Meet Kathleen Odne: Community Advocate
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Kathleen Odne has spent 40 years in the Northgate neighborhood striving to make our community stronger through her work with local non-profits.
Kathleen met her husband, John, in Chicago in 1973. After a year of teaching high school she went to work for American Hospital Supply. John, a native North Dakotan who had recently returned from the Vietnam War, also worked there. They married in 1975, and after a few years in various parts of the U.S., they landed in the Northgate neighborhood.
John became Sales Manager for the Western Region of Electro- Biology, Inc., selling medical devices. The couple raised their three sons Chris, Tim and Scott here while Kathleen volunteered her time with Junior League of Oakland-East Bay, at our local schools, and at the Scottsdale Swim Club. She served on the board of De La Salle High School, where Chris and Scott attended. Tim attended Northgate High School.
Kathleen returned to college in her 40’s to earn a Master’s Degree in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University. For 23 years she served as the first Executive Director of the Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation, a philanthropic family foundation making significant grants to many nonprofits throughout Contra Costa County and beyond. “It was a deeply rewarding job and I loved every minute of my tenure there,” says Kathleen. She was named Citizen of the Year in 2016 by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce. She retired in 2017, joining John in retirement, but maintained her roles on the boards of three local nonprofits: Lesher Foundation, John Muir Health and the Walnut Creek Library Foundation.
However, in early 2019, when the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) had an unexpected leadership transition, the Executive Director of the Contra Costa/Solano Food Bank, Larry Sly, recruited her to leave retirement and take the helm temporarily for CAFB. “I feel so passionately about eradicating hunger in our great state that I agreed,” says Kathleen.
I am planning to ‘re-retire’ sometime in 2020, but the work of CAFB is so critically important that I find myself deeply immersed in reducing hunger among Californians, many of whom are children.
The Odnes raised their boys in two different homes in the Northgate area, on Dover Ct. and then on Pawnee Drive. Their third home in the neighborhood, their “empty nester” home, is in the Castle Rock area. Kathleen says, “It feels like it is ‘out in the country.’ Borges Ranch is close by, and there’s lots of open space, and plenty of stables, so the horses are our neighbors too.” They are fortunate to have all three sons living nearby, two in Walnut Creek and one in Pacheco. Chris and his wife, Jill, have given them their first grandchild – their “grand girl” (as they call her) Dylan. A cat named Miss Nibbs completes the family.
Kathleen and John have been members at St. Matthew Lutheran Church since they moved here in 1979. They have also been part of a Gourmet Club that started as part of the Newcomers Club in 1981 when they were all young couples with babies. Now most have grandbabies. “We meet four times throughout the year and always have themes - last year was a movie theme so Rocky was Italian food, Crazy Rich Asians was Asian Food, Julie and Julia was classic French cooking. We have as many laughs as we do delicious bites!”
Kathleen is also a member of a book club that has been meeting for 39 years. They have explored many different genres and hundreds of books. Kathleen says, “Invariably, I enjoy a book more once I’ve discussed it with these wonderful women… We started out as 10 members, now we are down to 6 as some have moved away. A real highlight was this past summer when Elise Hooper came and talked to our book club - she had recently written, Learning to See, a historical fiction book about Dorothea Lange, the famous photographer who took the iconic Depression era photo.”
Travel has become highlight of the Odne’s empty nest years. In the past five years they have visited many European countries as well as China, Russia, and the Serengeti in Africa.
Kathleen reflects, “We were transferred to Walnut Creek from New Jersey in 1979. We had three days to find a house and I feel so lucky that we settled in the Creek, a wonderful community to live and raise a family…we wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.” We are lucky as well that they landed here, and the many non-profits Kathleen has worked tirelessly for would likely agree.