As you walk through the halls and stairwells of the CCV-Winooski academic center, you’ll pass paintings from artists around Vermont. Prominently displayed is a newly hung painting featuring broad brush strokes and robust colors, an abstract of the academic center and the imperfect tree with a “hitch in its giddy-up” that can be seen outdoors. Looking closely, you’ll see the name of the artist signed in the bottom right: “K. Geiger.” So, who was K. Geiger?
Karen Geiger grew up in Vermont, attending school in Essex Junction before joining the workforce. When she was 28, Karen decided it was time to go back to school, and she earned her associate degree in liberal studies at CCV. “It was only after she went to CCV that she started to get serious about her future,” said her father, Bill Geiger. The College helped prepare her to continue her education at UVM, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art.
From a young age Karen was always interested in the arts, Bill said, including drawing, theater, and any form of studio art. As she continued in her professional career after graduation, Karen kept her passion for the arts as a priority, while also pursuing another interest: helping others. “She wanted to work somewhere that allowed her to help make a difference in someone’s life,” Bill said. “Hence, CCV.”
Karen started working at CCV in 2007, just seven years after her graduation from the College. She worked in the operations department with Linda Lawrence, CCV’s current director of operations. “She was very passionate about the work that she did, and it didn’t matter what it was at the time, she dove headfirst into it,” Linda said. “She was a force. She had a big personality and I think that everyone who knew her really knew her. She was so genuine and open. She was just a really good friend.”
While working in operations, Karen brought her passion for art into the academic center. When CCV moved from its Burlington campus to Winooski, a primary goal was to make the new space feel more like a college by bringing in pieces of art. Karen worked with local artists to curate the art galleries, taking on the responsibility of communicating with the artists, selecting the art, hanging the art, and switching it out every few months. The galleries still feature art today.
Karen took on different responsibilities at CCV as she moved from operations to development as an administrative assistant. Susan Henry, then executive dean of the college, was Karen’s supervisor. “Karen was very extroverted and very fun-loving,” Susan said. “She always wanted to take on more responsibility; she was always looking to have more of an impact. To find someone who wanted to work, that’s pretty special. And that was Karen.” As part of her work in development, Karen had a strong interest in helping raise money for scholarships. “We didn’t raise money for CCV, we raised money for students. And that fit with Karen’s value system very well,” Susan said.
Karen was also a part of committees at CCV, including the graduation committee and College Council. A strong writer, she contributed to the CCV newsletter and annual report. “I think her enthusiasm and her can-do spirit was infectious. You couldn’t be on a committee with Karen and not want to step up and be a part of it too. She just had such a great positive amount of energy,” said Susan. She reflected that Karen’s time at CCV was one of professional growth, which she used as she continued her professional career as development coordinator at both the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson and the Clarina Howard Nichols Center in Morrisville.
In 2019 Karen was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away on February 26, 2022. Before she passed, Karen and her father worked closely with CCV to continue her legacy in two distinct ways: a scholarship in her name and a commissioned painting.
The Karen M. Geiger Scholarship is an endowment established at CCV in 2022 in honor of Karen, made possible by a generous gift of $25,000 from her father. This scholarship will be awarded annually to students who demonstrate financial need, preferably in the liberal studies degree program. Bill recognizes the value of education and that not every college student has financial support to attend, and he wants Karen’s passion for helping others to continue in a meaningful way. “Her scholarship will not pay the full price for admission,” Bill said, “but it will help somebody who needs it. That person is then somebody who Karen has helped.”
Katie Mobley, CCV’s dean of enrollment and community relations, expressed gratitude on behalf of the College: “We’re so grateful that this is how [Bill] chose to honor Karen’s experience. The fact that he wanted to reflect and honor that CCV was a place that helped transform Karen’s life, means that her legacy is going to be that she’s going to continue to transform student’s lives.”
At the same time the Geigers spoke with CCV about the scholarship, the College chose to commission a painting from Karen that would forever live at CCV. This painting was hung and unveiled in the Winooski center on October 7. Katie communicated with Karen about what could be included in the painting, but says that ultimately it was left up to Karen. “It couldn’t have been more perfect,” she said of the painting. “It’s so meaningful that what she chose to spend her last active art project on was this painting that has such a deep connection to CCV.” Bill also reflected on how Karen felt about creating the painting: “this was one of the more joyful things that happened to her during her illness. She was excited, and she knew that if the painting was done and went up, that she was going to be present for years to come.”