Kathy (Walker) DeGeest began a new chapter in her life as she took the reins as the principal of Maypearl Primary School in Maypearl, Texas. DeGeest had had quite a fascinating journey before she landed in southern Ellis County, often due to the grace and humor she practices in her daily life.
DeGeest’s parents, John and Janie Walker of Midlothian, were overjoyed at the birth of their first child, a healthy baby girl named Kathy. But their joy quickly turned into total shock when they learned their perfect daughter was missing her right hand.
“My Mom and Dad didn’t have any idea that I would be born without a limb,” says DeGeest. “I think it took everyone by surprise, but it really has been a big part of who I am. Believe it or not, I’ve always looked at it as more of a blessing than anything else.”
She shares, “I’ve never had much trouble learning to do things differently. I have to be pretty determined at times, but it’s been quite the conversation starter throughout my life. I’ve gotten to know so many people because they were brave enough to ask me how I lost my hand, and I was able to strike up a conversation with them – without it hurting my feelings at all.”
DeGeest remarks, “My parents were referred to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas when I was still a baby. The Chief of Staff was my primary doctor there, Dr. Tony Herring. He is one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever known.
"He boldly told my parents, 'If you treat her like she’s a normal child, she will be a normal child.' They absolutely took him at his word, turned it over to the Lord and just allowed me to be me."
Becoming an overcomer
DeGeest says, “It was my understanding that a lot of people with upper limb issues don’t choose a prosthetic hand. I have had some over the years, but they never felt comfortable for me. I already had learned to do pretty much everything, from playing sports, to cooking, to sewing, to whatever I wanted to do by the time I got a prosthetic hand of my own. So, it wasn’t something I ever became reliant on.
"I’m sure they really do work for some folks, but I never got comfortable with one."
And so, on went the normal life of DeGeest, just as the Walker family planned. She continues, “Growing up, I tried some athletic things like girls’ softball, and I even took baton twirling lessons, which is most definitely a two-handed sport. Somehow, I usually figured out a way to do two-handed things with only one hand.”
High school and college
DeGeest relays, “I graduated from Midlothian High School in 1996, and I can’t believe how times have changed since my days at MHS. I was in the top 10 percent of my class, but that’s not saying a ton because I think we only had 126 graduates that year. That is a very minimal class number compared to today’s standards.
"I spent most of my high school years involved in band, choir, debate and anything that allowed me some public speaking time. I loved to talk then and now.”
DeGeest moved on to College Station in 1996. She received her B.A. degree in Communications and Political Science from Texas A&M in 2000, then completed her teaching certification in 2008. She finished-off her schooling by gaining her master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Texas in 2014.
Singing becomes a way of life
One of the big self-esteem builders that helped DeGeest gain confidence was her singing. She came from a very musical family, and most of her early experience was acquired within the sanctuary walls of her local Baptist church.
DeGeest says, “My mom (Janie Walker) and my sister (Karen Walker Durham) and I enjoyed a great season of getting to sing together as a trio. We sang at a lot of the churches in the area. Sadly, we don’t get to do that much anymore because my mom’s throat cancer left her unable to sing. We are just so thankful that she’s healthy now, whether she has her singing voice or not. She is our rock.
"I came from a family of talented musicians. My mom was always an outstanding singer, and many of our cousins are songwriters and great musicians as well. I grew up not really knowing anything but singing!"
“I chose not to study music in college,” says DeGeest, “because at the time, Texas A&M didn’t have a strong music program. I knew I loved to sing, but I never really felt like that was my calling. It was a big honor when I was asked to sing the national anthem for several sporting events and even a few Big 12 championship events. However, my very favorite thing was signing the songs at church as a service to the deaf or hearing-impaired. I was involved with the Wesley Foundation while I was there in College Station. In the past, I had always been a member of Baptist churches, but the Methodist Student Foundation was really awesome at A&M, and I felt at home there.”
Marriage and the challenge of children
DeGeest confesses that she and her future husband met at First Baptist Church of Maypearl in 2008. Her aunt takes credit for introducing the two. Noteworthy also is the fact that husband Matt DeGeest is a graduate of Maypearl High School. They just celebrated ten years of marriage in August of this year.
“After the wedding, I was always most concerned about raising children without both of my hands,” notes DeGeest. “There were times it was a challenge as I became a mother. Let’s face it, with two active boys, I’m sure a two-handed person might have felt short of limbs many times!
"God gave me a lot of grace though to face it, and I have a very involved husband who never let me feel like I was alone in the rearing of our children. Matt is really funny and very thoughtful. He’s always looking for a way to help me face whatever the challenge might be.
"He’s constantly on the lookout for cool kitchen gadgets that will make things more manageable for me, or things that will make it easier for me to do my hair. That was always a tough one for me – learning to do hair with one hand."
DeGeest states, “It feels quite ironic that I am now a principal in the oldest school building in Maypearl where, incidentally, my husband went to school. It’s a really neat legacy for us as a family – especially since our two sons attend that very same school. Kaleb is age eight, and he attends LSK Elementary in Maypearl.
"My youngest is Kase, age five, and he just started Kindergarten this year. We have deep ties to this close-knit community. It is where Matt and I met, and where a lot of our friends are. So, when the opportunity came along here for me to be an administrator, it was a natural fit for me. We all spend a great amount of time together at school and sporting events because the boys are involved in everything in Maypearl!”
Her true calling in life
“In looking back, all of my high school teachers thought I’d grow up to teach,” says DeGeest, “but I resisted for a long time. After college, I had enjoyed a successful non-profit career with the Scottish Rite Hospital of Dallas, but I always felt very removed from the actual good I was doing.
"So, I took a leap of faith in the spring of 2008 when the principal of the school where I began in Irving, Dr. Patty Notgrass, gave me an opportunity as a young, inexperienced teacher. I knew right away I was walking in God’s will when I started teaching.
"Dr. Notgrass did a great job of putting people in my path that taught me how to teach kids. I’ve had some incredible students along the way, students who have left marks on my heart and who have molded me as a professional today.”
DeGeest mainly taught fifth and sixth grade math in Irving and Mansfield for several years, but then became an assistant principal in Arlington at one of their newest elementary schools at the time, Peach Elementary. She served there for two years, but felt she needed to get closer to home so she could be at everything her boys were involved in.
She then spent one year as an assistant principal in Mansfield, saying that she truly did not intend to leave — but the surprising door opened up for her to become a full-fledged principal in Maypearl ISD in 2019.
DeGeest proudly admits, “I am really enjoying being the principal of Maypearl Primary School. We have about 25 staff members and just under 200 students. I have a top-notch staff and some incredible students. I don’t mind getting up in the mornings and heading to work, because it is such a positive atmosphere to be a part of.”
She continues, “I will say that seeing myself one-handed through the students’ eyes has been pretty entertaining at times. One of my students asked me why I didn’t have both hands. I told him it was just how God decided to make me. He said, ‘I am pretty sure He just forgot it.’ Maybe so, maybe so.
“And last year, one of the students asked where my hand was, and I told him I wasn’t sure. I explained that I’ve never had both of them because God made me this way. At that moment, I had my radio clipped on my arm, and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not sure why God only gave you one hand, but I sure wish he’d given me one of those radio things like you have.’”
DeGeest and her family attend the Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, and she feels she is right where God has placed her this year. In fact, she admits that she has a student in her new school who is missing both legs.
“We already have quite the connection," DeGeest says, "we really get each other!
“I always hope the message I can send to my students is that being different is OK. Everyone doesn’t have to be alike. Everyone has value, no matter what their challenge may be. But being ‘different’ does not make a person ‘handicapped’ at all.”