Celebrating the OG of AWAI,
Kathleen Kelley Yeakle
Kathleen Kelley Yeakle
August 16, 1923 – May 25, 2022
Please join us in celebrating the life of our brightest light and the first employee of AWAI, Kathleen Yeakle, who passed away on May 25, 2022.
Known lovingly here as KK, Kathleen had no idea of the role she was stepping into when she joined the team over 25 years ago.
The first hire (hence her OG title!), she was brought on as the keeper of the books, and ultimately became the keeper of the team …
Known for her quick wit, straight shooting nature, and a laugh that would make the person who elicited it beam with delight, Kathleen balanced the AWAI checkbook to the penny, kept the AWAI traditions alive (we can’t eat yellow cake with fudge frosting without thinking of her), and kept tabs on her crew … lovingly known as the "Lunch Bunch" seen here …
She will always be remembered and celebrated … as those who knew her, felt grateful simply for having her in their life.
And her memories – and the stories! – will live on for eternity.
Kathleen Kelley Yeakle, aka My Mother
“Your mom works for you? What’s that like?” I’d get those questions a lot … and, depending on the day, my answer would range from “It’s great!” to “It’s … um … great” … (with a hint of an eye roll.)
And, to be fair … Kathleen would get those same questions directed to her about working for her daughter. Her answers would span the same range.
To back up, in addition to being my mother, Kathleen was AWAI’s first employee. She was fiercely proud and protective of AWAI … and of all of us. She loved every day of her 15-year career as our bookkeeper (and overall “go-to” for whatever anyone needed in the office.) Her job gave her so much purpose and fulfillment and she treasured the deep friendships she made. Her only complaint about her job was when I’d “get all bossy” to which I’d respond … “I am the boss!” (Cue the simultaneous eye rolls.)
Kathleen worked until the day before her 90th birthday … and the only reason she stopped coming into the office daily was because she had a significant stroke. But even a stroke couldn’t dampen her enthusiasm and dedication to all things AWAI … especially her beloved co-workers. Over the last almost 9 years … she would have turned 99 on Aug 16th … I’d be quizzed almost daily about what new programs we were working on … how campaigns were doing … what events we were planning … and everyone’s (and their kids and grandkids) comings and goings.
On some level I always knew how steady and caring and dedicated to those she loved Kathleen was. But, honestly, I didn’t give it all that much thought. In fact, I probably took it for granted.
What I was not fully aware of until now was the quiet impact she had on those in her orbit.
Here are some snippets of notes I received from the AWAI team after her death …
“I 100% know to be true how much Kathleen cared about me. She was my friend, confidant, advisor (especially on not taking crap from anyone!) and the best freaking cheerleader.”
“Kathleen told me if I ever needed anything, I could consider her my ‘Other Mother.’”
“When I was first starting, Kathleen would gently nudge me to make sure I was giving myself enough credit.”
“As a staff member who knows KK, her dedication to her family, to this wonderful company, and her take no prisoners attitude make her a role model extraordinaire in my mind.”
“Kathleen was such an inspiration for me. When I first started at AWAI, I was in a very unpleasant place in my life. KK was always there to lend an ear and an occasional shoulder to cry on.”
“Kathleen had that wonderful way of always seeming to delight in what folks were up to. It was always so supportive and positive.”
There’s so much more to say about her. But the one thing I’d like to point out now is that in many ways Kathleen … just by being who she was … helped to shape AWAI’s culture of caring about our members and each other in the profound ways we do.
All of us who worked with Kathleen would say we are better for it. And, when asked what it was like working with my mother for 15 years, my answer is a resounding “It was great!” – Katie
“There was always a better story when KK was around”
I can’t think of Kathleen without a flood of memories …
Whether giving me parenting advice, telling me to eat the carrots I had pushed off the salad, or encouraging me to take a risk, she was my confidant, informant (little did everyone know!), and cheerleader.
She was a core member of our “lunch bunch” and happy hour crew. And when I told her how cool it was that she wanted to hang out with us after work, she told me we were a lot more fun than the old fuddy duddies at her condo.
