her Life

Kathryn: Origins, Early Life

Kathryn was born to Frank and Irene Weibel on October 31st, 1936 in North Platte, Nebraska, their only child. She spent her early years there, however following the devastation of the Dust Bowl, which especially impacted western and sand hill Nebraska and other states, her family soon moved. Her father, who was an auto mechanic at the time, hit upon the idea of migrating as depicted in Grapes of Wrath and other news and social commentaries of the time, so they migrated to Oregon. He took his brother and his brother's family as well, and once resettled Frank discovered he could keep busy and earn good money based on his mastery of all things mechanical if he followed construction and mining activities; his brother settled rather than migrate and roam the far West. Frank supported gold and coal mining works, often in deep shafts rather than the strip mining that is more familiar in the Midwest and Eastern United States.

With the onset of World War II both Frank and Irene went to work in the defense industry; this then meant Kathryn became one of the first “latchkey kids” as her parents arranged their shifts so that one worked on the overnight and the other work during the day shift. Kathryn was left to manage things around the house by herself. Over the course of her childhood (ending when she entered Reed College as a 16-year-old freshman in 1953) the Weibels lived in some 45 different locales, including Skamokawa, Washington, Green River, Wyoming, and Suntrana, Alaska. Her father going to where he could find work, meant they moved around freely, and he had employment full-time rather than seasonally. Frank Weibel was considered a mechanical genius and royalty in some senses of the words by his extended family and neighbors around who looked up to him for leadership and ideas. That Kathryn grew up in this environment - seasonal mining camps - meant she had limited access to books and continuity in her formal schooling. 

Kathryn and her mother drove the Alaskan Highway to be with Frank, and in so doing probably became the first female couple to ever venture out and complete that long trek of 1200 miles. This was shortly before she entered college and there were very few books; she read what was available and was stumped by the word “empirical,” with no recourse to find its meaning. Then came the question of college. She visited the University of Oregon and was put off by her discovery that the girl who hosted her owned some 30 to 50 skirts! Kathryn was not into clothes and may have had 2 or 3 skirts, for she typically wore jeans and a miner’s shirt.

She told her father she preferred to go to Reed college in Portland, and he expressed concern for her having chosen the single most expensive college, certainly in that part of the world. It cost approximately seven hundred dollars, but she explained to him that it was the best school and that's why she wanted to go there, not because it was the most expensive. Her wardrobe distinguished her from the other students because she wore her overalls and miner’s shirts. Some 40 to 50 years afterwards, while reflecting on her experiences at Reed, she recognized that she had been in all probability the first “flower child” anywhere.

At Reed she says she discovered classical music wafting from dorm rooms and in Hum 11; traveling around in mining camps and mining towns as she had while growing up, she had only been exposed to what we then called hillbilly music, or now what we call country music. These two genres of music dominated her listening throughout the rest of her life. She also enjoyed Pete Seeger and other folk musicians, as well as country blues, especially Howling’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed, who was her favorite.

She somehow began Reed with the notion she was going to major in philosophy but quickly discovered that she had little interest in discussions of ‘being’ and similar arcane topics; besides, the readings were many and impossible to comprehend. Western civ, the interdisciplinary course which was fashionable at the time, and where one studied music, history and politics along with a little economics, sociology, and anthropology proved difficult to handle. She struggled with completing the weekly reading assignments of about 500 pages because she was a slow reader, in part because she had learned to read only after she was about age 11. The 45 moves and locations in sparsely or wholly unpopulated places provided little time and few resources to read and study. She struggled with the demanding workload at Reed but developed a clear knack for almost total recall of whatever she got read. She managed to keep up with her coursework, though struggling in the science classes somewhat. Along the way she discovered she had a remarkable talent for doing well on examinations (no doubt due to the fact that she did not scare easily). 

Kathryn was a very beautiful woman and was at the top of her class, and that got the attention of one Cliff Lloyd, whom she married at age 18. She had strong misgivings about her father having to pay the exorbitant tuition at Reed, so she and Cliff left Portland after her freshman year and relocated to Washington State College. There they had the good fortune of meeting the man who would ultimately become an eminent economist and editor of the American Economic Review, Robert W. Clower, who was there having returned from England, I believe. He was at Washington State to complete the work his recently deceased father had begun. Soon thereafter Clower got a position at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and he took Cliff and went off to do economics there.

Despite having two children by this time - Anamaria and Clifford - she found time and interest in what was the first African Studies seminar in the US, run by Melville Herskovits. Soon there came an opportunity for her to go to the Sudan, because her husband, despite being a mere 21-years old, was appointed to a Smith-Mundt professorship due to his support by Bob Clower. Mr. Clower was convinced that she would never recover from the complications of her second childbirth with her son Clifford unless she had significant household help which she could not afford in Chicago. They went off to the Sudan, where they spent a couple of years, and Kathryn read everything that was available in social anthropology about the Sudanese peoples, which would prove fortuitous. She came in contact with the external examiner from Oxford, Norman Leyland, Winston Churchill’s personal secretary during the War, who had come to the Sudan to examine the economics students, and was having a difficult time dealing with the abundant mosquitoes. Kathryn invited him to move from the hotel where he had been staying to where she and Cliff lived. As a result of the interactions in conversation while being rescued from mosquitoes, Leyland, Warden of Nuffield College, invited Cliff to Oxford to study economics. Kathryn met the faculty at Nuffield, and Margery Perham of the Institute of Social Anthropology insisted it would be a waste if she did not enroll in a program of studies.

