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Carthage is mourning the loss of its beloved campus pastor, the Rev. Kara Baylor.

Heartbroken by the loss of our beloved “Pastor Kara,” the Carthage community is exchanging prayers and memories.

After bravely battling breast cancer for the past seven years, the Rev. Kara Baylor passed away May 25 at age 52.

“Pastor Kara was widely recognized for her preaching, focused on serving our neighbors and seeking justice. Through the special call she heard to minister to students, she touched many, many lives at Carthage and beyond,” said President John Swallow. “We have been powerfully blessed to have her in our midst and will miss her deeply.”

Joining us in 2014 as campus pastor and later adding the title director of congregational relations, she infused the spiritual heart of the College with new energy. Debbie Clark, the longtime administrative assistant in the Center for Faith and Spirituality, soon grew accustomed to the four words Pastor Baylor uttered daily: “I have an idea.”

Carthage is grieving the loss of its beloved campus pastor, the Rev. Kara Baylor, shown here at t... “Every idea was rooted in our students and how we support them in their journey,” Ms. Clark said. “She loved most ‘breaking bread’ with them, whether at one of her innovations, Interfaith Lunch, over a meal in the Caf, coffee in Starbucks, at our candy dish, and most especially at the communion table.

“As a pastor, a counselor and friend, she met students, faculty, and staff in whatever physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual places they were in.”

Working with college students was the next step in her dedication to the growth and development of young people. Before accepting the call to Carthage, Pastor Baylor spent more than 20 years in youth ministry for congregations in Minnesota, North Dakota, and here in southeastern Wisconsin.

Holly Hess knew her for 20 years, first at Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church in Racine and more recently as Carthage colleagues. She marveled at Pastor Baylor’s unfiltered honesty and unconditional acceptance.

“She tended to be the brightest light in any room. There was such warmth and depth to her that drew people in,” said Ms. Hess, purposeful life and leadership coordinator for the College. “They grew and flourished under the bright light that she was.”

Carthage is mourning the loss of its beloved campus pastor, the Rev. Kara Baylor, whose passion w... Pastor Baylor embodied ELCA institutions’ commitment to be “Rooted and Open.” While strengthening Carthage’s Lutheran roots, she developed a full slate of interfaith programs.

Professor Fatih Harpci, chair of the Religion Department, collaborated with Pastor Baylor on many initiatives on campus and in the wider community. Together, they modeled Muslim-Christian collaboration.

“She was truly an interfaith hero,” Prof. Harpci said, “welcoming the students of faith or no faith with radical hospitality.”

Originally from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Pastor Baylor earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Ordained in 2000, she emphasized the concept of vocation — that everyone has a larger purpose — at every stop.

Showing “no tolerance for intolerance,” she took an active part in the College’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts from the outset. The nationwide racial reckoning in 2020 awakened her anger over lingering injustice, stirring Pastor Baylor to come off the sidelines and more fully “claim my Blackness.”

“The time I spent with Pastor Kara validated her commitment to creating an inclusive and just Carthage community,” said Michele Hancock, vice president of college culture for inclusion. “She left an indelible mark on all the lives she touched.”

A competitive swimmer and lifeguard in her youth, Pastor Baylor kept that affinity for the water throughout her life. Always devoted to family, she is survived by her husband, Trenton, an art and design professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside; their daughters, Thea and Tova; and her father, the Rev. Roger Skatrud.

A memorial celebration for the Carthage community will be scheduled at a later date.

Members of the Carthage community share their favorite memories of Pastor Kara. Read their messages below.


“As the chair of the search committee that brought Pastor Baylor to Carthage, I was always grateful for all her wonderful contributions to the spiritual life of the College. She will be missed by all who knew her. My deepest condolences to her family.” — Christian von Dehsen

“July 2022, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) hosted a conference in Minneapolis. It was there that I began to see the depth of understanding that Pastor Kara had for humanity. Her face was clearly recognizable to many attendees, and she welcomed everyone she met. The Carthage team enjoyed taking an impromptu trip to the George Floyd memorial, and there she read many tributes and viewed the makeshift monument. As I reviewed the pictures of the Carthage team together, we all appeared humbled at what we experienced together.” — Karin Graves; Director of Human Resources and Payroll, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Marketing and Management

“In fall 2022, I had the opportunity to co-teach a Legacies of Race and Racism course with Professor Michele Hancock. My section of the class focused on human resilience, looking at this through the lens of BIPOC people’s lived experiences. One of the pathways to resilience we studied in class was spirituality. I invited Pastor Kara to be a guest speaker as we explored this topic, which I did not feel I had the expertise to cover on my own. Pastor Kara began the class by asking students to discuss their faith traditions and spiritual practices in small groups. It was clear that the mostly freshman class of students was a bit shy about discussing this topic. As Pastor Kara asked students to reflect further on their own spirituality, there was a bit of uncomfortable silence. Then Pastor Kara asked, ‘Would your answer change if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness?’ Pastor Kara then proceeded to tell her own story to our class. You could hear a pin drop as she courageously shared with students. Suddenly, these previously shy students began to fully engage in conversation regarding their spiritual journeys, ambivalence, and ways they have benefitted from their religious experiences. It was incredible to watch how Pastor Kara was able to transform the conversation in just an hour with our students. This was her gift — to share pieces of herself in all that she did for our students and campus. There was not a dry eye in the classroom when Pastor Kara left the room. All students emailed her notes of appreciation. In response, Pastor Kara emailed me that some students ‘mentioned pieces of my talk that I could not have known would have been meaningful to them. That meant a lot to me.’ This makes me reflect on all of the ways Pastor Kara may not have realized how meaningful she was to all of us. I wish I could tell her once more.” — Debbie Kelly; Director of Field Education, Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work

