Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Katie's little story won't get headlines

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Student-athlete Katie Hubbard had every reason in the world to gallop through her first year of college. And six little reasons not to.

        She'd just finished her first semester at Xavier University. Good grades and a silver ring with a blue stone commemorating her soccer team's winning season.

        Then she got a terrible call from back home in Phoenix. Her aunt had collapsed. “She was nursing the baby, just sitting across the breakfast table from my Uncle Tom, when it happened. Luckily, the other kids weren't in the room.” Five other kids. The oldest was 11.

        Maureen Mulhern never recovered. It was her heart, Katie says.

Sudden loss
        Katie flew home and went right from the airport to help with the kids. She'd been their baby sitter before she left for school. After a couple of nights, she helped her uncle move all the kids' beds into his room. “We called it the hotel.” It was the site of nightly prayers and the occasional pillow fight.

        “The kids would be fine one minute and sobbing the next. They needed so much.” It was nearly time for Katie to return to school. And she started thinking. “I didn't want these kids to lose somebody else again suddenly. I didn't want them to have to deal with me just disappearing.”

        So this 19-year-old put her life on hold. She moved in. Just temporarily.

        She knew what she was doing. Katie called XU's redoubtable academic adviser, Sister Rose Ann Fleming. They sorted through the rules of soccer eligibility and Katie's academics. An excellent student, Katie was ahead with credits from high school advanced-placement classes.

        “I got it in writing,” Katie says, "'that I'd be able to play.” Later.

        Instead of schoolbooks and soccer, she got up every morning to six small children. Children with asthma. “I got very good with their medicine.”

        Children who were shocked and grieving. “Sometimes they just needed to talk.”

A long day
        She fixed their breakfast and packed their lunches, then spent the day with the two littlest ones. After the kids were asleep for the night, Katie would work out at the gym for two hours. At 11 p.m., she'd get on the computer and “e-mail my friends for all the gossip.” She says her sister, still in high school, also helped with the kids, baby-sitting to give Katie a break.

        This is a family of big families. Katie is one of eight children. Her mother is one of six kids; her dad, one of seven. Back home in Phoenix, she says there are 31 cousins “all within 15 minutes of each other.” Katie's mother, Kathy, grew up in Cincinnati, was a Hall of Fame swimmer at XU. Katie has aunts, uncles and cousins in Cincinnati, one of the reasons she headed in this direction when it came time to pick a school.

        “Our family went through so much,” Katie says. “Maybe that's why we're so close.”

        Before Katie sat down with me, much of what I know of this family, I learned from headlines. Katie's grandfather is Charles Keating Jr., who came to epitomize the greed that wreaked havoc on the savings and loan industry during the 1980s. Imprisoned for several years, he was freed in April. Back to his family.

        Katie's close family.

        After gradually withdrawing from the daily lives of the six children she reared for half a year, Katie is careful to call and write regularly. She misses them. She had fun, she says. “They needed me, I know. But I needed them, too.” She was frustrated sometimes. And tired. She learned a lot. She felt very necessary. And beloved.

        This clear-eyed, generous girl is a reminder that life can be awful and wonderful, two sides of the same coin. And a reminder, if we need one, that a family cannot be reduced to a headline.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.