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Milltown's a better place because of Kathleen

September 14, 2011
When I learned Sunday afternoon that Kathleen Roggenkamp had passed away, I couldn't help but think about the closing of the Sherman Minton bridge connecting New Albany and Louisville and all of the trouble for commuters. I couldn't help but think that if Kathleen was involved, the bridge would be repaired and reopened in no time.

You see, that's the type of person Kathleen was: a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact, I-want-it-done-yesterday woman. Despite being petite in stature and in her mid-80s, she wasn't the "honorary mayor of Milltown" for nothing.

Duke and Kathleen Roggenkamp, above in their home in 2005, celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
More than that, however, Kathleen was a woman who loved her family, her friends and her community. She wanted only the best for them and was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that they got it.

Until her health prevented her, Kathleen was a fixture at Milltown's monthly town council meetings. It wasn't unusual for her to have a list of items to go through during the public comment section. And everyone would pay attention, because, if she brought it up, it was important.

I featured Kathleen in a Style story in March 2005, when she was selected as the Community Foundation of Crawford County's first recipient of the Women in Philanthropy award, but I, like most people in the area, had known her for years.

The first time I met her and her husband, E.K. (Duke) Roggenkamp Jr., was in the mid-1990s, I think, when I went to their home to talk to them about a trash clean-up project. For those of you who knew Kathleen, I'm sure you're not shocked, as she always was doing what she could to make Milltown a more beautiful place.

Kathleen had always been involved in the community in some way — she was the first president of the Milltown American Legion Auxiliary, a Girl Scout leader, influential in fundraising for the American Cancer Society, and chair of the old Polio Foundation — but it was in 1989, a year after she and Duke closed the General Motors dealership that Duke's father, E.K. Roggenkamp Sr., started in 1930, that she started what was described as her "second" career.

At the suggestion of a town council member, Kathleen headed up the town's 150th anniversary celebration. The party included everything from a parade with marching bands, antique cars, floats and oxen-drawn wagons to tapes and books, memorial trees, T-shirts, decorations throughout town, musicians and a Sunday morning worship service.

"My gosh! I worked eight hours a day," she recalled in the 2005 article, noting planning for the October event began in March.

But, if the town was going to showcase itself, Kathleen wanted it to look good.

"I tore down three houses," she said.

Kathleen worked to secure the deeds to the properties, so the town could raze the structures and clear the debris. Unafraid to get dirty and wanting to make sure the job was completed, Kathleen, age 64 at the time, jumped in firsthand, taking the keys to the town dump truck. "I'd drive out to the dump and out to the cliff" to unload the debris, she remembered, chuckling.

"We even washed people's windows on the outside of Main Street," she said.

For years, Kathleen spearheaded an annual clean-up campaign, which collected more than 100 discarded appliances one year and 90 junk cars another. She considered Milltown an extension of her home and wanted people to show the same respect they would when visiting her.

"You wouldn't go spit on the carpet in somebody's living room, and the town is my living room," she said.

Kathleen's efforts, however, went beyond keeping the town clean. Each Memorial Day, she and others manned a tent at Milltown Cemetery to solicit donations to help pay for upkeep.

She also was one of the town's biggest proponents of building a two-lane bridge over the Blue River to replace the one-lane structure that joined the Harrison and Crawford County sides of town.

"My biggest aim in life is to live to see that bridge built," she said in 2005.

For years, Kathleen pushed the town council and commissioners from both counties to move forward with the project, and, finally, in July 2010, she and Duke, surrounded by officials from both counties, cut the ribbon to officially open the new bridge.

It's a testament to Kathleen that three of those officials — Milltown Town Council President Curt Hudson, former Crawford County Commissioner Larry Bye and Harrison County Commissioner James Goldman — whom she pushed were selected as a pallbearer and honorary pallbearers, respectively.

Kathleen and Duke, whom she was married to for 68 years, have been a big part of Milltown for many years. It is strange to think she is no longer just a phone call way, but Milltown is a better town because of her.

Just like everyone who knew her.

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