Kathleen Pickering has been the director at the Belen Public Library and Harvey House Museum for two years. She was born in Washington, D.C., was a professor emerita in anthropology at Colorado State University, has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a juris doctorate from the New York University School of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
She is married to Tony DeNardo III, and their children are Jason Mushinski, of Lakewood, Colo., Alexandra Mushinski, of Springfield, Vermont, Ben DeNardo, of Estes Park, Colo., Haille and her husband, Jarred Petroff, and their son, Isaiah, of Evans, Colo.; and her sister, Dianne Strohman, who lives in Dover, Del.
Q What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
A “I think about landscapes, natural, social and historic. It is part of what I love about driving in New Mexico, because all of those landscapes are present wherever you are driving. Then I wonder about what makes certain man-made locations thrive and continue for generations, and what makes other locations pop up but then disappear completely.”
Q What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?
A “That librarians only care about books. One of the awesome things about the library and Harvey House staff is how much they care about the community. This pandemic put a spotlight on how dedicated the staff is to supporting our community through this difficult and often frightening time, whether it is to make books available safely, innovate programs to reach people sequestered in their homes, or just be an understanding voice on the telephone.
“Libraries are critical institutions for maintaining our diverse perspectives and documenting our diverse experiences. Americans are proud of their freedom, and libraries embody the freedom of individuals to pursue ideas and knowledge to fulfill the goals they set for themselves.”
Q What were you like in high school?
A “I was very studious. I always had a list of books I wanted to read, and a schedule of how much I needed to read each day to finish my list — even during the summer! But I had a lot of fun, too. I loved music. I played flute in the orchestra and marching band, and studied classical piano from age 5 all the way through college.
“My best friend in high school was also a flute player, and we would go to performances and concerts in her 1963 royal blue Chevy Impala. When her father was transferred to Moscow as the U.S. military attaché, she gave me her Chevy in exchange for my 10-speed bicycle so she could take the bike with her. We both loved music and that car, and she is still one of my closest friends.”
Q What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
A “The best advice I’ve received is to be humble and speak from your heart. I received this advice from Walter Little Moon, a Lakota elder born in Wounded Knee, S.D. I met Walter and his wife, Jane, when I was working on a 10-year study of household economic dynamics on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
“Walter is a boarding school survivor, and together he and Jane have helped literally thousands of people reclaim their childhoods. They use everyday language to explain the impacts of multi-generational complex post-traumatic stress disorder on individuals, families and friendships. They are amazing, gracious, caring people.”
Q What did you want to be when you grew up?
A “To be honest, I wanted to be Perry Mason. My mother would watch reruns of the old black-and-white TV series at night, so I was hooked at a young age. I wanted to protect people who were wrongly accused, and make sure the real culprits were brought to justice. When I actually went to law school, I discovered the judicial system is more complicated than that, especially when money and power are involved. But I appreciate the skills I learned practicing law, and have found them useful in everything I’ve done since then.”
Q Who inspires you?
A “I am inspired by young people today. I feel that when I was growing up, there were clear social rules and guidelines about what you were supposed to do, what was expected, and how to make your way in the world. There were many repressive and discriminatory aspects to those rules, and the social revolutions of the 1960s dismantled expectations that had been unjustly assumed to be ‘normal’ in the past. At the same time, there was a void in providing guidance about how to operate in the absence of those old social rules.
“I admire this generation of young people for their courage and creativity in constructing a new set of social norms that is actively inclusive, fiercely protective of individual expressions of identity, and open to brand new ways of thinking about the environment, minimalist living, social justice, and health care as self-care. I am eager for the older generation to get out of the way so young people can begin to implement their visions of the future.”
Q If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?
A “I would like to be a zookeeper for a day. I have always loved animals, from the insects in my backyard to the whales in the ocean. The way they interact with each other, the way they care for their young, their curiosity, it all fascinates me. Humans have destroyed so much animal habitat so quickly, I feel like animals need all the help we can give them, and zoos are a big player in providing that help. My husband thinks I love animals more than humans, but I think he is just being ‘species-centric.’”
Q What do you do in your free time?
A “I like to watch movies with my husband, sew clothes for my grandson, and play with our dogs, Ginger, the miniature dachshund, and Sprinkles, the Jack Russel Terrier/Italian Greyhound mix. Whenever time permits, I like to spend time with our children and grandson. And, of course, I love to read books!”
Q What’s something about you most people don’t know?
A “My grandparents on both sides of my family were homesteaders in Nebraska in the late 1800s. Talk about courage and determination. Our lives are so easy and comfortable compared to what my grandparents experienced. My father’s father even built and lived in a sod house.”
