Catharine Downer Sanders
Catharine Downer Sanders August 6, 1935 ~ November 18, 2019
Catharine Downer Sanders, 84, died November 18, 2019, at Reno’s St. Mary’s hospital. Born Catharine Roberta Downer on August 6, 1935 at St. Mary’s to Alice Gottschalk Downer and Robert Carpenter Downer, Kay spent her early childhood traveling rural Nevada with her parents and younger brother, while her father was an engineer for the Nevada highway department. This is where she first got her love of Nevada and outdoor adventures. Kay was a fourth-generation Nevadan with Cornish and Danish roots back to the mining camps of the 1870s; this was a source of fascinating stories and fun investigations for her. These early experiences cultivated a profound appreciation of Nevada that gave her a genuine compassion for Nevada’s admirable pioneer women and their families.
Kay attended schools in Reno, graduating from Reno High School in 1953. She was an editor for the RHS school newspaper, an interest she took to the University of Nevada where she started a degree in journalism and was active in the Tri Delta sorority. In 1952 she met O’Neil Sanders while skiing at Sky Tavern, and they married in May 1955. In June 1956, their first son, Chris, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, where Neil was stationed. They returned to Reno where second son, Eric, was born in 1958. Third son, Scott, was born in 1962 when Kay and Neil lived in Carson Valley where Neil was teaching and coaching at Douglas High School.
In 1963 Kay began writing articles for The Record Courier and Nevada Appeal and other papers in the Reno/Tahoe/Carson area, using her journalism skills. Kay was busy raising her three young sons, organizing camping and ski trips and lots of dinners, picnics, and parties. During this time, she also held positions at United Airlines and the Job Corps. In 1969, Kay and family moved to Incline Village where Neil was the football coach at the new high school and Kay worked for the Improvement District. This was the 1968/69 winter of record snowfall at Tahoe, and much fun was had by all. In summer 1969, Kay and family moved to Reno where Neil began coaching at Wooster High, and Kay started working as a secretary at the Mackay School of Mines at UNR. While working at UNR, Kay found time to finish BA and MA degrees in Education. In 1979 Kay started working in the department of Continuing Education, becoming Director in 1982. As Director, Kay was instrumental in forming the Nevada Adult Education Association. She retired in 1995. In retirement, Kay and Neil enjoyed travelling and spending time with children, grandchildren, and many friends. Kay was also very active leading a hiking club, working with Nevada P.E.O., and as editor of the Nevada Women’s History Project. Kay and Neil were deacons of the First Congregational Church in northwest Reno. Kay was a board member of her brother Craig’s Andean Tapir Fund where she helped champion many of her brother’s wildlife conservation endeavors.
Kay will forever be known as a warm, caring, positive person who loved her family and friends and was most happy when she found any opportunity to bring them together. She loved Nevada and spending time in the outdoors and at Lake Tahoe and travelling to new places. Kay has left an amazing legacy of love and involvement and is greatly missed by all.
Kay was preceded in death by her father Robert, mother Alice, and brother Bobby. Kay is survived by her husband Neil; sons Chris, Eric, and Scott; brother Craig; grandsons Austin, Jacob, Brock, and Bryce; and granddaughter Mikala.
A Celebration of Life was held on November 23rd, 2019 at the First Congregational Church in Reno, NV.
Donations in Kay’s memory may be made to one of her favorite charities, NevadaWilderness.org. or Andeantapirfund.com.