Hello from the History Department –

The 2018–19 school year is quickly drawing to a close, so today we take a look at another of the teachers, Kate Drew, who made the Kennedy School special, back when it was an operating elementary school.

What a wonderful attitude Mrs. Drew had and passed along to her students: “Learning is fun! It’s fun for me, and I wanted it to be fun and real for the kids…. And if kids know you expect the best, and know that you’re going to help them be the best, I think wonderful things happen.”


Mrs. Kate Drew was a beloved teacher at Kennedy School from 1963 ‘til 1970. However, elementary education wasn’t her first career path. She started out as a professional operatic singer who performed all over California—with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, as a soprano in the theatrical piece Messiah and in gay nightclubs in San Francisco. But when she was awarded a teaching fellowship at San Francisco State, she decided to switch gears to get a teaching degree instead of a graduate degree in music. “I wanted a normal life,” she remembers.

She embarked on her new career as a teacher in the Mission District in San Francisco, which at the time was a poor neighborhood. She taught classes of up to 40 children, many of whom were at lower learning levels. So when her husband was transferred to the Pacific Northwest, Kate entered the Portland school system. Here, she encountered smaller classes in a welcoming environment.

After several years at a school in Southeast Portland, she landed at Kennedy School in 1963. It was “a fine community of people,” Mrs. Drew recalled. And the students in her classrooms? “All of them, darling.”

She was known for belting out show tunes from her classroom piano, and for reading stories to her kids in a very dramatic, engaging fashion. There were assemblies and Christmas pageants, riotous games of softball during recess, fantastic field trips into the Columbia River Gorge. Once she even allowed a boy to run around the classroom cracking jokes with the students until he ran out of steam. “And it was funny!” she recalled. “It was a time-out for the kids, to you know, relax, and then get back to things.”

In short, Mrs. Drew was the kind of teacher whom students loved and parents appreciated. She understood that kids needed to be kids, and she still managed to make learning fun. Her students “thought what I said was gospel,” so she had to watch what she said, she remembered with a laugh.

Toward the later stage of her career, the public school system was undergoing radical changes. Administration was afforded a greater role in determining what and how certain content should be taught to the students. Kate Drew had always been active in leadership roles involving parents, teachers and administration. But just a few short months after taking office as the president of Portland Association of Teachers, she resigned from her position. “We went from a professional organization of teachers to a union. And that didn’t satisfy a lot of us.”

Kate Drew decided one summer morning in 1970 that it was time to end her teaching career. “I retired at 58… I’ve always felt very strongly: If you can’t do it well anymore or if it isn’t fun anymore, or challenging, and you don’t wake up in the morning eager to get there, then that’s the time to leave.”

Well after her retirement, Mrs. Drew still kept up with many of her Kennedy School students—she helped one Portland Rose Festival Princess with her speech, attended another’s senior day at Oregon State University, exchanged Christmas cards with several others for years.

Through her creativity and commitment, Kate Drew instilled in her students the joy of learning, an invaluable gift and legacy.


  1. Eva M Bushman on July 21, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Lovely article! I hope Kate got to see it. I know she would have loved this article!!

    Just to let you know, Kate passed away on July 9, 2019, cause unknown. Her son Steven let me know as Kate and l were good friends for the last 13 years of her life. I was a student in her first 8th grade class at Glencoe 1959-60. I first babysat Steven when he was 3 and l was 13.

    I know Kate kept in touch with some of her other students as well, so I’m just responding to let people know that Kate is no longer with us, but our love for her and our memories of her lively teaching style will never go away.

    • Kerry from McMenamins History on July 21, 2019 at 7:51 pm

      Eva, thank you so much for letting us know! She truly made an impact on her community and she will always be remembered at the Kennedy School.

    • Margaret McKinney Brown on July 22, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      The best teacher I every had
      8th grade at Glencoe grade school 1959-60. SHE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL and classy. I learned to speak up in her class and will ever be grateful.

      • Kerry from McMenamins History on July 22, 2019 at 3:30 pm

        Margaret, that is a lovely way to remember one’s teacher. Thanks for adding to this post about Mrs. Drew.

