Katharine Griffith’s life took a dramatic turn when her Houston, Texas house was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey three years ago.
“It was rain more than the wind,” the Cortlandville woman said. “The hurricane wiped everything out. It flooded my house,” she said on July 7. “There was 52 inches of rain in Houston.”
It was time for Griffith, who was 84 at the time, to move north to Cortlandville, to be closer to a daughter who lives here.
“I never lived in a small town,” said Griffith, who will celebrate her 87th birthday in August.
But Griffith is getting the small town treatment from members of the Cortland United Methodist Church on Route 222.
Friends landscaped her property, hauled away brush and lawn debris, spruced up her porch and snazzed up her house exterior with door and window accents.
Griffith, who learned to paint at the age of 80, made florals and birds in the window panes to doll up the result.
“When I first came, I had no friends. I had a lot of friends in Houston,” said Griffith.
Now she’s got a network from CUMC and her neighborhood.
“I have worked with people so many years. It’s easy for me to make friends,” Griffith said.
The former unit secretary at Methodist Hospital in Houston and caregiver at Home Instead for 12 years, worked for 45 years.
She didn’t have time to learn to paint pictures.
One day, she was at Hobby Lobby and an artist, Rita Clark, was holding a class in the back. She was interested and tried it out.
“I was with her teaching for two years, doing everything – but no landscapes.”
Griffith paints acrylic dogs, birds and flowers and has given paintings to all of her neighbors and friends. She makes stationery as well.
“A lot of us carry these cards in our cars,” said Pam Kavalesky, an engineer at Intertek who headed up the house sprucing project. “When we visit (people), we give them these pictures.”
“Mostly I do happy stuff,” said Griffith.
She does it for her own pleasure and gives away as many paintings as she can.
“I have given stuff to nursing homes … I brought some to senior centers,” Griffith said. “When I have physical therapy at the house, the nurse took some. The cleaning lady took some.”
Since she paints every day, she has a huge stack.
Griffith needed some weeding and Charlene Adams, Penny Fairchild and Kavalesky, all members of the church, came up to help.
“We knew the house needed to be painted. We didn’t have the money or energy to do it,” said Kavalesky.
Adams focused on flower beds on the side of the house and Kavalesky wanted to jazz up the exterior with window and door frame accents on the white exterior.
The model maker also spruced up the front porch with paint, giving it colors and patterns that tie in with the decor the women painted onto the window frames.
“It morphed into all this,” Adams said.
Griffith put her whimsical florals and birds in each pane of the windows.
“All of this work is due to them. The flower beds, everything. The porch, the idea of the frames and me painting them. I only did the paintings,” said Griffith.
The Rev. David Johnson of the United Presbyterian Church, thought the project special.
But helping others in need is the rule of thumb for church congregations, he said.
“To help people that need help in real ways is what faith communities have always done,” he said.
When the pandemic caused the Cortland church to close its face-to-face worship, that meant weekly food donations for Catholic Charities and Loaves and Fishes would not happen.
The church put together financial donations instead. And it applied for a grant from the USA Presbyterian Hunger Project for emergency food, obtained it, and donated it to United Way’s food donation program, which was matched by the Cortland Community Foundation. So the money was doubled, Johnson said.
Church people help in real ways, he said. And the CUMC has a history of practical projects, like its ramp builds for people in wheelchairs.
Kavalesky, Adams and Fairchild have been at their decor for about three months.
“It’s like ‘Tuesdays with Morey.’ This was Saturdays with Katharine,” said Kavalesky. “The best part, she always feeds us.”
Griffith said “she guesses” she’s a good cook. She remembers cooking for her clients at Home Instead.
One day she made stuffed peppers for a fellow she was caring for. He happened to be in a dating service!
“When I took the peppers out of the oven, he said, ‘I am going to cancel my dating service. I am going to marry you.’”
“What’s interesting for me, when we were here, so many people would show up unexpectedly,” said Kavalesky.
“Ron Bailer came with a trailer,” she said. He took away brush. Wes Abbey came to mow. Nancy Space takes Griffith to doctor appointments, in Ithaca.
“I give her gas money each time,” said Griffith.
“It’s a very cool church,” she said.