Eagle Alumni Sweethearts Continue to Change Lives

February 21, 2023

Ken and Kathy Privratsky are one of those couples that can finish each other’s sentences.

Over their 53-year marriage, the Eastern alums have hiked thousands of miles together, raised two successful daughters, welcomed three grandchildren and supported each other’s professional accomplishments in workplaces from Goodnews Bay, Alaska to Washington, D.C.

Throughout their careers, she as a trailblazing speech-language pathologist, he as a logistical expert who rose to the rank of major general in the U.S. Army, the Privratskys have been difference makers. Now, in retirement, the couple continues to make a positive impact on the world through their support of students at Eastern Washington University.

The Privratskys recently made a $25,000 annual matching gift to encourage others to join them in supporting scholarships for students in EWU’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CMSD) program.

Their commitment was the continuation of an endowment toward scholarships started in 2006. That was when Ken surprised Kathy with a special Christmas present, the Kathy (Iverson) Privratsky Honorary Endowed Scholarship. It was a present, Kathy recalls, that caused her to cry. They have been growing the endowment ever since on their own. Now, their annual match will help it to grow even further.

Scholarships are gifts that “keep on giving” Kathy says. CMSD graduates go on to help children and adults learn ways to effectively communicate when they have been impacted by cognitive, neurological, and physical disabilities or delays that can pose barriers to effective communication.

Kathy and Ken met while attending Lewis and Clark High School, in Spokane, and went on to study at Eastern. They graduated in 1969, married, and headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, where Ken started a military career. Both have received EWU alumni awards and honorary doctorates for accomplishments that followed.

Kathy, a second-generation Eagle, earned a bachelor’s degree in education in speech and hearing in 1969, and her master’s in speech pathology in 1973. During her career she worked with individuals, birth through life, in 10 states and Panama, and also taught college-level classes, while the family moved in support of Ken’s military career.

For Kathy, the most memorable job experience involved working as an assistive technology coordinator for the Special Education Service Agency in Anchorage, Alaska. For that gig Kathy made nail-biting flights aboard small aircraft to reach remote villages, where she worked with children and young adults ages 3-22, and with their parents, teachers, and partner therapists. She recalls spending up to five days at a time on site, sleeping on gymnasium and classroom floors.

In Alaska and across the country, Kathy recalls, fellow Eastern graduates were impressively well represented in the field, “There was always a speech pathologist who graduated from Eastern.”

While Kathy was hunkered down in the frozen north, Ken was serving in the nation’s capital. He recalls a special phone call when she shared a remarkable story, saying, “I’ve been working with a child for multiple years – and she was finally able to look at her mother and tell her, using a high-technology communication device, that she loved her.”

That teenage student who at last had the means to “speak” told Kathy she hoped to graduate on time with her peers. That seemingly impossible dream later became a proud accomplishment.

“I never would have seen that any place else,” recalls Kathy, who changed jobs shortly thereafter and went on to form and direct the nonprofit ALTA, (Assistive Technology Library of Alaska). The nonprofit connects Alaskans with disabilities with tools to learn, work, play and participate in community life safely and independently.

Over the course of her career, Kathy has received the Association of Texas Professional Educators Christa McAuliffe Teaching Excellence Award, American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s DiCarlo award for clinical excellence, and Alaska’s Governor’s Award for her work in ATLA.

In 1969, Ken earned a bachelor’s degree in English from EWU. During his undergraduate years he became a member of Eastern’s ROTC cadet corps and, after graduation, was duly commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. He went on to lead an infantry platoon in Vietnam.

During his distinguished 33-year military career, Ken served in high level positions, including overseeing two worldwide joint organizations specializing in logistics. He led the strategic mobility program at the Pentagon and oversaw distribution of supplies worldwide for the U.S. Department of Defense. He also taught English at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Ken has received the highest service awards given by Department of Defense and Department of the Army as well as many others. He received personal recognition from Vice President Al Gore for his revolutionary changes to military distribution operations. Recently, the Defense Logistics Agency honored Ken by naming its new Distribution Headquarters building in Pennsylvania after him. Here at Eastern, he has received the Exceptional Military Service Award and been inducted into the ROTC Hall of Fame.

In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Eastern, Ken holds master’s degrees in English, business, and military art and science from Purdue and Adelphi universities and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College respectively.

After leaving the military, Ken entered the ocean shipping business with CSX Lines, which is now part of Matson Navigation Co. He was responsible for operations spanning the Pacific, including terminal operations in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and along the West Coast.

Not surprisingly, in retirement the Privratskys remain busy. Both were active for many years in Special Olympics Alaska, both in the States and abroad.  Kathy routinely ran the Healthy Athletes Hearing Program at state and international events. Ken has written several books. His Logistics in the Falklands War: A Case Study in Expeditionary Warfare has been reprinted many times and is included on multiple reading lists.

Their recent focus has become the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage route from France across Spain. They have walked the trail with backpacks three times and are preparing for a fourth walk this fall.

But their persistent passion remains helping others achieve their own goals. That inspired the EWU endowment years ago and a spirit of giving that continues to this day. (We are gearing up to share more exciting news about another endowment that the Privratskys are spearheading!)

Kathy says their support of students allows them to “come full circle,” as they both received scholarships while attending Eastern. As a master’s level student at EWU, raising two children while Ken served in Vietnam, Kathy says a $200 a month fellowship made a huge difference for their young family. Ken, a first-generation student who worked at a gas station to pay for college, remains ever appreciative of the ROTC scholarship he received. They both attribute their achievements to help they received at the university and during their careers.

Over the years, the couple say they’ve gotten to know many people at Eastern as they catch up on the latest campus developments and meet with the students who’ve received their scholarship support. They especially enjoy reading the heartfelt letters of gratitude sent by the students.

“That personal communication you get it inspires you to give back,” they say.

Explore the many ways you can provide opportunities for EWU students to learn and thrive at EWU/Give.