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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Forever bound by art: How it unites us and why your support matters

Oct 03, 2023 03:02PM ● By Colleen M. Story

“Look inside any sister relationship and you’ll find a wealth of interesting stories,” said writer and editor Colleen Sell.

That’s certainly the truth with Grand Junction senior Katherine Kylen, 77, and her younger sister, Irene. They were born only a year apart. While growing up in the Chicago area, they played and went to school together, but it was the arts that would bind them for life.

That’s why Kylen is now a primary donor to the all-new Colorado West Performing Arts Company. But there’s more to this story.

From audience to advocates

The girls’ parents were both immigrants, and music and dance were very much a part of their culture in Germany and Sweden. 

“My mother played the piano and my father the violin,” Kylen said. “The arts were part of their upbringing and their joy.” 

Katherine and her sister Irene.

It made sense, then, that the parents wanted to instill that same love of arts in their children. 

“We took tap dancing lessons, piano lessons and ballet lessons together,” Kylen said. “Other people may have gone to a show or a ball game. We went to the theater.” 

Kylen loved it all, but she says for Irene, it was something more. 

“Dance, and especially ballet, was Irene’s passion,” said Kylen. “As a child, she cut out pictures of ballerinas and glued them into her scrapbook. She fantasized about being a dancer.” 

Unfortunately, back in the 1950s and 1960s, ballerinas were tall and slender.

“Irene had a natural rhythm, balance and gracefulness,” Kylen said. “Intuitively, she would hear the music and know what to do.” 

But she didn’t feel she was the right size and shape to be a dancer, so she let go of that dream. 

Irene went on to teach special needs students, but she never forgot her love of dance. She was a long-time supporter of the Chicago Lyric Opera and Joffrey Ballet, holding season tickets for many years. She even took tap dancing and country line dancing lessons when she was in her 50s. 

Kylen, meanwhile, moved to Grand Junction to run her business, Linked to Life, which she still does to this day. 

“I’ve got longevity in my family!” she said, referring to her mother, who lived to be 99. “I figure as long as I can keep getting an income, I can afford to support the things that mean a lot to me.” 

And what are those things? Music and dance.

A pandemic tragedy 

When Kylen moved to Grand Junction 48 years ago, she was thrilled to find a thriving arts community. Mesa College had its theater department and the Grand Junction Symphony started shortly after she arrived. With her background as a fervent supporter of the arts, she found herself at home in the Grand Valley and was soon a season ticket holder whenever she could be. 

Katherine and her sisters Irene and Barbara attend a 2021 fundraiser for Golf Shore Opera in Florida, a few months before Irene died of COVID-19.

She raised her three boys, often attending concerts and performances, and though she missed her sister, life went on. They visited each other often. Kylen said she went to Chicago six to eight times a year. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything changed. 

“I was going to retire,” she said. “My sister and I were going to take a lot of trips together.” 

That was their dream, but it wasn’t meant to be. Irene caught the COVID-19 virus and ended up in the hospital. She fought hard, but couldn’t hang on. 

“I never would have dreamed it would take our beloved sister,” Kylen said. “She had no medical conditions or anything. It was one of those things you never anticipate.” 

Kylen still struggles today with the hole Irene left behind, but she found an ideal way to honor her while keeping her close to her heart.

Support makes a difference

In December 2021, Kylen took her son, daughter-in-law and three granddaughters to see “The Nutcracker.” That night, Theresa Kahl, owner and artistic director of Absolute Dance, announced that she had just received approval to create a local nonprofit performing arts company. 

Kylen knew she wanted to be a part of the new venture. She wrote a letter to Kahl in which she told about her sister’s lifelong devotion to dance and her recent battle with COVID-19. 

“I said I’d be honored to support her dream of having something here. And I included a check in memory of Irene,” she said. 

As for Kahl, she was thrilled to have Kylen’s support. 

“It was the validation needed to give me strength and perseverance to continue this challenge,” Kahl said. “Katherine has continued to support us both financially as well as with assurance that we are on the right track.”

Photo courtesy of CWPAC.

With school funding cut for arts programs and outreach performances, support from donors like Kylen exposes local children to the art of ballet and ensures the future of enriching local performances for residents of all ages.

Joining local children in supporting roles, Colorado West Performing Arts Company hires professional dancers who all come to live in Western Colorado. Donations and contributions also help support the jobs of these artists and keep costs affordable so more families can experience the joy the performances bring.

“Performing arts brings people together in a world where we are often divided to unify and experience joy together,” said Kahl. 

Kahl hopes they’ll be able to grow the number of dancers in the company and bring in support for the artistic staff, whom volunteer the majority of their time.

Photo courtesy of CWPAC.

For the 2023-24 season, the dance company will produce “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker,” “Little Mermaid,” and as their last show, “Classics, Romantics and Modern Day Works II” in Grand Junction and Montrose.

Kylen loves seeing all the young people on and off the stage. 

“I’m going to continue supporting this group because I can see so many children and families enriched by the experience,” she said. 

She encourages other seniors who may not have ever attended a ballet to give it a try. 

“It will rekindle your spirit for the love of music and dance and will bring joy to your soul,” she said. “It’s good medicine!” 

For tickets to “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker” and CWPAC’s 2024 performances, go to or call 970-314-2226. 

Behind the scenes

Dina Duckworth, 61, is another passionate supporter of the arts. As co-artistic director for CWPAC’s fall production of “Sleeping Beauty,” some of her duties include teaching and rehearsing with the cast, designing and ordering costumes and timing choreography to the music.

“This year, I’ve begun to put my little toe in Theresa’s shoes,” said Duckworth, who’s studied dance since she was a child. Most recently, she taught at Glenwood Dance Academy, with some of her students going on to perform with the prestigious New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet.

6 ways to support your local arts and music programs

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