Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2012
SPENCER — Marsha Tarte flew in from Las Vegas.
Caitlin Hudgins drove down from Philadelphia.
Dick Huffman laughed. He lives only a couple miles away in Salisbury.
The trio converged Monday morning at Grants Crossing, where they continued framing in a new Habitat for Humanity house.
With nails in their aprons and hammers in their hands, they felt as though someone special was working next to them.
That someone was the late Catherine “Kitty” Huffman, whose estate is benefactor for this three-bedroom house.
She was mother to Dick and Marsha and grandmother to Caitlin, Marsha’s daughter.
“She loved to dance,” Marsha said, “and I’m sure she’s dancing a jig up in heaven right now.”
Catherine Huffman was a woman for the times and ahead of her times.
An Altoona, Pa., native who moved south as a newlywed in 1946, Kitty Huffman would work tirelessly for civil rights and integration in Charlotte.
She also championed a women’s shelter, assistance programs for the needy and better housing for the poor.
As a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Charlotte, she integrated Church Women United — in 1955.
As a mother, she spearheaded efforts to integrate PTAs.
She served as executive director for the Charlotte chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews from 1965 to 1981.
Through that position, she established “Project Aries” in the schools to help high school kids mentor junior high students during the stressful days of integration.
In other words, she trained the kids themselves to be agents for change.
Dick Huffman said his mother also helped to establish Loaves and Fishes, Charlotte Emergency Housing, Habitat for Humanity and was the first white woman on the Charlotte Housing Authority.
“She just did it,” Tarte said. “She wasn’t a proselytizer. It was just the fabric of life — it’s what she did.”
Tarte smiled, thinking back to a conversation she had at her mother’s funeral with a school-days friend who had no idea of Catherine Huffman’s community involvement.
“I thought she was just fun to hang out with,” the friend told Tarte.
Indeed, the daughter recalled, “our home was sort of the place where people hung out.”
The local Bar Association presented Catherine Huffman with its Liberty Bell Award, given to a non-lawyer who changes things for the better.
In 1999, the Foundation for the Carolinas presented her with its McMahon Appreciation Award for her 40 years of community service.
When Catherine Huffman moved from Charlotte to Salisbury later in life, she immediately became involved as a board member for Rowan Helping Ministries and Habitat for Humanity here.
Tarte said her mother wasn’t the kind of person who would roll up her sleeves and hammer in nails on a Habitat house.
She was more of a thinker than a worker — the person with a vision who could help in maneuvering through many of the bureaucratic prejudices and entanglements.
Catherine Huffman’s will designated money to Rowan Helping Ministries and Habitat for Humanity.
Before her death, she and her late husband, Richard, also had established a scholarship in her name at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Because of finances, she never attended college — one of her regrets — and the couple established the fund to help needy students.
Over the last five years of her life, as dementia creeped in, she stayed at an assisted-living facility in Las Vegas, close to Tarte’s home.
She was die-hard Democrat.
“I was able to take her to vote for Obama,” Tarte said, “and that was just fabulous.”
Dick Huffman, Tarte and Hudgins couldn’t think of a better way to honor the memory of Catherine than to work on a Habitat house she’s helping to make possible.
Dick has been working on this Catherine Huffman house with other volunteers every weekend. The family trio plan to work together again today before Caitlin has to return to her graduate studies at Temple University and Marsha returns to Las Vegas.
Before leaving, they hope to meet the family — a mother and two young daughters — who will be living in the house once it’s finished.
On site, they have been following the instructions of Habitat Construction Supervisor David Rowh and longtime volunteer Robert Lake, who has worked on about 20 Habitat homes.
Caitlin says she has labored on similar community projects in the past through her church, but working on a house with her grandmother’s name on it takes things to a whole new level.
Dick Huffman said if any kind of statue could be erected to his mother, this house would be the appropriate one.
“She just wanted to get stuff done,” Tarte said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.