A Labor of “Love”
By Judy Blase Woodruff
Courtship for Jo Kane and Jim Kathmann meant the creation of a Native American shirt, breeches, and headdress. They became engaged in 1960, and that was the year they spent hundreds of hours together at Jo’s house designing and constructing what was to become one of the most detailed costumes used in Lodge ceremonies at Camp Ondessonk.
The Kane and Kathmann families were members of St. Philip’s Parish in East Saint Louis, and Monsignor John T. Fournie, pastor at the Parish, introduced Jo to Camp St. Philip in Grafton, Ill., where, at age 16, she worked as a lifeguard, since she had her Water Safety Instructor certification.
Jo can thank her sister, Janet, three years her senior, for introducing her to her future husband. Her sister was the same age as Jim Kathmann, and they all attended St. Philip’s Grade School. Jim and his friends often visited the Kane’s home, and as fate would have it, Jo and Jim began dating when Jo was a senior in high school.
The dream of a Diocesan youth camp in the Shawnee National Forest was often discussed with Jo and Jim by the parish’s assistant pastor, and original Camp Director. The conversations talked about bonfires, activities, and a Native American ceremony that would induct campers into an honor camping society. This honor camping society began in 1957 at Camp St. Philip and was a marketing tool to entice campers to return to the Camp year after year. The Lodge of Ondessonk & Tekakwitha grew to become a society with much greater meaning in years to follow.
So, when Jim was asked to help create a costume to be used in a Native American ceremony, he immediately went to work. After all, Jim and Jo would be spending hundreds of hours side by side on this project. Thus, their courting time was spent together, creating a detailed costume that withstood many years of use at Camp Ondessonk.
Since Jo’s mother was a seamstress, she was able to guide the measuring of the costume. But they had to find the perfect piece of buckskin that would make the best shirt. They found the buckskin at Tandy Leather in St. Louis.
They took the buckskin to Jo’s house and sat on the living room floor, laid it out, and drew it out with markers. They measured and re-measured because they wanted to be sure the costume would fit both Jo and Jim since Jim was 6’2” with 37” sleeves and Jo was 5’10”. They found that the buckskin was hard to cut through, so Jim lay down boards to make a smooth surface on which to cut the buckskin.
They used a leather punch purchased at Tandy to make holes in the neckline and sides in order to “sew” the pieces together with rawhide. Making the fringe on the shirt was next to impossible because they had to cut each strip individually. Once the shirt was completed, they returned to Tandy Leather to find a piece of buckskin for the breeches, and repeated the process.
When it came time to create an authentic headdress for the ensemble, they had help from Ron and Dale Besse, also members of St. Philip’s Parish and Grade School. At the time, Dale was involved in Native American Lore, and he would instruct Jim and Jo in how the headdress should be constructed. They obtained eagle feathers with the ends of each feather wrapped in parchment paper. It was important that there were matching feathers on each side of the long train. Across the front was a 2” band that ran from temple to temple which was adorned with intricate bead work along with beaded rosettes. First, Jim had to make a loom by hand in order to design and create the beadwork. But the result was truly amazing.
The three pieces were completed before Jo and Jim married November 25, 1961. They were both proud to be part of creating the Native American costume as well as being part of that first summer at Camp Ondessonk.
The Kathmanns were early members of Camp’s Board of Directors. In 1959, Jo’s father, Dr. Jerry Kane, was the first physician at Camp. Campers had to see Dr. Kane first for their physical before they could proceed with check-in to Camp. Kane Lake is named in his honor.
Around the mid-1960s, Jim was down at Camp for 20 consecutive weekends designing and building the Garner Bridge across the newly-made Lake Echon. He recruited many volunteers to help with the project and the result was an iconic structure that delighted campers and memorialized one of Camp’s original counselors, Larry Garner, who died in Vietnam. Jo can appreciate the hard work, but at the time, she remembers that it was quite stressful on a new mother of three who had to care for their family while Jim worked down at Camp every weekend for five months. Eventually, the Kathmanns raised five children.
Throughout their early married life, the Kathmann’s labor of love resulted in many years of service to Camp Ondessonk in various ways, and we appreciate their dedication to the place that we all love.
The Native American shirt made in 1960 by the Kathmanns was found in the Lodge cabinet and placed in the Archives Room at Camp. The breeches and headdress were not found.
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