The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Wood
The Times 

Hockersmith Wins Community Service Award

Waitsburg resident receives recognition for kid-centered service


Dena Wood

Kate Hockersmith shows surprise at hearing her name called as the Community Service Award Winner at last week's Commercial Club meeting. Son, John Hockersmith (r) and Switchgrass ban member Robert Walsh (l) applaud.

WAITSBURG – Waitsburg Touchet Valley Acoustic Music Program (TVAMP) Director Kate Hockersmith joined the ranks of more than 50 deserving individuals – the first being Ernest Kison in 1962 – to receive Waitsburg's Community Service Award. The award was previously known as the Citizen of the Year Award.

Hockersmith, who thought she was simply directing her bluegrass band, Switchgrass, in providing the evening's entertainment, was taken by complete surprise when her name was called as the 2014 award recipient at the Waitsburg Commercial Club meeting at Town Hall on April 7.

A letter of recommendation from Allison Bond describes Hockersmith as, "a person you may not have considered in the past. Not because she's undeserving, but because many of the things she does in this community, she does with such smoothness, grace and kindness that it almost seems effortless. I have seen that she works tirelessly, often with little recognition, usually for no pay, and as far as I can tell, for the sheer joy of seeing others excel."

Bond's letter cited Hockersmith's involvement in leading 4-H, giving music lessons and her work with several young bluegrass bands from the Troublemakers, to Switchgrass, to young bands-in-the-making.

In her letter Bond said: "She has trained them, inspired them and kept them together practicing and arranging for their performances. Every time you see those wonderful kids, Kate is standing in the wings. Every fall festival, every Christmas, every Waitsburg Celebration Days and the list goes on and on. We all know that keeping a band together is not easy. Keeping a young teen's band together has to be next to impossible. But Kate does it year after year, with grace."

Bond also applauded Hockermith's involvement in the Waitsburg Art Council's deliberations in choosing Main Street art, commenting that Hockersmith was able to render an opinion without causing offense, was in inspiration to others and was able to see both sides of the fence.

Hockersmith and husband Eric, who both hail from the east coast, moved to Waitsburg from Sun Valley, Idaho in 1992, when their youngest son, John, was still in diapers. Hockersmith cites her "profession" as homemaker, wife, mom (to sons Jeremy and John) and director of a non-profit music project.

"I'm the oldest of five kids myself, so, in reality, I've been working with kids my whole life," Hockersmith said.

In a more "official" capacity, Hockersmith began teaching preschool for Walla Walla Community College – serving Waitsburg, Dayton and Walla Walla – in 1993. She held that position for twelve years, and has been working with children ever since. She taught 4-H Dog Obedience for ten years and was an adult member of Boy Scout Troop 305 in Walla Walla "for a zillion years, at least." Both Jeremy and John Hockersmith achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

Hockersmith said she taught herself to play guitar when she was about 12. "I put the guitar away when my kids were born and didn't really drag it back out until we started the bluegrass jams in 2007. I'm a fair guitar player – I only play enough to accompany myself when I sing," she said.

Hockersmith's son John was a member of Waitsburg's first youth bluegrass band, The Troublemakers, and part of her inspiration in founding TVAMP.

"John was teaching fiddle lessons and Emily Adams was one of his students. About that same time, Chris Philbrook asked me when I was going to teach him to play music 'like The Troublemakers' and just about that same time, the Kuykendall kids moved to town. It seemed like interesting timing since most of The Troublemakers were heading off to college. It got me thinking that it would be fun to help all those talented little kids start a band. They called their band The Rezonators and they did very well with it," said Hockersmith.

Hockersmith said her favorite part of TVAMP is watching adult musicians share their music with the "little-kid musicians. They are so patient and encouraging. The older bluegrass kids teach the younger kids, too. Emma Philbrook and Sam McGowen help at Wednesday Bluegrass and John is still teaching lessons. It's fun to be a part of that process," she said.

Hockersmith also said that it's living in Waitsburg that makes TVAMP possible. "This is such a kid-centered community. I couldn't ask for a kinder, or more accepting place to play music with children. When the kids come to me they are already excited about playing music. Mr. Green [Waitsburg High School music teacher Brad Green], the school district and parents are so supportive of the bluegrass program. Joe Patrick is always willing to work on the kids' instruments and having access to The Q for jams and the Plaza Theater for concerts is just icing on the cake."


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