By LISA SIMPSON STRANGE
Glasgow Daily Times
Karalee Pelham Oldenkamp is a very busy woman. Nothing seems to be able to slow her down much — not even breast cancer.
It’s been a little more than a year since she was diagnosed on Sept. 21, 2009 and even though she has been through chemotherapy and radiation treatments during the past year, Oldenkamp has not let her illness define who she is or what she wants to accomplish.
“Right now, I’m taking it a day at a time,” she said sitting in her office on South Green Street on a Monday afternoon.
Oldenkamp, 31, has served as executive director of the Kentucky Board of Chiropractic Examiners for the past three years. She was named to the position in June 2007. Before that she worked with her father, Robert Pelham, and her husband, Derek Oldenkamp, in their local chiropractic practice for two years. Her mom, Darlene Pelham, also works part-time in the office there.
There were early signs that Karalee would follow in her father’s career footsteps.
“I’ve got a picture of her with her sister (Kasey) on the adjustment table giving her an adjustment,” Robert said. “She was probably 4 years old and Kasey was 2 and a half.”
Karalee has early childhood artwork that shows her interest in chiropractics as well.
“When I was in kindergarten, I drew picture of my dad adjusting a patient and I’m standing next to him. I won a ribbon for it,” she said.
She and Derek have a son, Kennick, who was 10 months old when Karalee was diagnosed with cancer. He will be celebrating his second birthday at the end of November.
The couple met when they were both attending Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, which is also the alma mater of Karalee’s father.
“We knew each other for about two and a half years before we even started dating,” Derek said. “We were in student council together.”
Derek is from the Dutch community of Orange City, Iowa, and his ancestors lived in Amsterdam, Holland. Karalee said one of the things they had in common was that she attended Glasgow High School with the Scottie Marching Band wearing kilts and Derek’s high school had a band, the Marching Dutchmen, that performed in wooden shoes.
“Our lives growing up were very similar – both from small towns,” he said.
Karalee was born in Glasgow and after graduating from GHS, received a bachelor of science degree in 2001 from Western Kentucky University before attending Palmer. She joined the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority while at WKU.
While working on her doctorate at Palmer College, she was inducted into the Vogt Leadership Society, only one of two students selected. She also received the John Connolly Award, having been chosen by her classmates for the honor, as well as serving on the student council and graduating summa cum laude.
In 2005, Karalee and Derek moved to Glasgow and were married in March of that year and began working with Pelham in his chiropractic office. While she enjoys the position she has now with the state examiner’s board, Karalee said she also misses the personal interaction with people.
“I really like the administrative and the more business end of it, but I miss dealing with the patients and being one-on-one with people and seeing the positive changes in their lives from changing their health,” she said.
Her husband and father miss her being in the office with them as well, but Derek understands she has another job to do.
“We do (miss her), but she’s got a lot bigger role right now dealing with the state and politics. She’s where she wants to be,” he said.
Along with licensing new chiropractors for the state, Oldenkamp’s office is also responsible for making sure all Kentucky requirements are followed and license renewals for existing chiropractors are completed. She is in charge of approving continuing education requirements, answering any complaints against Kentucky chiropractors, doing case reviews, working with field investigators, updating website information and answering questions about state laws as they pertain to chiropractors.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience working with the state. It’s been a challenge,” she said.
Karalee is also very active in Barren River Animal Welfare Association, serving as president for the organization and helping to spearhead fundraisers and new programs and overseeing a recent expansion to the facility.
“At her direction, BRAWA began a direct-mail campaign, which has increased donations significantly. Karalee initiated and chaired new events such as the Easter Bone Hunt, telethon, Spay-ghetti & No Balls Dinner to raise money for spay/neuter and the Shake Your Paw Ball and expanded existing events such as Woofstock,” said Margie Patton, BRAWA executive director. “Karalee has continued to inspire and lead the Barren River Animal Welfare Association even while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. In spite of this setback in her life, she continues to positively inspire others around her. ... Her involvement with the Barren River Animal Welfare Association has made us into a stronger, more cohesive organization.”
Karalee is also a member of the Glasgow Business & Professional Women’s Club, Glasgow-Barren County Leadership and the Glasgow 2010 Committee.
She said cancer made her and family members re-evaluate priorities.
“Derek and I were very ambitious – out to save the world. Now we’re focused more toward taking care of family,” she said.
Her father agrees.
“I think it’s made the family realize life is precious. It’s brought us closer together,” said Robert.
Pelham also said his older daughter is an inspiration to the people around her.
“Just to see her strength has been rewarding. Everything that Karalee has ever done, she’s been driven to perfection,” he said.
And that level of commitment has been apparent to those who have worked with her.
“In her professional life and her community involvement Karalee’s intelligence, creativity, enthusiasm and follow-through make her a natural leader and a positive contributor to our community,” Patton said.
Derek was understandably proud of his wife’s recognition as a “Rising Star” this year.
“Saving the world will always be in her blood. Even through all her treatments and everything, she was always trying to figure out how to make Glasgow a better place,” he said. “She wants the best for Glasgow and everybody. She knows how to get it done. She’s a doer.”