Kathryn T. Bohannon’s legacy is fostering a new generation of self-discovery at Colorado State University. Fashion FUNdamentals provides a two-week summer program for middle schoolers on the CSU campus; since 2017, it has grown in scope and accessibility thanks to Bohannon’s husband, David Folkes. The STEM-focused program offered by CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising aligns two of Bohannon’s aptitudes – engineering and creativity – while building self-confidence and body positivity for participants.
Sewing and STEM roots
Born in 1951 in Seneca, Kan., Bohannon was raised in Manhattan, Kan., where her mother, a very accomplished seamstress, taught her to sew. Both of her parents supported her involvement in 4-H projects. Her father encouraged her to enter the Make-It-Yourself-With-Wool Contest, which earned her local and statewide recognition.
Bohannon attended high school and graduated cum laude from Kansas State University in 1974. She pursued a career in chemistry and environmental engineering with Eastman Kodak which took her to Rochester, N.Y. and Windsor, Colo. Her highly technical responsibilities included large-scale project management, regulatory compliance, production engineering, cost estimation, scheduling, and reporting. She developed multiple patents related to removing hazardous materials from fluids, and was a member of American Chemical Society and Colorado Hazardous Waste Management Society.
Bohannon met Folkes on an airplane in the early 1980s en route to a conference in Philadelphia. The couple married in 1984 – Bohannon made her wedding dress – and they enjoyed active pastimes including ballroom dancing, hiking, and travel. Bohannon used her sewing skills to create window coverings and a slipcover and pillows for their home.
A few years later, Bohannon confessed her real passion: fashion design. “Kath decided to apply to CSU based on her reading of What Color is Your Parachute,” Folkes remembered. “She was particularly interested in computer-aided design, as well as the properties of fabrics and how they might enhance the use of garments, combining her technical and fashion skills,” Folkes recalled. She pursued a master’s degree in apparel design at CSU with her mentor, Diane Sparks, now professor emerita.
Tragically, Bohannon’s creative discovery was cut short. In April 1992, at age 40, she died from injuries sustained in a car accident during her commute from her home in Littleton to CSU’s Fort Collins campus.
Folkes and other family and friends channeled their grief and Bohannon’s spirit of self-discovery into memorial funds with the CSU Foundation. The funds are designed to support women to find their calling and pursue educational opportunities. Folkes envisioned helping align passion and opportunity in students of all ages, and has invested in programs for middle schoolers, speakers for university employees and community members, and graduate students.
“Dave’s steady investments in our students and programs extend Kathryn’s inspiration to future generations,” said Karen Hyllegard, head of the Department of Design and Merchandising. “We are proud to partner with Dave to honor Kathryn’s interdisciplinary interests and fuel lifelong pursuits of personal passions with community impact.”
The Kathryn T. Bohannon Scholarship endowment supports students pursuing apparel design, prioritizing graduate students with high academic achievement and financial need. Honoring Bohannon’s path, the scholarship is intended for non-traditional students, especially those making a career change to a design-related profession.
In addition, Folkes has focused his CSU philanthropy on other beyond-the-classroom learning opportunities. The K T Bohannon Women’s Program fund in the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at CSU helped sponsor the long-running Women at Noon speaker series. In recent years, the program featured lectures by former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice; Dr. Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway; and social entrepreneur and co-founder of the Malala Foundation, Shiza Shahid. The popular lectures attracted hundreds of university and northern Colorado community attendees.
Inspiring young designers
More recently, Folkes has honored Bohannon’s legacy through gifts to empower youth with STEM discovery through apparel design. He helped expand Fashion FUNdamentals – a two-week summer program for middle schoolers – with gifts to support transportation for participants from Greeley, and to create a new role in the Department of Design and Merchandising to plan the program.
Fashion FUNdamentals aligns closely with Bohannon’s interests outlined in her 1991 graduate school application: “I am very interested in learning about textiles – their chemical and physical properties, as well as the ergonomics and economics of textiles,” she wrote. Further, she envisioned a master’s research project, “teaching sewing skills to underprivileged children as a means to not only develop a skill, but also as a means to build self-esteem and a sense of value.” She went on to note that,
“I’ve been studying ballroom dancing for over four years, and I would like to couple this interest with the costume and design aspects of dance apparel.”
“Fashion FUNdamentals teaches STEM through something that feels creative and approachable: fashion,” said Sara Dudek (’15), who oversees the program. Bohannon would certainly approve, as it embodies her dream: “This program would ideally be of multidimensional proportion since it would encompass the psychological aspects of the process, the hands-on skill building process, a mechanism for validating the process (e.g., questionnaire designed to measure self-esteem), and would require an integration of the economics of the people with the skill.”
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Folkes’ investment in Fashion FUNdamentals ensured the program continued in 2021, with an additional partnership with human-animal teams from the Human Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) program from CSU’s School of Social Work. The collaboration allowed participants to design and create bandanas for the animals and enjoy positive social interaction with the HABIC teams. See the program in action.
Bohannon’s designs also serve as inspiration to budding designers. Posters from the Bohannon Summer Design Series featuring the artwork of Stephen Stipelman (including one of Bohannon’s designs on the 1998 poster) adorn the apparel design Sewing Lab walls in Gifford Building.
“We are grateful to Dave for helping us extend lessons from Kathryn’s life to future generations of students,” said Hyllegard. “Identifying and pursuing interests and new opportunities can happen at any stage of life.”
The Department of Design and Merchandising and the School of Social Work are part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.