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ATHOL- Kathy (Kathryn Elizabeth) Richards passed away on March 25, 2023 of ALS at her home in Athol, MA. She was 58 years old. Her sister, Lisa was her caregiver throughout Kathy’s illness.
Kathy was born in Baton Rouge, LA to Wayne and Dawn (Emerson) Richards on December 29,
1964. Kathy grew up in Madison and Medford, NJ and graduated from Shawnee High School in
Medford. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Education from Rider College (now University) in
Lawrenceville, N.J, Class of ‘88. Her formal education was enhanced in 1995 with a Master’s
Course in Nature Center Operations at the School of Conservation at Montclair State University
Following a job as a teacher’s assistant her first year out of college, Kathy decided that
classroom teaching wasn’t for her. After much soul searching, she finally made the decision to
look into training programs for teaching Environmental Education. Between 1989 and 1993,
Kathy completed 4 internships: Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia,
PA; Dodge Nature Center, West St. Paul, MN; Discover the Neuse, Camp Sea Gull, Arapahoe,
NC; and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, Penn State University, PA. Those 4 internships
led to many opportunities in nature centers and camps.
Her next 7 years were spent at Ashokan Field Campus of the State Univ. of NY at New Paltz
teaching 4th-6th graders and conducting workshops for teachers in colonial, cultural and
natural history and skills. In her next position, Kathy was a Teacher/Naturalist, Scouting
Coordinator and Day Camp Director at The Natural Resources Trust of Easton, MA.
Most of Kathy’s work since 2002 was as a staff member at Massachusetts Audubon Society
Sanctuaries. During those 20 years she was a Teacher/Naturalist teaching all things
environmental from trees, plants, animals and habitats to ponds,rivers,vernal pools and all living
creatures in those habitats in all seasons. She often led night hikes to observe nightlife and
snowshoeing to learn about animal and bird tracking... Kathy was the go-to person for all Scout
programs having had many years of experience as a Girl Scout.
Kathy taught in several Audubon locations in Massachusetts whenever needed, including
Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary as well as Moose Hill, Broadmoor, Wachusett
Meadow, Broad Meadow Brook, and Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuaries. Also she taught at
Chickatawbut Hill in Blue Hills and Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center.
In addition to teaching in these locations, she regularly volunteered for their special events for
Halloween, Solstice and maple sugaring celebrations to name just a few.
Interspersed throughout each year were various Summer, Winter and Spring Vacation Day
Camps. In addition to working for Day Camps at Audubon Centers, Kathy was Program Director
for Camp Wendy, Ulster Co. Girl Scout Council in NY State; Unit Leader at Camp Epworth in
High Falls, NY; Summer Naturalist at Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Assoc., Pennington NJ;
and Teacher Naturalist at The Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, RI.
Kathy earned certifications in American Red Cross First Aid & Adult CPR. She became a
facilitator for Project WILD, Project Learning Tree and Project WET after receiving Certifications
in each. She was a long-term member of Sierra Club, New England Environmental Education
Alliance (NEEEA) and Massachusetts Environmental Education Society (MEES). She served
as a Board Member of MEES. She was also a certified canoe instructor and active teacher of
Locally, Kathy was on the board of the Athol Bird and Nature Club where she was also a
program presenter and an enthusiastic participant in the Green Clean Athol cleanup days. For
many years Kathy was on the volunteer recycling crew at the Franklin County Fair. She spent
many summers at Camp Wiyaka (a local YMCA sponsored summer camp) and recently became
very active in their alumni group. Kathy never forgot a camp song and never stopped teaching
them to the kids with whom she worked. She was a true lover of music and would never miss a
concert by Tom Chapin, The Green Sisters, John McCutcheon, or Kim and Reggie Harris when
they were in the area. She loved folk festivals and even had her picture taken with Pete Seeger
(whose music she loved) at The Clearwater Festival. She was also actively involved in her
churches: 1st Universalist Church of Orange...and Athol Unitarian Church (which only meets
sporadically since the building was closed some years ago). True to form, she did a great deal
of volunteering for church events and she sang in the choir.
Kathy is predeceased by her Grandparents Kenneth and Thelma Richards of Athol, MA and
Ralph and Dorothy Emerson of Groveton, NH, and by her Uncle Jim, Aunt Kathy and Cousin
Michael Emerson also of Groveton. Surviving family are parents, Wayne and Dawn Richards of
Medford, NJ, sister Lisa Richards of Athol, MA, and cousins Kevin and Andrew Emerson of
Groveton, NH and Brian Emerson of Littleton, NH and their families. She also leaves her
constant companion and “warm furry motor”, Whiskers.
A celebration of Kathy’s life will be held on June 11, 2023 at 2:00pm at Temple Israel, 107
Walnut Street, Athol, MA followed by a reception at Athol Bird & Nature Club, 100 Main Street,
Athol (within easy walking distance of the Synagogue). (Note: the sign in front of the nature
club says “Millers River Environmental Center”.) Please feel free to wear a leaf-printed T-shirt
made by Kathy if you have one or other environmental clothing if you so choose.
In lieu of flowers the family would be pleased to have donations sent to the Athol Bird and
Nature Club. Tax deductible donations can be made out to the Athol Bird and Nature Club
(ABNC) and mailed to ABNC. 100 Main Street, Athol, MA 01331. Donations can also be made
online https://atholbirdclub.org/donations/ there is a drop down list where one can direct the
donation in Kathy’s memory.