There was always a better story when KK was around. There was a lot of laughter. And there was always truth …
I always knew where I stood, and I always knew I was loved. While I’m grateful for all the years I had, my heart breaks to think I’ll never hear her belly laugh again. – Rebecca
“A bright presence in the AWAI office”
Kathleen was a bright presence in the AWAI office. She was always excited to see you and lit up for a conversation. She went out of her way to learn more about my interests so that we could spend more time talking and having lunches together.
She always made you feel good even when threatening to thump you for something you knew you shouldn’t be saying or doing. She’ll always be a kind and energetic voice in my head keeping me on the straight and narrow.
Everyone who knew Kathleen was lucky, and even those who didn’t are probably still feeling the effects of her impact on the rest of us. I’m forever grateful to be one of the lucky ones. – Josh
“We were lucky to know and love her”
Kathleen was and will forever be an integral part of the fabric of the AWAI Team and culture.
Those of us who were so lucky to know her and love her will cherish the time we had with her and will continue to keep her memory alive in the stories we share.
One of my favorite memories was when I was working in Member Services … it was a very busy week – the phones were hot and ringing off the hook, and I couldn’t seem to catch a break. By 12pm – it was lunch bunch time – and I couldn’t wait for a breather with KK. I told her about the kind of day I was having to which she immediately replied “order a drink … I won’t tell Katie”
That was Kathleen. What happened at lunch bunch stayed at lunch bunch. Whether I had that drink or not is between KK and I 😉 – Jax
“AWAI could never have become the company it is today … had it not been for Kathleen …”
Bringing her mom Kathleen in to look after the office and bookkeeping was one of the smartest things Katie did when tasked with starting AWAI back in 1997 – and not just because Kathleen was so amazingly good at her job!
There are people we meet in life who you instinctively know are special the instant you meet them. They’re rare, but Kathleen was such a person – kind, warm, funny, always smiling, always making you feel special, good-hearted in every way.
I didn’t get to the office often in the early days, but the times I did, my mind’s eye still remembers Kathleen popping up from her desk, peering over her divider wall, and greeting me with a big welcoming smile. Something about being in her company made you feel good, happy, and welcome.
Even after she retired and would drop into bootcamps – seeing Kathleen with that big smile, surrounded by all the people who loved her, was always a highlight of the week. And she loved those visits, whenever she could – right up to this past May.
Kathleen, I know, was incredibly proud of AWAI. Not just because she (starting in her 70s!) and her daughter helped start and build it – but because of the kind of company it grew to be … the mission it had … the people it attracted … and the thousands of lives it changed in such a positive way.
And what’s not to be forgotten, ever, is that AWAI could never have become the kind of company it is today – authentic, kind, caring, respectful and fiercely loyal to the people who work hard to serve our members – had it not been for Kathleen and the warmth and kindness she and Katie instilled early on.
Which is why, to this very day, and in a very real way, Kathleen continues to have an amazing influence on AWAI …
Because whether it’s the people we hire or experts we align with – if we don’t see in you a healthy dose of what make Kathleen such a special person … you would never have been asked to join our family.
That alone should make everyone on our team feel extra proud … and our members extra happy knowing we’ve never strayed from the wonderful example Kathleen set for us 25 years ago. – Paul
“She always made me feel special …”
While I didn’t know Kathleen very well, I enjoyed talking to her at Bootcamp, which is where I first met her. Whenever we did speak, she always made me feel special and that I was the one person there she was looking forward to seeing. I know that in a venue such as Bootcamp, she had many friends and family to visit with, but Kathleen Yeakle’s special talent was making each of us feel loved and cared for. – Will
“I think about the wonderful lady …”
One of my fondest memories of Kathleen doesn't even involve AWAI. She was an avid reader and introduced me to the writings of Louise Penny. We spent a lot of time reading and talking about the adventures of Inspector Gamache. Every time I see a book by Louise Penny, even if it is not about Gamache, I think about the wonderful lady that introduced her to me and smile. Thank you, Kathleen. – Pat
“There’s nobody who could infuse more authentic good will …”
Nearly three decades ago, when I first met Kathleen, AWAI was a fledgling company, and I was a fledgling, myself.
