In Memoriam

Karen Kayser (Benson)

Karen Kayser Benson passed away today (Feb 15, 2020) due to complications during open-heart surgery. An obituary will be posted as soon as it is available. Classmates are invited to leave remembrances, just click on the "Post Comment" button. If you have a problem posting text or photos, please contact one of the three website people (Sally, Mary Ann, or Steph) using the links on the site's Home Page.


Sally Donner and Ken Briers created a tribute to Karen in flickr.   The link to view it is: .  Just copy to link to your browser to view the tribute.

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02/17/20 05:44 PM #4    

Nancy Selinka (White)

In December, in preparation for my turn to be class scribe this year, I wrote to Karen, asking her to fill us in on her recent move to California and to let us know how things were going in her new home. She wrote me a wonderful, long letter, but I could use only a tiny excerpt because of the 400-word limit for our Class Notes column. Now, here is the whole letter, beginning to end. Indeed, she never did stop, until she had to. 

Oh, Nancy, you are such a blessing. And your personal note was JUST what I needed on this rainy - and slightly cold - day in Northern California. If I were in Florida, we would consider this day a real WINTER day and you would see people bundled in sweaters, mittens, boots and earmuffs. Here, it’s 55 and rainy (finally!!!) and it’s limiting the time on the tennis courts. Our team captain offered to bring squeegees to the courts this morning, if we all wanted to play….no one showed up. Meanwhile, young people are doing their daily run in shorts and teeshirts. 

But I must say, the group I’m playing with is adventurous, playful, competitive and joyous. There are 40+ people in this group - called The Golden Rotators (because of our age, the style of play and probably because most of us have had trouble with our rotator cuffs over the years). I put myself up as the social chair and am going to pursue having monthly cocktail get-togethers at the Clubhouse, so we can get to know each other. Ah, yes. Forever the organizer and party planner! 

I am two stoplights from Solano Community College and have inquired about taking extension courses there. I have been - joyously - informed that there is no such thing as “senior citizens” at this college - everyone is an adult. So, I’m enrolling in a few courses for the upcoming semester. Comparative Religions, American Playwrights and - of course - Acting 101 and 102. Who knows, I might learn something. There’s no degree involved, just the fun of learning something new and, perhaps in the process, find out why there are so many significant religious wars. Someone says, “My God is better than your God” - and bingo, we’re at war. Why?  And how to solve the problem.

Regarding “passion vs heart” - I had a Coach who advised me to follow one or the other (and hopefully they’re the same). I did do my very best with New York, only to find that my designated financial limit on monthly rent meant I would be living in a closet. A room that was 11/15. I have more books than that space!!! (And the question to all of us….how did we accumulate all these BOOKS! And I’m so unwilling to get rid of most of them. Books are treasures.) If you want a one-liner from me for the Quarterly, it could be that. How did we accumulate all these books and consider them all…each and every one …. treasures? Like Ellen’s autographed travelogues. I moved from Florida to Fairfield, California with 25 boxes of books. And I left 100 books behind and gave away another 100 in the process. And still I don’t have room for them all. 

I am in the process of discovering new physicians, playing out my intention to be well until I die. I have found some new and very innovative doctors who think WAY outside the box. Quite different from Naples -where, I assert, people go to die. They call it retirement but actually they’re just waiting for the undertaker. California is more about being well, achieving new goals, making a difference and contributing to the community (and the world). I am a Lion and will be joining them to continue the volunteer work I was doing in Naples. There’s no reason to stop - until you have to stop.





02/17/20 09:39 PM #5    

Alice Godfrey (Andrus)

The emails through the day Friday, February 14, grew more foreboding. Yet, when I went to bed, not knowing when Karen would be out of surgery, I was sure she would pull out of it and be back "on track." Early on Saturday, shortly after midnight, the surgeons ceased their hours long effort to get her breathing on her own after a successful surgery. Her friend, Ricci, sent her now well-read email to Karen's myriad friends. What followed was an outpouring of love and admiration to a devoted friend. 

Karen was the all-time greatest reunion director. The voluminous details of each reunion are preserved in large colorful binders. I inhereited them from Susie Fickel Kroeger. Now I know that they all must be sent to the college archives as examples of how to plan reunions with love and fellowship. Her management of our 50th reunion is the most memorable.

