp said.
One August evening in 2014, Lacy came back from a day at the hospital and turned to pills again – only this time, she never woke up after passing out on a couch.
Kemp doesn’t know when she died, but believes it was sometime in the early morning hours. Her sole comfort is that her daughter died with no pain, likely after her body just quit breathing.
Kemp knew Lacy had problems, but with parents, there’s often a sort of denial and they just don’t think it will happen, she said.
Becoming more compassionate
But it did, and a lifetime of grief is now with Kemp.
“It [grief] never really goes away, it just changes. It’s something you learn to live with,” she said.
Overall, in our society, grief is something that most people don’t want to talk about, she said, but if you know a grieving person, don’t try and brush off the feelings – or the rich memories of their loved ones.
“It hurts more that they don’t bring up their name,” she said.
“Talk about that person as if they’re important.”
That is because they are important to their loved ones and they don’t want to forget – hence Kemp’s effort to get them to write down their memories.
Just being a sympathetic listener goes a long way to helping others in grief. That’s so much better than letting them turn to anger or drugs or alcohol, she said.
If there’s any upside to losing a loved one, she said, it’s that people generally become more compassionate to the pain of others.
Kemp feels good about what she’s done since she lost Lacy.
As she writes on the book’s website: “If it will help someone who is sinking in their grief and has a need to feel, if only for a moment, they are not completely alone, then I have done what I feel prompted to do.”