She could not have been warmer or more welcoming and reassuring … which was good, because I felt there must have been a mistake that I'd been invited to speak at that first bootcamp. But Kathleen went out of her way to bolster my confidence. And the best part was--she didn't even know she was doing it.
At least, she gave that impression. Maybe she knew exactly what she was up to. Come to think of it, she probably did … She was generous that way.
Kathleen possessed that rare and most fabulous of attributes: Genuine enthusiasm--for whatever it is you might present her with.
Me, exhausted: “Kathleen, I have three kids under 5.” K: “Oh that is wonderful. I'm sure you're very tired. Come, tell me what they're like …”
She delighted in people. When she asked how you were doing … she really did want to know the answer.
I always thought it was great that she hand-wrote the little welcome notes to Bootcamp attendees. Because there is nobody on the planet who could infuse more authentic good will into one of those than she could.
That's a trait we would all do well to learn: the ability to show people you have confidence in them and that you wish them unending success … and you mean it.
I will miss my special, bonus "Florida mom" … Delray Beach will not be quite the same without her there as resident cheerleader. – Jen
“What a great role model”
Kathleen was an incredibly sweet lady. And I was always so impressed with how she stayed so engaged in life and in the world, when most folks just kind of check out and want to sit at home. What a great role model! – Mike
“She made AWAI feel like a family”
When I first met Kathleen almost 30 years ago, she came bearing a very special gift … some gourmet chocolates handmade and hand-selected for me from her son and his wife’s shop in North Carolina. I’ve never tasted a more delicious chocolate to this day!
About a decade later, I was lucky enough to work with Kathleen for a few years at AWAI, where I was really able to get to know her. What a sweet soul, always with a lovely smile and a sparkle in her eyes, making us all feel like we had the comfort of “Mom” right there in the office.
Kathleen’s pride and joy about being able to work side-by-side with her daughter, Katie, and to be a key member of the AWAI Team and all their successes, carried over to all of us and made us feel the same way. It was also really fun to see if we could make Kathleen giggle at our antics and stories during our many “Lunch Bunch” outings. Kathleen really was the first person to make AWAI feel like a “Family”! – Kim
“A bright light in the world”
Years ago, my son collapsed one day in elementary school, and was taken unconscious to the hospital. I was speaking to Kathleen the next day and mentioned that I was concerned about how we didn’t know what was wrong with him.
Thereafter, she often followed up with me on how the testing was going, his health, etc. She told me if I ever needed anything, I could consider her my “Other Mother.” What a blessing! That seemed just so “her” … thoughtful, kind, giving, there for others.
Our correspondence meant a lot to me then, and throughout the years. I still have her most recent notecards nearby on my desk, a nice reminder of her. She’d write about her family, and her children meant the world to her … She was so proud.
Kathleen was a lovely, gracious woman. Beyond the blessing to AWAI, she was a bright light in the world and she will be greatly missed. – Nan
“Kathleen was one of the greatest people ever”
Kathleen was just one of the greatest people ever. I was actually just thinking about her last week. I bought this big book of crossword puzzles because I remember her saying that’s how she kept herself sharp. – Scott
“I was in awe of her strength and energy”
I met Kathleen 20 years ago when I came to work at AWAI. From the start she made me feel so welcome. She ran a tight ship and kept us all in line; and we couldn’t have done it without her. Kathleen was in her 70’s when I joined AWAI. I was in awe of her strength and energy! I honestly don’t remember her EVER taking a day off.
Kathleen would share stories with me about her grandchildren always with a huge smile on her face … . she adored her family! I would share personal stories with her (some secrets too!) I looked to her for advice on life and she always listened.
One of my favorite memories was watching her year after year stand at the back of the ballroom during Bootcamp. With happy tears in her eyes, she would watch Katie do the ‘Welcome to Bootcamp’ speech. She was so proud of her daughter!
