Kathryn Nelle Dean

Date of Birth

March 21, 1947

Date of Death

February 15, 2023

Kathryn Nelle Dean died peacefully at home in hospice care with her husband and family members close by.  Kathryn was born in Alturas (CA) to Alex and Doris Campbell.  She grew up in King City (CA) after Alex was promoted to Chief Forest Ranger of the northern district of Los Padres National Forest.  She had an idyllic small-town childhood where she made many life-long friends. The city pool and fairgrounds were just down the street, her schools a short walk away, and her horse always ready for an adventure.  Her father’s responsibilities included the south coast of Big Sur.  He discovered a dilapidated log cabin at Pacific Valley which he and his sons repaired and became not only his office on the coast but a vacation home for family and friends.  Kathryn’s days there were filled with hiking, taking horseback camping trips complete with pack mules, skinny dipping in the creeks, fishing at the “Big Hole,” and riding her horse on Sand Dollar Beach.

Kathryn attended King City High School where she did well academically and was involved in many extracurricular activities.  As a senior, she was voted both Head Cheerleader and Homecoming Queen.  In senior class predictions, hers was “Miss America” which may very well have come true had tragedy not struck.  The day after she graduated, she was in a dune buggy accident and suffered a serious spinal cord injury.  She was initially treated at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula before being transferred to Stanford Hospital for further treatment.  She underwent a year of rehabilitation at her parents’ home with the invaluable assistance of a family friend, Connie Vincenz.  Through their hard work and her determination, Kathryn went off to college the following year, not to hilly Berkeley as she had planned but to flat UCSB.  She was a familiar figure riding to classes on her adult tricycle with Canadian crutches sticking up from the rear basket.  One day a young man called out to her “Cool bike!” as she rode by.  Several months later, they met at a party and were together ever after.

Kathryn earned her Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology. She was apprehensive about ever being hired given her physical disability after not being offered a position following several interviews. However, Sid Ottman of Santa Barbara County Schools saw something special in her and ended their first interview by saying “Can you start on Monday?”.  Kathryn went on to have a thirty-year career as a Special Education teacher in the Santa Ynez Valley working for multiple small school districts and often doing speech therapy in her car as many schools did not have a room for her and her students.  She finished her career serving Vista de las Cruces and Jonata Schools.

Kathryn and her husband began traveling internationally in 1995. Over the next twenty-two years, she wheeled across every continent except Antarctica but especially loved Italy and France.  She also loved languages and added these two to her Spanish skills.  She delighted in connecting with people from other cultures in their own language.  She was always a connector co-founding the “Read a Bunch, Eat a Brunch” book club, starting a French language study group, hosting a crafting group which specialized in creating birthday cards, and organizing reunions with her King City friends and college roommates.

Language and spirituality were at the center of her life. After her career, she was involved with adult ESL programs, worked with stroke patients at Cottage Rehabilitation, and volunteered at the Harding School reading program.  Kathryn was an active member at Trinity Episcopal Church especially the Bible study groups.  She had a passion for justice fueled in part by her own experience with marginalization as a person with a disability.  She was an integral member of Trinity’s Justice and Outreach Council, a great supporter of immigrant rights, and most recently a tutor with the Freedom to Choose Project.

Despite her compromised body – “my earth suit” as she liked to call it – she met life’s challenges with great courage, determination, and optimism.  She was a shining example of love, generosity, and kindness and an inspiration to everyone who knew her.  She is survived by Michael, her husband of 52 years; her brothers, Craig (Anne) and Thomas (Susan) Campbell of Sebastopol (CA); six nieces and nephews and twelve grand nieces and nephews.

Her family wishes to express their gratitude to VNA Health and to her loving caregivers, David Palmer and Inna Shilo.  Her memorial service will be held on April 15 at 6 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church.  In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to VNA Health, Trinity’s Justice Fund or the charitable organization of your choice.


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