Tapestry leader a creative visionary

April 7, 2019 GMT

If enthusiasm could be bottled and sold, Kathleen Jackson might make a million.

Jackson is project manager for Fort Wayne’s annual Tapestry, a day created to provide inspiration, renewal and education for women. The event has grown since its beginning in 2002.

“That first year there were less than 300 who attended. For 2019, we have a sellout crowd of 1,660,” Jackson said, barely disguising her delight. “We sold out the first day this year.”

Award-winning broadcast journalist and bestselling author Elizabeth Vargas will be keynote speaker for this year’s Tapestry on May 3.

The event started the same year Jackson moved from Kansas City, Missouri, where she was coordinator for the Tom Watson Children’s Mercy Hospital Golf Classic. A native of Michigan City, Jackson took a circuitous route to settling here. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of South Alabama and her Master in Business Administration from Texas A&M. Jackson met her husband David, a native of Paris, Texas, while working on her MBA.

When her husband’s job with Trane brought them to Fort Wayne, Jackson spent her first years here staying at home with daughter Sydney and son Benjamin. She also became involved with Fort Wayne’s Junior League and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Her passion for volunteer work led her to Tapestry.

“I had coordinated the golf classic in Kansas City for five years, and worked a lot with volunteers and celebrities,” she said, adding that those experiences have been valuable in taking the leadership for Tapestry, a joint effort of Parkview Health and Purdue Fort Wayne.

In 2010, Jackson was hired by IPFW as assistant to then-coordinator Ruth Stone, and in 2011, she was flying on her own, facilitating the myriad details that go into the annual day. The Tapestry steering committee includes 19 sub-committees that coordinate everything from decorations to marketing to managing the artisan boutique and the morning breakout speakers.

“We have about 120 community members and volunteers who work with us,” Jackson said.

Irene Walters, a founding member of the Tapestry Steering Committee, still recognizes the qualities that brought Jackson to the position.

She “is the rare combination of a project manager who leads with vision and creativity ... while still allowing her committee to take ownership of their areas of responsibility without micromanaging so everyone feels part of the team,” Walters said.

The work of planning the annual day begins in late summer with selecting and inviting a nationally known speaker. The Steering Committee and others from the community propose ideas for the next spring’s speaker.

“We start our search based on what women have told us they want to hear about,” Jackson said.

Considering all the options and making a final selection for the speaker is probably the most difficult part of the job. Vargas “rose to the top” of the list for this year, Jackson said, because of her dedication to her profession and her openness about her struggles with anxiety and alcoholism.

Jackson’s experience working with celebrities in Kansas City with the Tom Watson Golf Classic has been valuable in hosting the high-profile speakers Tapestry engages.

“Everyone has been very nice,” Jackson said. “Every year I prepare myself, wondering what we will talk about when I’m with them and it always works out.”

One of her biggest surprises was actress Vicki Lawrence, who spoke in 2016.

“She’s so bubbly and extroverted on stage, but she was so quiet in person,” Jackson said.

By early fall, the Tapestry Steering Committee starts soliciting event sponsors and exhibitors.

Tickets go on sale in early March. “Tickets this year sold out within a few hours,” she added. The event now has a waiting list online in case spots open.

One of Jackson’s favorite parts of Tapestry is working with winners of the scholarships that the event funds. Since its beginning in 2002, Tapestry has provided $1 million in scholarships to 89 students at Purdue Fort Wayne and Indiana University Fort Wayne.

“It makes what we do so worthwhile,” she added.

Scholarship winners include students in the medical field as well as human services. Some are traditional-age students and others are nontraditional, going to college after working in another field, for example. While most recipients have been women, this year, Jackson said, one is a male nursing student whose request stood out.

Now, in her ninth year as coordinator, Jackson looks forward to continuing to improve the quality of Tapestry, which will be held at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

“We are limited by space,” Jackson said, “but we are always trying to give women a better experience at Tapestry, and continue to put on the highest quality event we can.”

Dena Jacquay is chief community and human resource officer at Tapestry partner Parkview Health. As a member of the event’s Steering Committee, she observes Jackson’s passion for the event and what it means to the community.

“Kathleen ... has been an incredible force in the success of Tapestry over the last nine years. Her passion for celebrating women and for promoting education through scholarships has been inspiring.”

Walters agrees, saying Jackson has “grown Tapestry to be the event in the community that no one wants to miss.”