By Riki Bolster
“You can always change. You can make it work even if it’s not exactly what you expected.” Ormewood Park resident Joy Carter learned these words from her mother, Katherine Carter, the former “Ms. Rum Cake” of East Atlanta Strut fame.
Katherine Turner Carter died October 20 at the age of 101 in the neighborhood where she was born and in the house “where Aunt Mary and Uncle Lanier lived and Granny lived with them,” according to Joy.
After her husband Bob passed away, Katherine moved in with her daughter, son-in-law Ken Boff, and their three children. “She remade her life when she moved here in her seventies.”
Her new life included activities with South Atlantans for Neighborhood Development (SAND). She compiled and sold ads and also published an annual neighborhood phone book. Steve Norman recalls visiting a friend in the area and answering the door to a small white-haired woman who was soliciting volunteers for the Beer Pour fundraiser at the Pride Festival. “I want to live in this kind of neighborhood,” he says, later becoming a resident and serving as SAND president.
Another fundraiser included auctioning cakes for the Cake Walk. Katherine’s rum cake was always the first one sold. During every election, she brought rum cakes for the poll workers. She sold her cakes to The Hungry Russian, a local restaurant, until she learned she needed a license to continue. She rode in the inaugural East Atlanta Strut parade as Ms. Rum Cake.
“She was a pretty cool character,” said Margaret Thigpen, another Ormewood Park long-time resident. “A woman in that age bracket who did email and had a Facebook page is someone with a lot of spark.” For her hundredth birthday, Katherine posted a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital on Facebook.
Joy Carter saw her mother’s old Southern attitudes about race relations and sexuality morph from conservative to progressive. “She even said that women should have a right to choose,” Joy said. But one thing was constant–—the importance of voting. Katherine made sure she voted in the 2020 presidential election by absentee ballot.
With Katherine’s death, a lot of neighborhood history disappears, although some is preserved in Henry Bryant’s history of East Atlanta. She was instrumental in framing and writing of certain chapters either with neighborhood stories from her own memory or by providing material from her personal archives.
Katherine Carter was born in 1919 in what is now Reynoldstown, when the entire area was known as East Atlanta, before Interstate 20 divided the neighborhood. She grew up in Ormewood Park, attended Anne E. West Elementary School (now Charter Middle School), Murphy Junior High, and Girls High (the old Roosevelt High School), and was a member of Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church.
It was on a church hayride that Katherine met her husband, Bob Carter. They married at the beginning of World War II and when Bob enlisted in the Air Force, she followed him around the United States to his airplane mechanic postings, always finding work for herself. Katherine spoke about those lean times to Janelle Holmes, pastor of Ormewood Church. “She told me about rations for shoes, for bread and milk. She talked about how they would stand in line for breakfast so long that eventually it turned into the lunch line.”
After the war, Katherine and Bob Carter found work in Macon, where their daughter Joy was born. After Bob’s death, she moved back to the neighborhood of her youth, where she could tell the history of the houses and the people who once lived there, in the neighborhood where Joy was now making a home. There Katherine learned to share her daughter’s love of birds. When Joy started doing bird rescue, Katherine would sit next to the cages and talk to the birds, urging them towards wellness.
A memorial service will be held at a future date when conditions permit in-person gatherings. Neighbors who would like to leave a story or memory of Katherine, please visit www.ormewoodchurch.org and find her page. Donations can be made in honor of Katherine’s memory to Wild Nest Bird Rehabilitation, 1270 Caroline Street, Suite D 120-348, Atlanta, Georgia, 30307, or Ormewood Church, 1071 Delaware Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia, 30316.
***This is Katherine Carter’s rum cake recipe.
1 box Duncan Hines Classic yellow cake mix
1 3oz. package vanilla instant pudding mix
1/3 cup Crisco oil
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs
DIRECTIONS: Grease and flour bundt cake pan; sprinkle with finely chopped pecans (optional). Sift cake mix and pudding mix; add oil, rum, water, and eggs. Beat on low until mixed, then 2 minutes on high speed. Pour into prepared pan and bake 60 minutes at 300 degrees or until done. Cool on rack. Before turning out, pour glaze over cake and leave in pan 30 minutes.
1 stick margarine or butter
1/3 cup rum
1/3 cup water
DIRECTIONS: Melt butter and add sugar, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and water and bring to a boil. Boil 3 minutes. Pour over cake while still in pan. Cool 30 minutes.