Mount girls are incredible people who stand out in homes and communities because of their concern, interest, kindness and faith. These qualities thread throughout the life of Kathleen Keel Riester.
Circumstances beyond her control placed Kathleen in the 1967 MSJ freshman class. Her childhood was tumultuous to say the least. She was barely 6 when she and five siblings narrowly escaped a deadly house fire in South Miami, Fla. Her mother and youngest brother, the day before his third birthday, tragically perished. Kathleen eventually was sent to live with grandparents in Clarksville, Tenn.
“One day my grandmother told me I was going to a boarding school in Kentucky – that was that. The day came and I was left standing in that circle watching my grandparents drive away.”
Kathleen said she loved Sister Joan of Arc Walz, but she has very mixed feelings about her time at the Mount.
“It was difficult on many different levels,” she said. “The main positive thing that stays with me is the strong bond with classmates. Each encounter, no matter how many years have passed, is like you never parted. You pick up where you left off — something not found in other relationships.”
Kathleen has been recognized throughout her 20-plus year career for contributing to the resiliency and strengthening of military families. Currently, she provides financial counseling, budget development, financial planning and management for all service members and families of the Redstone Arsenal Community near Huntsville, Ala. She also provides financial readiness workshops for organizations throughout Redstone.
In 1975 she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology at St. Leo College in Florida. In 1989 she earned a master’s degree in human development and family studies at Kansas State University. She married Carl Riester, an Army officer, and true to many military families, they have lived in multiple places. They include Monterey, Calif. (1981); Berlin, Germany (1982-1986); Manhattan, Kan. (1986-1990); Fort Devens, Mass. (1990-1993); Heidelberg, Germany (1993-2003); and Huntsville since 2003.
Kathleen said each place was unique. Their daughter was born in Berlin before the wall came down. Travel to East Berlin was stressful. As an occupied country one was subject to paperwork, proper ID and automobile inspection.
She describes high points of her life as, “Marrying Carl on Aug 8, 1981 in Clarksville, Tenn., and giving birth to our beautiful daughter, Cecilia, on Dec. 19, 1983 in an Army hospital in West Berlin, Germany. The nurse presented me with our daughter … I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. Never in my life have I felt such sheer joy and happiness. The miracle of two people bringing another human being into this world was pretty close to a mystical experience. I remember wondering why in the world I had been so uptight about marriage and starting a family? It was the single most natural thing in the world a woman could experience.”
Deployments and separations were a military way of life. This was especially difficult when they lived at Fort Devens, Mass. Kathleen described seeking spiritual guidance, which had helped her with life problems in the past.
“I thank God for Father Ron Falco of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Fitchburg, Mass.,” she said. “He instructed me in Centering Prayer (silent prayer rooted in divine or sacred meaning in preparation of experiencing God’s presence). This saved my life. To this day I practice Centering Prayer.”
Assignments in Germany afforded opportunities to travel Europe, including Paris, Rome, Munich, Poland, etc. Collectively they enjoyed different cultures, foods and entertainment.
“I was in awe of Heidelberg, a city of sheer beauty and history,” she said. “Cecilia graduated from the outstanding Department of Defense Education Activity, where she excelled. Her prom was held in the Heidelberg Castle!”
Looking forward to retiring, Kathleen plans to visit state and federal parks, and to explore the USA. She also wishes to pursue a quilting hobby.
Cecilia describes her mother, our Mount girl, with these words: “She is the best parent. She becomes a rock to lean on and guides others during times of pain and sadness. She embodies wisdom and faith in the most gentle and caring ways.”
Written by Susan Cagle Gentry