A Lifelong Connection Math Major Returns After Decades of Teaching to Pursue Her Love of Art

by Kim Hasty

Art has always had a way of speaking to Katherine Kalevas. But it took her more than 50 years to find the time to answer back.

Kalevas, a Fayetteville native and a 1966 graduate of Methodist, earned a Bachelor of Science in Math. She went on to teach decades of high school students how to tell the difference between a derivative and a logarithm, while somehow managing to maintain that tricky educational balance between firm and fun. In 1979, during her long career at Reid Ross High School, she was named the city’s Teacher of the Year.

Kalevas's class ring.

Her love of art began long before that, in elementary school. She loved sketching, so much so that her sixth-grade drawing of the Cathedral at Notre Dame won top honors in school, city, and state competitions. But when art classes filled up the next year, her principal gently ushered her into math class instead.

“But I hate math,” she told him.

“Oh, you’re going to learn to love it,” he assured her.

As it turned out, he was right. She proved so adept with algebraic equations that she became trusted to grade her classmates’ papers and help others with their work.

“I just took to it,’’ she said.

Besides, she figured, her Greek immigrant father, Harry Kalevas, likely wouldn’t have tolerated his daughter majoring in art. He was a hard-working Fayetteville restauranteur who had arrived in the United States in 1911. He believed in faith, family, and very little in the way of frivolity.

But when Katherine Kalevas retired from teaching in 2012, she finally felt she could rekindle her passion for art with the help of her alma mater.

“We have a long history of retired people coming here to study art. It's the difference between mind and heart. So when you’ve finished doing a job, the best thing you can do for yourself is to do something for your heart. There’s nothing more soothing than doing something creative. It feeds your soul at a different level.” - Vilas Tonape, Associate Professor of Art
Katherine Kalevas works on a pastel sketch under the tutelage of Associate Professor of Art, Vilas Tonape.
Katherine Kalevas ’66

At 75, Kalevas is in her seventh year of taking classes from Tonape. She jokes that she likely badgered him with questions early on, but now she has her own locker inside the Bethune Art Building and a quiet place to spread out with her pastels and sketchbook. These days, she totes an oxygen tank behind her and copes with the effects of a long battle with cancer.

Yet she remains undeterred.

“She’s doing great,” Tonape said. “She’s doing amazing. She’s catching on to the skill level I’m trying to teach her.”

Kalevas scours the internet for images that she likes, then prints them out and gets to work. Friends are the happy recipients of her favorite pieces.

“I become so engrossed in what I’m doing that I forget everything else,” she said, adding sheen to a cluster of berries with a white pencil. “It’s beyond therapy.”

Methodist University’s landscape has changed a great deal since Kalevas was an undergraduate. She remembers being among the students who helped move books onto the shelves when Davis Memorial Library was built. She’s maintained lifelong friendships that began at Methodist, including with classmates Marie Zahran Reale ’66 and Ella Rose Hall Smith ’66.

Kalevas is pictured in her Methodist graduation gown

“I was so skinny back then,” she said.

But though the campus is larger, there’s still a comforting feeling of home when she walks into Tonape’s class.

“He’s taught me the meaning of art,” she said, “and what it does to the soul.”


Story: Kim Hasty for Methodist University | MU Today | photos: Doo Lee | University Relations | Methodist University