    • Carolyn Reese Teifel on August 14, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Nancy Frisbie Southard and I (8th grade Kennedy students of Kate’s) had lunch with Kate a few months ago and Nancy visited Kate in the hospital after her fall.  We would like to know information about her death on July 9, 2019. You said that the cause was “unknown”.  https://blog.mcmenamins.com/wonderful-things-happen/ 
      Was Kate in a nursing home or her own home when she died?
      Did she fall again?  Did she die due to her heart or a stroke?  
      Did she return to the hospital?  What happened to Sue Sue?    
      Thank you for sharing with us so Nancy can share it with the other gals in our eighth grade class at Kennedy, 1963-1964.  We meet occasionally at Kennedy for lunch and just had lunch there on Monday, August 12, 2019.  Linda Anderson showed us the article from the August 2019 Concordia News and looking at the blog, I saw that Kate had died.  Nancy had been trying to connect with Kate by phone. Thank you for information you can share with us.

      • Kerry from McMenamins History on August 16, 2019 at 2:00 pm

        Eva, so sorry for your loss. Kate Drew seems to have touched so many!

        Unfortunately, we can’t provide much more information. The piece was written from interviews we had done years earlier when Kennedy School opened, and then updated with the news of her passing from another of her acquaintances.

    • Karen Kennedy Jones on July 21, 2020 at 5:33 pm

      Thank you for the update. I am sorry to hear this. Kate Drew was my father’s only sister. She was the oldest child in her family but outlived both of her brothers. I last visitted Kate in 2012 but we fell out of touch. If you speak to my cousin Steven, let him know his cousin in California would love to connect. So pleased I stumbled upon this lovely article. When my husband and I visitted Kate she took us on a tour of the Kennedy School, including the room named in her honor. It seemed especially fitting since Kate was from the San Francisco Kennedy family who owned Kennedy Publishing. She was a very special lady who achieved an incredible life.

  2. Margaret McKinney Brown on July 22, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    The best teacher I every had
    8th grade at Glencoe grade school 1959-60. SHE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL and classy. I learned to speak up in her class and will ever be grateful.

    • Kerry at McMenamins History on August 16, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      Margaret, we share in your admiration of this teacher and woman! Cheers to Kate Drew, for the immense impact she had on her students at Kennedy School.

  3. Nancy Varekamp on July 22, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Eva. I edit Concordia News, and our August issue (already at the press) reprints McMenamins’ great blog piece about Kate Drew. In our next issue, I’d like to mention Kate’s passing, but I can’t find an obituary online to share with readers. Do you have access to one you can send me before the end of the month? I’m at CNewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX.org.


  4. Kristi Johnson-James on August 15, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    I am at such a loss today. There simply was no other person who influenced my life path more than Mrs. Drew. Because of her, I traveled to Europe many, many times. I became a Special Educator, and most importantly, a lifelong learner. I too kept in touch with her.

    On one such visit a few years ago, she announced, “You can call me Kate!” I just couldn’t. I wanted to always show her the respect she so greatly deserved. I love her.

    • Kerry from McMenamins History on August 16, 2019 at 2:05 pm

      Kristi, thanks for letting us know how much she meant to you! And we’re honored to be celebrating the life of someone who influenced so many people. She was clearly a special person.

  5. Eva Bushman on August 18, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    Carolyn, Nancy and all Kennedy students who knew Kate: l don’t know specifics about Kate’s death, just what her son Steve told me, unknown cause. Certainly not necessary to infringe on her person with a biopsy! I’m quite sure she was at home when she died as she has been adamant for years that she would not leave her condo. I guarantee she was NOT in a nursing home. We have discussed for years that she wanted to stay in her own home with her cat and her music so her son and l both helped her as we were able to stay independent.

    I had asked her about the darling cat this spring and she said that one of her neighbors had offered to take her if needed.

    I’m really not sad that Kate died, though l miss her, and I’m quite sure it was peaceful. She has been very saddened by the deaths of her friends of her age in recent years and she was at peace with the idea of going herself. She was ready. I do miss her very much but I’m also glad that she had a good life and many wonderful friends like yourselves.

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