Your Neighbor: Meet Kristen Katula

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier

On the heels of Kristen Katula’s most recent adventure to Germany this past summer, she’s reminded of how impactful her nomadic upbringing was.

“Because of my father’s career in the United States Air Force and subsequent position at Caterpillar, we moved often,” Katula said. “From a child’s perspective, having to make new friends in strange places, you don’t always see the value in what you’re able to take in. The longest we lived anywhere was in the farmland of Illinois where we had goats, chickens, a horse, dogs and cats.”

As the youngest of two siblings who were 8 and 11 years older than she was, Katula was raised almost like an only child.

“My younger brother had leukemia as a child and spent a lot of time at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital,” Katula said. “My parents decided to have me when they got the diagnosis because I think they were worried they would lose him as a child, which is why there is such an age gap. I don’t remember it myself, but what my parents told me, my brother proudly took me around as a baby and showed other patients. Our entire family gained the greatest of appreciations for St. Jude’s because they showed our family such compassion and care with my brother’s recovery. It really is true what they say because they do not turn any family away because they cannot pay the cost of the bill, which was enormous.”

After her brother beat leukemia, Katula recalls a childhood full of travel.

“It’s funny I thought my world was ending when at 13 years old, we were moved to Geneva, Switzerland,” Katula said. “My parents told us that it would only be for two years, and I immediately started the countdown once we got there. On the first day that it snowed in school, our teacher told us the next day we wouldn’t have class in our classroom. We received instruction to bring our skis and gear the next day. Originally, I was horrified since I didn’t have anything, but my dad took me to get everything I needed to participate the following day. I fell in love with skiing, the surroundings, and realized at the end, I didn’t even want to leave.”

When she started applying for college, the benefits of her travels began to reveal themselves.

“I applied to several schools in the Midwest and decided on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because that’s where my parents said I could attend and keep my car,” Katula said. “I remember communicating with my parents when I was there through fax. They were living in Hong Kong at the time, and email had just started.”

Aside from having a mode of transportation, another upside to Katula’s college choice was meeting her future husband, Jeff.

“We met my last year at college,” Katula said. “Jeff was getting his Ph.D. and assisting in the golf course I was taking. He made sure to ask his advisor first if it was OK if he asked me out on a date.”

“Because we had gotten serious my last year in college, I decided to move to Chicago, where he was from when I graduated with a bachelor of science degree in speech communication,” Katula said. “I had always sworn that I would never live there growing up in farmland areas in Illinois. But Jeff was from there, and we decided to really give it a go. I took a position with Capitol Wholesale Meats in IT because I was pretty savvy with technology.”

Fortunately, Katula’s job was flexible with her physical location because Jeff was offered a position in Greensboro.

“He had told me that with his focus being so specific, that he would be applying to just a handful of places,” Katula said. “With my family still living all over the place and my background having traveled often, I was ready for the adventure. First, I took him to meet my parents, who still lived overseas in Southeast Asia. I remember Jeff being so surprised he had to fly halfway across the world to meet them for the first time.”

After meeting her parents, Jeff and Kristen headed to North Carolina to establish their roots as newlyweds.

“We didn’t have kids right away,” Katula said. “We saw our friends having children and wanted to make sure we took enough time for us to do the things that we wanted to do first. We waited about seven years until we began really considering it. I had taken a new job on too at Volvo Financial Services, where I was still focusing on IT work.”

After establishing their careers and making new friends in the community, Jeff and Kristen decided to expand their family.

“I was shocked at first when it was a challenge to conceive,” Katula said. “We turned to IVF and were lucky to have our daughter, Khloe, 14. I decided to stay at home full-time when she was eight months old. We didn’t want to wait too long to try for more children but were excited to learn that we were pregnant with twins, brothers Caden and Kyle, 13. We call them the Irish triplets because there are only 18 months between them.”

As the Katula family was expanding, they faced some tough news.

“My brother had a stroke when I was pregnant with the boys,” Katula said. “My family had been warned that was a potential risk with the radiation he had received as a child. It left him unable to talk or walk, although he was able to understand everything that was being said to him for 13 years before he passed. He was a dad, too, so I know how hard it must have been for him to realize that he wasn’t going to get better.’

With reminders of the importance of family, Katula wanted to ensure her own children got the many valuable lessons that were instilled in her as a child.

“We took our kids in 2018 to be part of the study abroad program in Venice, Italy,” Katula said. “There were 16 kids in the program, and they became like our second children. We stayed from January through mid-May. It was such a neat experience as a family and for our kids, who were in second and third grades then.

“We continued to have adventures after that, too, because the kids enjoyed it so much. We were over in Germany with friends of ours this summer, and Chloe stayed behind for a month with a family. She’s going to an all-German school and doesn’t understand the language, but is trying to learn it and soaking in their culture.”

Katula has enjoyed sharing with her family interests that had meaning for her from her childhood, including sewing and crafting.

“My sister had learned from my grandmother how to sew,” Katula said. “That came in very handy with having kids that grow quickly because I would sew a lot of their clothes. I loved upcycling some of their favorite outfits and making them last longer because of it. We would go to Wake Forest games, and people would love the originality of them and asked where they could buy them. So, I began selling them too. I stopped for a bit, though, because we were so busy with the kids’ activities. Now that Khloe is asking me to teach her out to do it, I’m thinking of starting it back up again. I would love to share that experience with her and reopen KatulaPalooza on Etsy. I can’t wait to see her creativity in action.

“As a parent, it’s really fun to see your kids embracing similar passions and hobbies that you enjoy.”

With a rising freshman high school student and her sons in their last year of middle school, Katula is realizing that those moments are fleeting and meant to be treasured.

“We have been lucky to raise these kids in such a loving and welcoming community here in Clemmons,” Katula said.