Q What three books would you take to a deserted island?
A “Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K. Dick (the inspiration for the movie ‘Blade Runner’), and Fernand Braudel’s three-volume history of Europe called ‘Civilization & Capitalism.’”
Q You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
A “I would like to contribute to an alternative to scholarships, designed to support young people who are not going on to college. There are so many scholarship programs, but if a young person wants to go straight into the workforce or start a business there are fewer supports. If there was a fund that could help pay for their vocational certifications, tools and equipment necessary to get a good job, or even technical assistance and capital to start their own small business, I think that could make a real difference in their lives and help them be more economically self-sufficient sooner.”
Q Who is your best friend and why?
A “My best friend is my husband, Tony. He is the kind of friend who will stand by you, thick or thin. When things are difficult, he finds a way to bring humor and optimism into any situation. And he is happy when I embrace my inner child. He can be a real hand-full sometimes, but then again, so can I!”
Q What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?
A “‘Lean on Me,’ by Billy Withers. Especially with the pandemic, it is important to remember we all need and give support at different times in our lives. It is OK to ask for help.”
Q Where is your happy place, and why?
A “Disneyland is my happy place. It is the first place I remember visiting in the United States, because my aunt lived in Fullerton, Calif., and we would stay with her whenever we were on home leave. However strange and difficult being in the U.S. was, I could suspend all my worries and immerse myself in the fun all around me.
“Then when I was able to share that experience with my children as they were growing up, it became extra special to me. We still like to visit Disney parks.”
Q Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?
A “Growing up in Thailand changed my life, and led me to where I am today. My father was a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department, stationed in Thailand, Vietnam and India, as well as in Washington, D.C., while I was growing up.
“It helped me realize that there are all kinds of ways to live, and no one way is any better than any other. It just depends on what you are used to. It also helped me appreciate the distinctive character of places that are socially, culturally and historically intact. Because of growing up overseas, I have always been a ‘come here’ rather than a ‘from here,’ with no real hometown.
“Because of my experiences, I value the quality of life that exists when people have known each other their whole lives, and families have known each other for generations. I think it is the kind of thing people don’t appreciate until it is gone.
“Over my life time, there has been a tremendous wave of homogenization and displacement that has swept over the world, with the globalization of consumer retail and tourism. So it is a rare gift to have a place like Belen that is still a real community, despite the economic and social pressures.”
Q What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
A “Dr. Nathan Altshuler was founder of the Anthropology Department at the College of William & Mary, and had the greatest impact on me. He had a wonderful way of seeing patterns across cultures that helped you see not only the unique characteristics of a community, but also the commonly-shared characteristics that make us all human and keep us understandable to each other. He was a big proponent of fieldwork, immersing yourself in a cultural community until you could see the world through their eyes, rather than judging them from your own culture’s perspectives. I modeled my teaching approach after him, and thought of him throughout my 20 years of teaching anthropology at Colorado State University.”
Q What is your favorite movie scene and why?
A “I like the scene in ‘Wall-E’ when he takes care of EVE while she is in lockdown mode, waiting to transport the live plant that shows humans can return to the Earth. There is no dialogue, but all the things Wall-E endures to keep EVE safe is very romantic.
“For similar reasons, I like the love scene in the ‘Shape of Water,’ where neither the woman nor the sea creature can talk, but you still feel the depths of their emotions in their desire to care for each other. I am intrigued by the 55 percent of human communication that is body language.”
Q If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?
A “I would like to have dinner with Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, who passed away in 2013. He grew up under the legally sanctioned discrimination of apartheid, and through his leadership helped transform the country into an inclusive democracy. Even though he was vilified by the government, even though he was imprisoned for 27 years, at the point he was elected president of South Africa, he used all his power and influence to bring peace and reconciliation between the races. It would have been so easy, and even justifiable, for him to use his decades of mistreatment as an excuse to counter-oppress White South Africans in the same manner they had oppressed Black South Africans for so long. So I would like to hear more about how he cultivated the personal discipline and integrity to play such a positive and constructive role in bringing about greater social justice in the world.”
Q What are you most proud of?
A “I am most proud of my son and daughter, Jason and Alexandra. Even though they have had to confront some real challenges in their lives, they have grown up to be kind, compassionate, accomplished and spiritually-centered people at their young ages. I am constantly learning from them, and am a better person because they are part of my life.”
Q How would you like to be remembered?
A “I would like to be remembered as a person who made others feel comfortable and welcome, regardless of the setting or situation. And I like to make people laugh, that really makes me happy!”