Katie Wolf, whose buoyant smile and lifelong commitment to her community earned her the unofficial title of "First Lady of White County," died Tuesday at White Oak Health Campus. She was 94.
She served 16 years in the Indiana General Assembly, 14 of them in the Senate, before retiring in 2000. She was adept at navigating the state bureaucracy to help her constituents. Her home telephone, which her family dubbed "The Hot Line," rang continuously even years after she left the legislature.
Katie was instrumental in the founding of such community organizations as White County United Fund (now United Way), White County Mental Health Society and as one of three women on the organizing committee of Women Giving Together, under the auspices of the White County Community Foundation, which honored her as Woman of the Year in 2009.
"If you stop and think, about it, none of us ever does anything alone," she said. "We have to reach out to others. And no one ever knows how far-reaching one small act may be".
Katie had a lifelong mission to encourage women to become involved in civic affairs: politics, community groups, entrepreneurship, and entering the professions.
"She so believes in the power of women to change things for the better," said Foundation Director Leslie Goss at the 2009 Foundation dinner.
A lifelong resident of White County, she was born to John and Helen Munsterman on July 9, 1925, in Wolcott and grew up on the family farm. The youngest of five children, she always stuck around when the grownups talked about politics (her dad was a Republican precinct committeeman) and graduated from Wolcott High School in 1943. Katie graduated from Indiana Business College and attended Purdue University.
She was a cheerleader at Wolcott and family lore had it that a Reynolds basketball star named Charlie Wolf would wink at her when the two schools played. They were married on Dec. 2, 1945. They lived in Reynolds until moving to Monticello in 1978. When Charlie was confined to a nursing home in 2006, Katie visited him twice a day to share meals and serve as his advocate. He passed away in 2010.
Both she and Charlie became active in politics in the late 1950s. She was elected to the Democratic National Committee in 1962, attended national conventions and visited the White House after Lyndon Johnsons election in 1964.
Katie was appointed in 1965 to fill the unexpired term of the White County Clerk who died in office. She was elected to two full terms and was working late in her office preparing for an upcoming primary election on April 3, 1974, when a tornado roared through Monticello, devastating the downtown and killing eight people. Her first instinct was to seek shelter in the large office safe, but instead she ran to the front of the office and pulled the big oak door against her as the wind buffeted the old stone structure. When the tornado passed, she glanced at the safe and saw it was filled with debris that had fallen from the ceiling and roof.
She moved to the Senate in 1986 and served 16 years in the Legislature before retiring in 2000. She took great pride in being the first woman elected to both her House and Senate seats: "I guess if the good Lord thought it was important enough to bless you with a neck, he must have wanted you to stick it out," she told the Monticello Herald-Journal, about campaigning as a Democrat and a woman.
Among her legislative accomplishments, few were as significant to her community as championing funding for Lake Shafer and Lake Freeman. As part of the effort, she invited a delegation of state officials to tour the lakes and surreptitiously arranged for local business, government and tourism officials to just happen to drop in on the group and explain the importance of the lakes to the community.
She co-authored the 21st Century Scholars program that helps Hoosier students in low- to moderate-income families afford a college education, authored the Indiana Safe Haven Law and advocated for women, farmers, the mentally ill and the elderly on a plethora of issues. She served on the Indiana Commission for Women, including a term as chairwoman.
She was both Freshman Legislator of the Year and Legislator of the Year and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Monticello Chamber of Commerce. Her Election Day operation - run out of her dining room table - was a model of organization and she tutored several women candidates about campaigning. She maintained a keen interest in politics up to the end of her life and was always eager to talk about current events.
She donned the robe and cowls when she was awarded a Doctor of Laws Honoris Causis degree from St. Joseph College in 2009, the same year she was named Woman of the Year by the White County Community Foundation. In her last major public appearance, she represented White County by carrying the Indiana Bicentennial Torch in 2016.
Away from her public life she was a loving wife, a role model to her children and a doting grandparent. The last time she traveled was to Nashville, Tenn., to celebrate the first birthday of her great grandchild Henry, whose birthday is just a few days away from her own.
She was a lifelong member of St. James Lutheran Church in Reynolds, taught Sunday School and was a 4-H leader.
She was our matriarch and our inspiration and she will live in our hearts forever.
She is survived by her children, Marcia (Ray) Scheele of Chicago and Mark (Cheryl) of Littleton, CO., grandchildren Matthew (Lisa) of Littleton, and Michael (Kate) of Nashville, Tenn., and great-grandchildren Leila, Henry and Anabelle.
She was preceded in death by her parents and husband, sister Marcella and brothers Arnold, Leroy and Sylvester.
In the last major article printed about her, she talked about her legacy of service:"Its not so much what we do for ourselves, because that dies with us. Its what we do for others that lives on."
Due to the pandemic, no service will be held at this time. A Memorial Service will be planned at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are encouraged to: Women Giving Together or the Katie and Charlie Wolf Endowment Fund, both at the Community Foundation of White County. Checks should be made out to the Community Foundation of White County and a note placed in the memo line for either Wolf or WGT.
Springer-Voorhis-Draper Funeral Home of Monticello is entrusted with care.
Family and friends are encouraged to share a memory or messages of condolence at www.springerfuneralhome.com