Catherine Franklin Vandegrift, 98, widow of Frank Vandegrift, passed away on Friday, February 18, 2022. She was the daughter of Cass Bode and Stella Mellown Franklin of Birmingham, Alabama.
Catherine met the love of her life, Frank Vandegrift in the church youth choir, dated throughout high school and married in 1944 while Frank was in the Army. She graduated from Birmingham Southern College in 1945 and began teaching public school music. After the war, Frank returned to Georgia Tech to complete his mechanical engineering degree and Catherine taught math and geography in Roswell, GA. By then, they had both decided to make a commitment to foreign missions.
The first mission trip was to Belgium (1949) for language study and schooling on conditions in the Congo (West Africa). They learned French, the primary language with additional study in Tshiluba, one of the main dialects of Congo. They made their first trip to Congo in 1950, working in the Kasai region. Frank worked with many mechanical and building projects, while Catherine taught young native men to become teachers. She also organized the church choir and the Christmas pageants. Conditions were primitive, with no electricity.
In 1960, the family was forced to flee due to the breakdown of the Congolese government after its independence from Belgium. Belgian troops assisted in the evacuations and the family was separated temporarily while Catherine and daughter, Frances, returned to the U.S. and Frank remained in Congo to assist evacuations with HAM radio operations.
The next 20+ years were spent at Auburn University, in Auburn, Alabama, where Frank was the Director of the Co-operative Education Program and Catherine taught French.
In 1984, they were asked by the Medical Benevolence Foundation to help with the installation of a hydro-electric plant for the Good Shepherd Hospital at Tshikaji, Republic of Congo. They made several return trips between 1987 – 1994 to check on the plant performance. The care capabilities of Good Shepherd Hospital were increased enormously by the availability of electrical power.
After a final mission trip to Kenya (1998) to provide interim project management for hospital construction, Frank and Catherine settled in Aiken to be near their daughter, Frances. Catherine continued her mission work through Aiken First Presbyterian Church, after Frank passed away, participating in short term mission trips (local and international) and other mission projects.
One of her major mission ministries, Formula for Life, was started in 2009 to raise money to buy infant formula for babies in Mwandi, Zambia, that were born HIV negative to HIV positive mothers. The formula ensures healthy babies without the risk of transmitting HIV. This project is still active and has saved the lives of more than 500 babies.
Catherine is survived by a daughter, Frances (John), grandchildren John Osteen IV, Aiken, Stephanie Osteen Lord (Rocky), Aiken, Rebecca Osteen, Birmingham, Al., Karyn Osteen Parker (Ben), Columbia, S.C. and Thomas Osteen (Amber), Jackson, S.C., and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, S.C. at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 24, 2022. A reception will follow in the Family Life Center.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to:
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