Her knowledge and command of the studies that had been done on the Sudanese enabled her to readily demonstrate she was more than ready to do graduate work at Oxford. She was examined for admission and admitted to do a diploma in social anthropology, a graduate program which typically would be ranked somewhere above a Master’s. Two years later it was time for her to take her final exam. She said at the time she had no idea what the nature of exam was, and had she known that virtually everyone who took the exam failed she would not have taken the exam. However, she became one of the few who succeeded in passing the exam, earning her diploma in social anthropology after taking something on the order 2 days of 6 to 10 hours of exams with essentially one year of study at Reed College as a sixteen-year-old.

During their time at Oxford, they had their third child, Elisabeth (or “Lili” as she is known to most). Kathryn served as typist and editor for Cliff, who went on to become the first person to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy in economic theory at Nuffield, writing his thesis on general equilibrium theory. They were recruited to Purdue University where Kathryn would ultimately become a research associate in the Krannert School to work alongside Nobel laureate-to-be Vernon L Smith and Edward Overstreet, who was the first, and perhaps the only PhD in administrative science Purdue ever granted. After being there for several years and having another child, Ariana, Cliff took a job at State University of New York in Buffalo. Kathryn wanted to be independent of Cliff so she declined an appointment there and instead got a faculty position in sociology at Buffalo State College. Their marriage had apparently been unraveling at Purdue and it now unraveled completely so that by 1969, after 14 years of marriage, she and Cliff divorced.

Kathryn and Oscar: Activism, Travel and More

by Oscar T. Brookins 

Kathryn taught sociology at Buffalo State, but after being there for a couple of years she wanted to go back to England to pursue a doctoral degree and tried unsuccessfully to find funding. By that point in time, 1971, I, her future husband, Oscar Brookins, had fully entered her life, and I tried to help her find positions via The London Times newspaper and on a particular day in the Buffalo library she came over to my table and said, “There does not seem to be much of anything in anthropology or sociology but there seem to be a lot of jobs in economics, so why don't you apply?” I said I needed to finish my degree, but I’d think about it; anyway I did apply and got an appointment, offered to me by Max Steuer at the University of Ghana, so in January 1972 I went off to lecture in economics. Kathryn remained at Buffalo State and soon hit upon the idea of joining me by bringing a group of students to experience Africa first-hand. She would recruit students and I would develop the curriculum and work out the logistics of housing and instruction for the program.

We accomplished what I’m certain was the first time ever on that scale that any institution (let alone a lowly State College) would successfully pull off a study program in West Africa. We would be there nine weeks with 23 students in the summer of 1972. Kathryn got the college’s administration to grant academic credits and pay her a summer salary along with one for another faculty member, Karen Davidson. Together they managed to get the State College to grant students tuition so there we were the $900 programs—$100 a week inclusive of tuition In academic credit and round trip airfare because Kathryn connected with the Crossroads Africa group and they had a charter plane which was under-filled. It was flying into Accra, Ghana and then nine weeks later it was departing from Abidjan, Cȏte d’Ivoire.

Six months later Kathryn returned to Ghana and we married on March 10, 1973. She had begun to get a little bit active there on politically sensitive environmental issues related to the Tata Brewery’ plant at Achimota. In May, 1974 she gave birth to our first daughter, a healthy 9 pound 8 ounce Laura , and in so doing became the first non-black to give birth at the Kumoji Maternity Hospital in Osu Circle, Accra.

We stayed in Ghana as long as we could with the little money we had, because her first husband, though one of the highest paid faculty members in North America, was not paying child support. I had the limited funds I had accumulated in the couple of years of doing graduate studies. I was earning 3880 Ghanaian Cedis which officially was when the cedi was worth US $0.78, but the purchasing power was significantly less than that.

In 1974 I accepted a position at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana that had originally been offered to me by Dennis Dugan a few years earlier. We returned to the states and later moved to 620 W. LaSalle Ave. We made many lifelong friends, including our neighbors and Notre Dame colleagues Dennis Moran and Noreen Dean Moran and became engaged in historical restoration of homes and communities on the Near West Side, but Kathryn would eventually become particularly involved and interested in the public schools.

In 1976, at the urging of my Notre Dame colleague Kwan Kim and his wife Gloria Kim, we joined them in Tanzania, where Kwan and I taught at the University of Dar Es Salaam. Kathryn gave birth to our youngest child Julia, her sixth, in Nairobi, Kenya. She judged that the medical care there was more reliable at that time than what was available in Tanzania. We returned to South Bend in August, 1977.

I was approached by Clarence Abdul Nabaa, who was a black Muslim trying to operate a newspaper there in South Bend and needed money. I said I would give him a certain amount of money in exchange for authorizing a news columnist in the person of my wife. He agreed, so here was a black Muslim newspaper with a white, female columnist writing in its pages. That's how she got started in his journalistic activities which coalesced in 1992 with the launch of the Mission Hill News in Boston. 

She and I also worked on creating a historical district, however, in January 1980 it was announced that the South Bend public schools were going to be voluntarily desegregated. There was a very odd and unprecedented consent decree, because there was no pending lawsuit, so how do you get a consent decree? The U.S. Justice Department and the South Bend school system apparently had used this tactic to avoid having anyone intervene so they could proceed to agree on whatever plan they chose without really informing the public. I managed to get appointed to the school board, and then Kathryn, on behalf of our daughter Laura, sued claiming in part undue impact of the program, and she took it all the way up to the US Supreme Court, where the case was not heard.