Katherine Flaten Karns
Katherine (Kate) Karns, a former long-time resident of Ajijic, died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones Tuesday, December 11, in Ellensburg, Washington at the age of 97.
Born September 9, 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Karns was named Katherine Julia by her parents Winifred and Mike Flaten. Taking an early interest in theater during her high school years inMilwaukee, Wisconsin, she went on to study drama at the University of Minnesota and the Maria Ouspenskaya acting school in Hollywood prior to landing a contract in the Golden Circle of Players at Paramount Studios.
Her budding film career was interrupted by World War II, prompting her to join the Women’s Army Corps. While on assignment at the U.S. Army Air Force base in Hobbs, New Mexico, she met and fell in love with the handsome Lieutenant Roscoe Todd Karns, son of the well-known character actor Roscoe Karns. The couple eloped on February 27, 1944, leading to Kate’s court martial for flaunting military rules against fraternization between officers and the ranks. Their marriage lasted 54 years.
After the war, Todd, nicknamed Rocky, followed in his father’s footsteps, playing bit parts in many movies, including the memorable role of Harry Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the lead in the early television sitcom “Jackson and Jill.” He gave up acting in the mid-1950s to pursue a business career. Meanwhile Kate dedicated her energy to raising the couple’s three children.
The family moved to Ajijic following Rocky’s retirement in 1971. He and Kate soon became active in Lakeside Little Theatre (LLT), he as director of 16 stage productions and she as a frequent performer and board president for the 1983-1984 season. Both were instrumental in the construction of LLT’s permanent home in San Antonio Tlayacapan, opening in January 1988 with Rocky as director of the Woody Allen comedy “Don’t Drink the Water.”
While Rocky dedicated free time to creating naïf paintings depicting village scenes, Kate worked alternately as a saleswoman at the Telares Ajijic weaving shop, a real estate agent and a prolific freelance writer. For several years she authored a column on lakeside living for the weekend supplement of the now defunct Mexico City News. Articles published in the Ojo del Lago reflected her wry observations on the local community and its quirky inhabitants.
Kate remained in Ajijic long after her husband’s death in 2000, residing in the couple’s cozy village house located a block away from the plaza. When the ravages of age took a toll on her mobility, in 2013 she reluctantly accepted the advice of her offspring to relocate closer to them at a retirement home in the state of Washington. She lived there, spry of mind and cantankerous as ever, to her final days.
Karns is survived by son Scott Karns of Roslyn, Washington; daughters Julia Karns of Ellensburg, Washington and Tina Toft of Virginia; and grandchildren Max Karns, Ryan Karns, Mareth Frances, Alexandra Flores, Sofia Najera, Liza Toft, and Luke Toft. She will be laid to rest with a military salute next to the grave of her father at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis.