The Johnson Museum’s first director, Tom Leavitt, wrote in our 1987–88 annual report, “Education plans for the future. Education department staff members are constantly searching for ways to collaborate with schools, community centers, and other institutions in the region to present better educational programs centered on the museum’s collections and exhibitions.”

In August 1987, Cathy Klimaszewski joined our staff as an education assistant, and proved to be the best realization of Leavitt’s vision. Cathy is retiring this January after more than three decades of teaching, collaborating, and representing the collection to all our audiences. Her remarkable, foundational work for this museum will live on through the many ways our outreach will continue and grow.    

In 1992, Cathy was appointed to head a reimagined Museum education department as the first Harriett Ames Charitable Trust Curator of Education. But since her hiring, she was the creating and sustaining force behind the Johnson’s OMNI (Objects and Their Makers: New Insights) Program. Through the decades OMNI has provided thousands of area elementary and secondary school students with gallery and artmaking experiences guided by the Museum’s education staff and artists alongside activities in their classrooms.

That depth of experience and expertise was crucial when outreach expanded in later decades. Sue Rakow has been a teacher, Ithaca City School District staff developer, and community volunteer, including at the Johnson. She first met Cathy when they were teamed to work together on initial plans for the Kids Discover the Trail! program. “We began answering questions but quickly saw that they would not apply to our task, which was to create a program for pre-K students. This did not daunt us. With Cathy’s enthusiasm, warmth, and wit, we launched into a creative endeavor that was challenging and exhilarating. It was a wonderful day that I will always remember thanks to Cathy’s understanding and embracing of our children.”

While overseeing our education staff, Cathy served on the Museum’s leadership team as associate director and took on countless other responsibilities. She pioneered the Museum’s academic integration on campus by teaching Cornell class sessions at the Museum and working with faculty on two long-standing course collaborations, “The Museum and the Object” with the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies, and “The Museum and the Public Sphere” with City and Regional Planning in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Cathy curated exhibitions of quilts and facilitated several quilt acquisitions for the Museum’s collection. She was active with the Cornell Council for the Arts, a House Fellow at Carl Becker House, a grants panelist and reviewer, a conference presenter, Cornell’s Adult University instructor, and volunteer with Groton Food Providers, and Cornell Elves. She led and expanded our internship program, headed our Faculty Advisory Committee, and brought the performing arts into our galleries by partnering with musicians, dancers, and poets across campus.

Linda Price was the Museum’s first coordinator of school and children’s programs (from 1993 to 2004), following three years working with Cathy as an assistant. “Cathy led the education department with wisdom, insight, and warmth. Since I first met her, she has been a firm advocate for using the art in the Museum’s collection as a way to invigorate and broaden education across all disciplines and age groups. Cathy brings an enthusiasm and creativity to everything she does.”

Carol Hockett has been our coordinator of school and family programs since 2004. “Cathy is a dynamo,” she says. “Her passion for teaching and learning, warmth, energy, enthusiasm, and genuine desire to connect with students and faculty have made a world of difference to campus and community over the last thirty-two years. Her gifts as a leader, advocate for underserved communities and teacher will be greatly missed.”