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Her hometown is now submerged under a reservoir.

posted May 8, 2015, 4:01 PM by Joyce Evans   [ updated May 8, 2015, 4:03 PM ]
You may know Cathy Hilton as a member of PSAR’s East County Government Affairs Committee. She has served on the committee for the past five years, including one year as chair.


But did you know that Cathy attended first grade in a one-room schoolhouse in a town that doesn’t exist anymore? Her hometown of Lackawa, New York, in Ulster County’s Catskill Mountains, is now underwater, submerged as part of the Ashokan Reservoir that was built to provide drinking water supply for New York City residents. Her father worked in construction and helped build the dam in a luminous basin known as Esopus Valley.


Second grade was spent in Ellenville, N.Y., and third grade in Rosendale, N.Y. “My mother got tired of moving and said `no more,’ so we stayed in Rosendale until I graduated from high school,” said Cathy. Her graduating class at St. Urusla Academy, an all-girls high school, totaled 34 students.


Cathy’s mother Catherine O’Leary served as the mayor of Rosendale (population: about 2,000) for a single two-year term (1956-1958). She also served as police chief at the same time. “She was voted in by seven votes and voted out by the same number of votes,” said Cathy. “She was the state of New York’s first-ever woman mayor.”


Cathy learned many life lessons from her mother, including “Don’t be afraid to try something new,” said Cathy. During the early years of her marriage, Cathy worked in the offices of a hospital, glass manufacturer and auto dealership.


While living in 1983 in Ellington, Conn., Cathy founded a nonprofit organization that promoted greater parent involvement in the local public schools. The organization, called Citizens for Better Education, engaged hundreds of parents in reforming a school system that desperately needed parent participation at the time, said Cathy. “We were pioneers in a national movement to strengthen public schools and improve student outcomes,” she said. “Hundreds of similar organizations have sprung up all over the country since then. I was very proud of our work. I’ve always been passionate about encouraging education.”


The family moved to San Diego in 1985 and Cathy remained a stay-at-home mom, raising son Ryan by herself, following the 1988 passing of her husband. Cathy’s son, a 1995 graduate of Valhalla High School, today is an attorney in the U.S. Air Force.


While taking classes at Cuyamaca College in the late 1990s, one of Cathy’s instructors encouraged her to become a real estate sales agent. “At about the same time, we bought some investment properties and had a horrible experience with an agent,” said Cathy. “I knew that I could do a better job.”


Today, Cathy serves real estate buyers and sellers in Alpine, Blossom Valley, El Cajon, Jamul and Lakeside. She has lived in El Cajon in a home adjacent to the Syucan Resort golf course since 2001. She is active with the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce and keeping in touch with more than 25 nieces and nephews.


“I believe strongly in education and in community involvement,” said Cathy. “Those are the best ways to guarantee a bright future for the next generation.”


She enjoys her participation with PSAR. “My support of the Association is one way I can give back to my community,” she said. “Life is temporary, we’re just passing through. We need to make the most of the time here before it’s our time to go home.”

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Don’t forget to read next week’s story. Hint: The birth of his first child motivated him to write a business plan for himself that included owning a real estate sales company.