Kathryn Witherington has been executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation for one year now.
“It’s been an insane first year,” she said. “When I was hired, I thought I’d be doing work to build and strengthen downtown businesses.”
Then everything shifted because of the pandemic. Events were canceled, businesses were closed or had fewer customers.
“I turned out to be a shoulder to cry on and a cheerleader,” she said.
Another challenge, she said, has been confronting a lack of respect because of her age and her gender, though it’s come a long way since a generation ago.
“I have to prove that I’m worth listening to,” she said.
So she projects her confidence and competence. Her focus is on servant leadership, the boss gets in there and works alongside everyone.
“I didn’t have a planned career path,” she said. “I graduated in English and political science. I got jobs and just would muddle through it. I was a temporary receptionist; I showed up and did a really good job.The last seven years as a mom perfectly meshed, fighting to have a newborn in my office.”
The pandemic actually helped make family-friendly work and school doable.
In addition to balancing her work and family life, she enjoys reading and cooking — although there’s not as much time for big meals. She also loves exercise such as running.
“I love my current job, and I’m committed to Walla Walla in a professional capacity,” she said.
Witherington credits many others with helping her along the way. She said she’s lucky to have had so many mentors over the years.
“Early in my career, I had a series of bosses who embraced servant leadership. Dave Hauglum now teaches leadership.”
She said the idea of servant leadership is not standing back and telling people what to do, it’s getting in there and helping. Another significant mentor is Brian Hunt who was the board president.
Her background has been in community development.
“I like making communities better and stronger.”
She and her family came here in 2015, when her husband, James, got a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They have two children, Alyssa, 7 and Ben, 5.
The family has two dogs, described as “an old cranky one and a little COVID puppy.”