“Pastor Kara created a multi-faith baccalaureate service that included several of us from different faiths sharing readings. I was honored to read a passage that honored my Unitarian Universalist faith, and I felt seen and welcomed as someone from a less traditional faith base. PK was so well-loved, humorous, and strong in her faith and her principles. She has left a beautiful legacy to our students, faculty, and staff.” — Patty Rieman; Chair of the Master in Education Program, Associate Professor of Education

“Pastor Kara was one of the first people I came out to as an atheist, at least on a grander public scale. I knew I would want her thoughts on things before I went for it full throttle. We were walking past Tarble Hall, and I mentioned it to her. She immediately said, ‘Oh that’s great! We really should start a strong secular/atheist club on campus; that would be wonderful.’ Although that never really came to fruition, it wasn’t due to lack of effort on her part. I will never forget her unconditional support in that moment.” — Lance Thompson; Assistant Director of Student Involvement for Campus Activities

“I have known Pastor Kara since I was in 7th grade. I went to middle school and high school with her daughter Thea. The Baylor family also went to the same church as me. Pastor Kara was always around and always seemed to drop a pearl of wisdom on me. One that stayed with me was: ‘Take every moment as a gift, cherish the memories you have, and if you’re lucky, you’ll make more.’” — Andrew Cline ’26

“I met Pastor Kara, also known as PK, my freshman year at Carthage. PK immediately made me feel welcomed. She was always so kind and compassionate with everyone she met. Within the first few minutes of talking, I already knew she was an incredible person and would play an integral part during my time at Carthage. I worked at the Center for Faith and Spirituality for all four years. It was the best job I ever had. It didn’t feel like work. PK created such a wonderful community. Anywhere she went, people followed. She was one of those people who everyone just wanted to be around. Everyone knew her. And to know her was to love her. PK, I wish we had more time to joke and laugh and learn with you. I will cherish every moment we had, and I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you. Pastor Kara has had a lasting impression not only at Carthage, but with the entire community. She will be sorely missed, but her legacy will live on. I love you, PK, and I hope you are finally able to rest and be without pain.” — Analise Biddle ’20

“Pastor Kara Baylor was a powerful woman. She looked at every challenge through the eyes of opportunity and every opportunity as a chance for compassion. Even during heated conversations, she made room for love and pushed others to do the same despite what previously felt comfortable. PK was open to hearing every new idea. She wanted the student body to have the biggest say in creation of new services, programs, and volunteer work. She pushed us to think outside of the box and had a never-ending list of connections throughout the community when we needed guidance. Not to mention a never-ending list of her own stories and advice. I wish I had written all of it down. You can’t talk about Pastor Kara without mentioning her tenacity and compassion, but you better not forget her obsession with food. I will miss our post-church Culver’s trips, the smile on her face when I delivered an iced green tea after a chemistry lab, and the slightly scary but ultimately delicious gas station barbecue. PK found the perfect balance of making an invitation meaningful: center the community around good people and good food. Thank you for everything, PK. I love you bunches. I hope you continue to see how big your impact on this earth truly was.” — Elise Dye ’20

“I have many good memories with PK: 1. I interviewed for a position for the Center for Faith and Spirituality staff and had no idea what the position was about (we laughed about that frequently). I guess she believed I could be successful in the role despite that initial confusion. 2. I remember carrying the sand candle boxes up the endless stairs into the upper chapel; she used to make the announcements at service purposely long because she knew I was always 3-5 minutes late. 3. PK took us to the “best bbq” restaurant after a staff team meeting for a bonding experience. It was in a gas station. We were highly skeptical, but it was so good. She really knew good food. 4. We walked many, many cold miles in Berlin, Germany. We rewarded ourselves with life-changing noodles. I think we got those noodles at least three times. 5. She claimed partial credit for my relationship with my husband in her sermon during our wedding because she had asked me to do the prayer at graduation, and he messaged me for the first time about that prayer. 6. So many potlucks in local church basements. She had a full menu for us to prepare. 7. One staff training, I decided I wanted to try and be called MJ. She still called me MJ sometimes. 8. Singing “Sanctuary” at Open Table. 9. Drinking sparkling grape juice together in the church office while having unfiltered chats.” — Mandy Long ’18; Career Specialist for Science and Health, Co-Chair of Pre-Health Advising

“The grace of God was visible in Kara as she fought this challenge with such good spirits and dignity.” — Mary Bishop, Board of Trustees

“I was always surprised when Pastor Kara remembered my name. She had only met me once, but every time we walked past each other on Campus Drive, or in the hallways of the chapel, she always greeted me by my name. As I got to know her better, I realized that this was a woman full of love and also practicality. She approached her faith with reason and understood that everyone’s path on this earth was different. I strive to approach my life and the people I meet with the same deep love and humble understanding that she did.” — Natalie Lall ’22