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The honor is all hers: Sauk will celebrate former instructor with honorary degree

FRANKLIN GROVE – Banana cream pie, yum. It’s a sweet ending to lunch at The Meadows, an assisted living center that 93-year-old Kathryn “Kit” Lillyman now calls home.

And an honorary degree from the college to which you devoted your professional life – now that’s a sweet ending to a career in education spanning more than 30 years.

It’s a career that began far away, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 1963, Kit’s now-late husband, Walt Jr., who worked for the United States Information Service, was appointed director of activities at the Bi-National Center in Buenos Aires.

The Lillymans and their four children – Thomas, James, Daniel and Nancy – moved to the South American country, where he taught English to government employees, she to the children of diplomats and business executives.

While there, though, the political climate took a turn for the worse.

“I remember the tanks rolling down the street,” Kit said, describing the Argentine revolution.

To escape the turmoil of the coup d’état, they moved back to the States, and on the way home, had a little excitement of their own: Their fifth child, Walter III, was born.

It was 1967, and with a master’s in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kit landed a job at the newly built Sauk Valley Community College.

“My husband was very intent of me getting a job after all of that education,” she said.

So, from teaching English to Spanish-speakers, Kit went full circle, teaching Spanish and French to English-speakers.

She taught at Sauk for 30 years, retiring in 1997.

Because of her illustrious career, Kit and her son James were visited Friday by Sauk President David Hellmich and Dean of Foundations Lori Cortez.

The reason for the visit: to notify Kit that she will be given an honorary degree at the May 11 commencement ceremony.

“I always appreciated Kit, not only as a talented professional but also for her warm and cordial personality,” mathematics Professor Steven Schaff said in an email. “As a new faculty member many years ago, her friendly smile and genuine enthusiasm for her work were always very much appreciated.”

English professor Noel Berkey agrees.

“I liked crossing paths with Kit at Sauk because she has a healthy sense of humor and interesting things to say. When I had the opportunity to cover Latin American authors such as Borges and Garcia Marquez in my courses, she was a valuable resource,” Berkey said in an email.

“She helped with not only translating certain phrases but offering insights into the works, since she had read them as well and lived in communities much like those depicted by the authors.”

In addition to her 3 decades of service, Kit has given a $25,000 endowment to the Sauk foundation, which, among other things, assists transfer-seeking students, with preference given to those majoring in foreign languages – a cause near to Kit’s heart.

Hellmich is grateful not only for the endowment, but also for her service and devotion.

“To get someone of her caliber at the very beginning of the college was amazing; we were so lucky to have her.”


The whole Kit and caboodle ...

Want to read more about Kathryn’s life story? Click here to read the first volume of her self-penned memoir, and here read the second volume.

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