Do you know that she called Rayna Rosenberg and arranged for Rayna to make a one of a kind scarf for us? Do you know that she fought hard for the Hospitality Cafe where we could gather, informally, at anytime?  That wasn't easy because the Alumnae Association was resistant. She persisted, raising some ire for her "demands." We even had to pay for running the electric line to heat the coffee urns which she bought for the occasion. In the early mornings, she and Ken Briers (Mr. Sally Donner) drove to the Big Y supermarket to pick up the morning buns. Lights had to be strung creating an inviting welcome for our classmates. She was all over the place seeing to every detail, adding more classmates to the team, creating a masterpiece. How well she deserved that Loyalty Award and how she cherished it. 

Mount Holyoke had an alumna who was its model, as much as Breck had in the beautiful portrait of her they created when she was a teenager. Talking with Mirja Perkko Muncy today, I learned that Karen was feted by the small classmate group who put on our mini-reunion in California. At their first get-together, Karen offered to create a seven sisters group so that they could build community in the northern Cal area without having to travel to San Francisco. Mirja said Karen promised to start working on it as soon as the surgery was behind her. She was gong to be following through. She had plans. 


02/17/20 11:00 PM #6    

Jennifer Macdonald (DeWolf)

I am certain that the marquees on every theater around the country are lit with "RIP" Karen.  Every classmate, thespian and tennis partner is deeply saddened by the loss of their friend.  I am fortunate to have been one of them.

02/18/20 11:04 AM #7    

Stephanie Smith

This is such sad news and I am having such a hard time processing it.   KK was, in many ways, the heart of our class and we will all miss her and her boundless energy.


02/18/20 01:30 PM #8    

Barbara Heymann (Goldberg)

Karen had a warm and generous heart.  All who knew her have emphasized that.  It's ironic her heart was, at the end,  the very organ that failed.  Throughout her life she had a contagious joie de vivre, and kept herself fit and vigorous.  The last memories of Karen were, indeed, of the 50 reunion.  That, and junior show, where some genius (maybe Karen?) paired me with Sally Donner to sing "You Were Wrong, Kaatie Glibbs You Were Wrong!"  That was the short and tall of it, one of my favorite college events.

02/18/20 01:41 PM #9    

Cynthia Rapp (Curry-Nilson)

Karen's death is an unexpected and stunning loss for all of us.  Memories of reunions, junior show and her incredible presence and grace fill my mind.   She was an icon of positive creativity until the end.  Her legacy will live on in our hearts.   

02/19/20 12:09 PM #10    

Ellen Strauss (Boer)

It is hard to write about such a vivacious ,caring ,optimistic and loving person not being with us anymore. Karen and I roomed together for two years in Prospect and continued to keep in contact and see each other for more than 50 years.  I have a wonderful picture of the two of us at my house in Greenwich at an MHC function in the eighties.  I  will try to find it and post it.  We worked together on our Fiftieth and her creativity and enthusiasm was contagious.  Her generosity even when she did  not have an excess of wealth was remarkable.  She loved the people in our class ,made numerous close friends and delighted us all with her energy and escapades.  MHC 1963 was part of her identity. While her passing is tragic, I am grateful she did not have to suffer a long or debilitating illness.I like to think she left us singing................... 



02/20/20 01:03 PM #11    

Karel Mortenson (Koenig)

What joy in her caring, personal depth, and energy, Karen brought good times to me on every occasion! Thank you, Karen

02/20/20 05:20 PM #12    

Beverley Brown (Bryant)

Karen will always be in my heart. She was a bright and shining star who lit up our time in South Hadley and during the years since. Bright, capable, and an amazing leader, Karen held the highest standards of excellence for herself and well as for the others she so ably guided with nurturing and care. I feel proud and fortunate to have known her, and am grateful for that experience. Karen, you are deeply missed.

02/21/20 04:59 PM #13    

Susan Fickel (Kroeger)

Working on our 50th with Karen created such a trove of happy memories - drives from Bedford to South Hadley, festive dinners with local classmates, learning that like a Floridian she ate a WHOLE grapefruit every morning, not sliced, just peeled.  I loved hearing about her "kids", the four young people she had adopted after their parents, friends in her NYC world, both died young.  Karen had been surrogate mother to them ever since, following each step of their lives.  I remember her enthusiasm for every detail of reunion planning, and her eagerness that it be a real SHOW.  She was an idea factory, a gifted production manager, with both hands on every aspect of the event.  She was remarkable for her enthusiasm about the College, and also for her genuine fondness for all of us.  We based in the warmth of her friendship, glad we had her for as long as we did.

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