I’m going to miss Kathleen. Her quick-wit, beautiful smile and her love for life will always remain in my heart. – Barb
“She was the best”
Kathleen was the best. She has always been so genuinely sweet and welcoming towards me. Though I only knew her a little, I remember a long time ago, when she would gently nudge me to make sure I was giving myself enough credit and not working while on vacation. – Bonnie
“Kathleen was everyone’s best friend”
Kathleen was everyone’s best friend at AWAI. You knew you could count on her, talk to her, commiserate with her – and she would have your back. We had the best lunches and work was always a joy with her around. She definitely had an all-for-one and one-for-all attitude.
My favorite story she told was about an employee that wore flip-flops ALL the time. They were old, comfortable and STINKY. She would make him leave his shoes outside the front door! She always gave the gift of truth when it was needed. 🙂 Her memory will live on in all of us who had the privilege of knowing her. – Helen
“Kathleen will always be a part of AWAI …”
I had the honor of working with Kathleen during the early years of AWAI. She was our center – literally and figuratively. She sat in the middle of our office and everyday showed up to work with tenacity, great humor and amazing wit. She was like our AWAI mascot, always listening, telling great stories and a daily dose of strong work ethic to all employees.
Kathleen never missed a bootcamp and her beautiful blue eyes glowed when Katie would give her opening speech. You could see and feel just how proud Kathleen was of Katie and AWAI. She celebrated with us and I always loved it when she and Katie would show up to our AWAI get togethers (even virtual) all decked out in costumes together.
Kathleen will always be a part of AWAI. Thanks, Katie for generously sharing the gift of Kathleen with all of us. – Lisa
“A strong and elegant friend”
For me, KK was a strong and elegant friend. She was a great listener and had oodles of wisdom and reason to share. She was quick, funny, smart, generous, and a sports fan … a perfect woman!
Those of us who got to know Kathleen are the lucky ones for the impact her kindness and caring had on our lives. She left her mark on us and she will be missed.– Jill
“I know she’ll be dearly missed”
Kathleen was a lovely lady and I know she will be dearly missed.
She was one of the old guard; gentle, unassuming, but a force to be reckoned with. It was my privilege to have met her and gotten to know her. – Jackie
“Some of the fondest memories I have of AWAI …”
I was introduced to Kathleen when I first started working at AWAI in 2005. Kathleen ran a tight ship on numbers and our finances. Nothing would escape her, and frankly in the beginning I was a little intimidated by her. She had the charisma of a Grande Dame you see in movies, elegant, smart and sharp witted.
Soon however, I had the pleasure getting to know Kathleen away from the office. A group known as the infamous “AWAI lunch bunch” was formed and headed out to the various lunch joints around town. and Kathleen was right in the middle of it. We always looked forward to lunch when she was able to join the group. These lunches are some of the fondest memories I have of AWAI.
Kathleen sharing her wisdom and wonderful sense of humor as various members of the group went through big and small life events such as pregnancy, engagement, marriage, parenting or just everyday life. We leaned into her wisdom and her kind words and sense of humor were the heart and soul of the group. I will forever remember Kathleen as she sits with us at lunch in a restaurant, looking poised and polished while cracking an unexpected joke or sharing a kind word. – Kristin
“Kathleen LOVED life!”
Kathleen LOVED life! She was ready to do whatever was happening – go out to lunch with the staff; be part of the team at Bootcamp; go on adventures with Katie.
Many of us got to know Kathleen through AWAI. I was one of those lucky ones. I’ve known Kathleen for 20 of her 98 years. I met her through work; and it was work she was proud to do. I remember meeting KK on my first day at the office. She made me feel welcome and safe. She gave me the inside scoop on parking, supplies, how the coffee station worked. She even showed me her green folder, AWAI’s first ‘accounting’ system.
The Kathleen that I knew was fierce and fun. She had this wicked, mischievous sense of humor. She didn’t suffer fools gladly but she was compassionate. She was observant, opinionated, and kind. And she LOVED her family.
There’s a relevant Mary Oliver poem. When Death Comes, that reminds me of Kathleen; this in particular:
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement …
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
She was! I believe Kathleen would want all of us to live as fully as she did; even in these particularly challenging times. To find ways to build our own, single, wild and precious lives. And to help each other do the same. Thank you Kathleen for blessing us with your friendship. – Denise