PRINCETON — Long-time Princeton business owner, teacher and youth group leader Kathy Hornbaker died Monday after suffering from frontal lobe dementia for seven years. She was 62.
While Hornbaker was well-known as one of the smiling faces at Hornbaker Gardens, which she created and owned with her husband, Rich, in 1987, she also taught in the Leepertown and Tiskilwa Grade School districts, impacting several children during her time there as a grade school teacher. She also was integral in several youth groups in the area, including those at her church.
But aside from all her professional accomplishments, perhaps the characteristics in which Hornbaker will be remembered most fondly were her abilities to be a good friend — someone whose smile lit up the room, someone who her friends and family could count on for love and understanding.
“Kathy was a very special friend to me. With incredible patience, she became a wonderful friend to me as I first came to know her and worked along side her with the Met Jets swim team,” said Rachel Colby of Spring Valley. “Our friendship grew from there. From our early morning swims to our many conversations, our mischievous spirit was always alive and well.
“I was fortunate to share some of the best laughter, and we certainly had the gift of the gab. She loved life and lived it to the fullest! To the very end, Kathy’s genuine smile always gave me that connection to her true spirit, her heart and soul! Kathy is the epitome of love for family, friends and life,” Colby said, adding the connection Hornbaker shared with her husband — a “soulmate connection is an inspiration to us all.
“She will be deeply missed, although the impact she has had will live on. She made her time count while she was here on earth with us. She loved life,” Colby said.
Princeton resident Kathy O’Malley said Hornbaker was her very first girlfriend when she came to Princeton.
“I wonder now how many other hundreds of other people she approached with that same sweet smile when they were visiting Hornbaker Gardens —how many other people came away with a lovely memory of that beautiful shining woman driving a golf cart or visiting with strangers,” O’Malley said.
“I’m so lucky that I eventually got to know the lovely and kind human behind that smile, as well as the remarkable family and close friends who surrounded her with such love and caring over these last few years.” O’Malley said. “People like Kathy and her family just make the world a better place.”
Sharry Taylor of Princeton had known Hornbaker for years. She said she got to know her much better when she started working at Hornbaker Gardens many years ago.
“I grew to love her, as everyone did. She was a person who brought out treats every day for all her workers. She owned the place, but she would be out there cleaning the bathrooms, and she would work side-by-side with us. She was one of a kind,” Taylor said.
“She was a giving and kind person, spontaneous and fun,” Taylor continued. “She was a person that people were drawn too. She had great warmth and generosity. I think people became better people when they were around her. I think she drew out the best in people because she was so truly good herself. She loved animals and children. Children and animals sense that, and they always loved her.
“Everything she was and is certainly shines through her beautiful and kind and giving children. You can sure tell she raised them. And even during her illness, her true nature still shone through,” Taylor added.
Marcie Jaggers, a long-time family friend and office manager at Hornbaker Gardens, said Hornbaker was also a role model in many ways.
“Kathy was an advocate for anyone in need. Her kindness and generosity were unending,” Jaggers said. “She was a mentor to so many young people, and her passion for teaching love and tolerance made her an ideal role model. I feel so grateful that she touched the lives of my own children as their youth group leader and family friend.
Jaggers also spoke of Hornbaker’s attitude toward life and how she admired her spontaneity.
“Happiness radiated from her, and she was always on board for any adventure. She taught me the meaning of spontaneity. She would drop everything in a minute to go pick blueberries, or arrange a bouquet of flowers for a friend, or take a road trip, or head to the fair for a lemon shake-up and elephant ear.
“It is hard for me to imagine a world without Kathy. She was the true definition of friendship,” Jaggers said.
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