Deceased September 11, 2006
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Sam Kitchell, surrounded by his family, died peacefully at his home in Paradise Valley, AZ, on the evening of September 11, 2006. Sam led a thoroughly active life, starting as a member of the fast-moving Class of ’43 which scrapped plans for the summer of 1942 in order to attend Amherst so we could graduate in February of 1943 to begin serving our country. Ten days after graduation, two dozen of us ’43ers, including Sam, were at Columbia Univ. in New York City as midshipmen in the Navy’s V-7 program. Commissioned in June as an ensign, Sam married Betty Heimark the next day and charged off to Miami for sub-chaser training.
After two years of convoy duty in the Atlantic, Sam was placed in command of SC 724 and sent to the Philippines to participate in the invasion of Japan. After the surrender and the weathering of a disastrous typhoon in Okinawa, Sam brought the 724 back to the States for decommissioning.
He came home to Massachusetts until 1948 when he took off with Betty and three young children for Phoenix, AZ. He founded Kitchell Corporation in 1950, a diversified company involved in construction contracting, construction management, and refrigeration wholesaling. He founded Doubletree Inns. He built several Arizona hospitals. He expanded the Phoenix Civic Plaza. His corporation grew into one of the thirty-five largest construction managers and general contractors in the United States.
With all that construction, he was still involved in the affairs of the community. He was a longtime member, fundraiser, and president of the Heard Museum. He organized the Phoenix Kidney Foundation. He was on the governing board of the Phoenix Symphony. His philanthropic activities benefited the Phoenix Art Museum and St. Luke’s Hospital among other institutions. How did he do it? Simple. “We were just in the right place at the right time,” he said. Significant, too, that along the way Sam saw to it that the company became 100 percent employee-owned.
Amherst awarded Sam an Honorary Doctor of Law degree in 1983, and he served as a trustee of Amherst from 1983 to 1989.
Besides playing a lot of tennis and a lot of bridge, Sam and Betty were great travelers, taking trips around the world as well as sailing their boat off Mexico. Later, among other trips on their 42-foot Grand Banks power boat, they lived on board the boat for a thirteen-week cruise to Alaska.
“My philosophy of life is to enjoy it,” Sam said. And enjoy it both Sam and Betty did along with their five children, Suki, Ann, Jon, Jane, and Karen, and nine grandchildren.
Sam is going to be missed, not only by his family but also by his legion of friends and business associates. The Class of ’43 extends its heartfelt sympathy to Betty and the rest of the Kitchell family. We’ll miss Sam.
—Bill Erskine ’43