Karen Rockwell’s Ode to the Past Improves the Present for Woodring Scholars

By Frances Badgett

When Karen Rockwell considered a gift to Western that would benefit students, she thought of her parents, Benita and Larry Offutt ‘54. Larry graduated from Western with a degree from Woodring before launching a long and successful career in education. After the deaths of both Benita and Larry, Karen wanted to share their bequest with deserving students.

Benita and Larry struggled as young parents and students at Western. Benita was a sophomore and Larry a junior when they met. They married between their respective junior and senior years, and gave birth to their daughter Karen when Larry entered his senior year. As young parents, the strain of school, a night job, and parenting took a toll, and Benita suspended her education. Money was exceptionally tight, and Larry’s education was in jeopardy. Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, he received the support that allowed him to complete his degree. 

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Collage of photos of Benita and Larry Offutt ‘54

Benita and Larry Offutt ‘54

“My parents’ story is one of persistence, fortitude, and sacrifice,” said Karen.

The Offutts had four children in five years: Karen, Larita, Doug and Linda. While Larry supported the family on his income as a teacher, Benita worked as a stay-at-home mom until the couple’s youngest child was four years old. 

In the 1960s, the family moved to Wenatchee, a small city at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers, known as the “Apple Capital of the World.” The local school system needed teachers, and Benita was invited to teach as a substitute until she completed her education. She went back to school, earned a degree and teaching certificate, and began her career as an educator. As they were able, the Offutts gave many times to Western over the years. 

Now living in Snohomish, Karen is reminded of her return to complete her education, grateful for her own successful career in the healthcare industry and for her parents’ modeling of hard work and sacrifice. She’s also grateful to that that donor who got her dad through his senior year at Western. 

After her parents died, Larry in 2016 and Benita in 2020, Karen realized how consistently and generously the couple had supported Western over the years.

“My gift to Western is an ode to the past, something my parents wished as a legacy gift,” she said. 

Sensitive to the needs of struggling students, having endured struggles of her own as a young person, Karen also wanted to help students just like her parents—students who just need an extra push to complete their education.

“There are young people who potentially might not complete their education at Western who would be the next generation of great teachers. My vision is to help young people who are close and need a little extra to push them until they’re done,” said Karen.

Karen’s interest in the Maestros Para el Pueblo program, which encourages Latinx teachers to return to their communities and teach, comes from her mother’s Mexican heritage. She sees this gift as a tribute to her parents. 

“Benita and her sister were the first in their families to graduate from college and her father was the first and only to graduate in his family, as well,” she said.

“My story and my parents’ story are very similar,” said Karen.

Karen went back to school in her forties to fill the gaps in her education. Determined and driven, her career included being a grocery checker, a wine steward, a wholesale wine distributor salesperson, and with completing her education, a new career as a pharmaceutical and clinical specialist working in the field of mental health and addiction recovery. 

Karen’s gifts to Western don’t stop with her. She plans to encourage friends and members of her community to donate as well. 

“As a donor, I’m taking baby steps right now. I want to inspire my friends to give too,” she said. “I want to do anything I can to help people get on their feet and teach in their communities. I see people coming up and becoming teachers and leaders in their communities.”

Just as her parents did.