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February 18. 2013 7:03PM

Donations pour in to pay for White Mountain School's arts center memorializing slain graduate Katherine 'Kitty' Houghton


This drawing depicts the planned Catherine Houghton Arts Center as it will appear on campus. The two-story building has been designed to blend in with its rural surroundings on the White Mountain School campus in Bethlehem. The center is named for school graduate and trustee Catherine "Kitty" Houghton who was stabbed to death in Littleton. (COURTESY RUHL WALKER ARCHITECTS)

HOUGHTON 
BETHLEHEM - If, as he is charged with, Rodney Hill, 37, of West Danville, Vt., stabbed Katherine "Kitty" Houghton to death on the night of Jan. 28 at a Littleton hotel, Hill certainly couldn't have had any idea of the immediate and worldwide reaction that would result in response to that act of violence.

In the three weeks since the killing took place in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, it has become abundantly clear that Houghton, 70, a multi-lingual veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, left a strong impression on people from all points on the globe.

News of the tragedy spread quickly throughout the White Mountain School community. Houghton was a 1960 graduate, when it was St.-Mary's-in-the-Mountains, and was a trustee at the private Bethlehem school when she died.

But the reaction became much more widespread and intense when her obituary appeared in the New York Times, and people from several continents began sending their expressions of shock and sorrow, according to Rob Constantine, the school's director of advancement.

"She was just connected to so many organizations - the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, the Ninety Nines - and so many people," he said.

Also pouring in are checks that will go toward the building of a campus arts center that her fellow trustees have already decided to name for Houghton.

In fact, Constantine said, school officials believe donations will cover the entire cost of the project, as much as $1.5 million, that could be completed by the end of this year.

One of those trustees, Will Ruhl, is an architect whose firm is contributing its services toward the cause. His staff at South Boston-based Ruhl Walker Architects is working on the final version of the building's design, he said Friday.

"We're helping out. The associates are working for free," and Bethlehem-area tradesmen, including the builder and subcontractors, will have some employment from the project next construction season, he said.

The building will incorporate what Ruhl called a new system of prefabricated panels that will be assembled on site. It will offer 5,000 square feet of space over two stories, and will feature several open spaces for arts studios.

Two of those will be for music, which was closest to Houghton's heart among all the arts. The Nevada native sang and performed throughout her life.

"Kitty Houghton was primarily interested in music. One side of the center will be built into a hill. There'll be an amphitheater outdoors and an outside stage there for performances," Ruhl said.

Constantine said that almost from the moment the campus was stunned by word of Houghton's death, administrators, staff and students have been determined to focus on something positive, rather than the grim circumstances of her final moments.

Houghton, whose home was in the San Francisco area, had returned in January to New Hampshire's North Country to attend what turned out to be her final trustees meeting. There, she enthusiastically voted in support of the proposed new campus arts center.

Within hours of her death, the other trustees decided on its name: Catherine Houghton Arts Center.

"Everyone's very devastated still," said Ruhl, who as a trustee had known Houghton for two years.

"She knew so many people," Constantine said, "but she was also a very private person. I don't think any of us really knew her all that well."

"Yes, she was very private," Ruhl agreed.

"But she was very warm, and you felt you had known her your whole life. She would look right at you when you talked, and you knew she was interested in what you had to say."

"I think we're all working to have something positive come out of this," Ruhl said.

bhookway@newstote.com

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