FoCo Mama to the Rescue

Kathy McHugh Bauer (B.F.A., ’74) handed her ticket to the agent at the Cedar Rapids Airport. It was the fall of 1970 and she was about to start college at Colorado State University. Though Kathy was a mid-west girl, she felt like an honorary member of the Centennial State.

Her grandparents had traversed Big Thompson Canyon in an overheating Model-T Ford back in the 1920s, and, like her mother, Kathy’s childhood summers were spent at Cheley Camp in Estes Park. Kathy knew she wanted to go to college in Colorado, so the previous year – the tumultuous final year of the 1960s – she and her mother had driven around the state in search of one. They’d stopped at Colorado College (too expensive), the University of Northern Colorado (“just no”), and the University of Colorado Boulder (too raucously dangerous for mom). Then they arrived at Fort Collins and found it was “just right.”

With nothing more than a footlocker filled with clothes, albums, and a couple of keepsakes, she stepped onto the jetway and turned to give her mother one last look. Her mother cupped her hands to her mouth and, in front of everyone in the terminal, shouted “Say No!”

Kathy Bauer and her daughter Emily pose at Emily's CSU graduation ceremony.
Kathy Bauer has one daughter, Emily, and upwards of 30,000 foster kids. Her willingness to step up and help students and parents alike, has led to her being dubbed FoCo Mama.

“I was mortified,” Kathy said with a laugh that instantly makes you feel at home. “But that was really it for me. No one helped you move in, it was just us kids. And we arrived with way less than the kids do today.”

Despite her mother’s wishes Kathy didn’t say no. She’s always been the type of person to say yes, especially when it comes to helping others, and the early 1970s was the perfect time for a woman like Kathy to be on the front lines of change. She was (and still is) a stalwart fighter for women’s and civil rights. She’d watched the frat house television with anger and determination when her friends were drafted into the Vietnam War. She was at Lincoln Junior High (now The Lincoln Center) during the 1972 Presidential Election (the first election where 18-year-olds were allowed to vote) making sure everyone was registered and had cast their vote. And she tipped back a few three-two beers in Old Town when President Richard Nixon announced his resignation.

“It was a time of cultural evolution and it all came to a head right then during my time at CSU,” she reminisced.

It was hard to shake off the pull of Fort Collins when she graduated with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design in 1974 and, after a brief stint in Chicago, she came right back to work in CSU’s Office of University of Communications. She was thrilled (and far more serene than her own mother was) when her daughter, Emily (B.S., ’12; M.T.M., ’14) began attending CSU.

“I would hold ‘Desperate Dinners’ on Sunday evenings where I’d make a pot of pork green chile and watch Desperate Housewives with my daughter and her friends,” she said. “I became a boots-on-the-ground mom for those who were far from home.”

That’s when her moniker FoCo Mama came about, and it was a precursor to the surrogate role she would soon serve to CSU students and their parents.

In December 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc on the nation’s shipping, Kathy was scrolling through the CSU Parents and Family Facebook page and noticed parents stressing over the fact that packages were arriving on a campus devoid of students. Ready to help and tired of isolation, Kathy stepped up and out.

“I spent much of December 2020 running around campus and to apartments picking up packages,” she said. “I would poke my head in to the lobby, announce, ‘I am not a porch pirate. I was sent here by parents,’ and pick up the packages. When the students came back to campus in January, all their stuff was at my home ready for them.”

Kathy collected upwards of 40 packages during that time, and in the years since her reputation as FoCo Mama has only continued to grow.

Today, she generously gives out her home address so packages can be sent to a specific place, recommends mechanics and other service providers, talks parents down during stressful times like “Dormaggedon” and sorority rushes, lets students vent to her about their helicopter parents, and, like her favorite song says, reminding everyone that “every little thing is going to be all right.”

“It happened just this month where I saw a post on the Facebook page saying, ‘Here we are, two hours outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and my dear daughter just announced she’s left all her prescriptions at home,’” Kathy said. “It’s just a natural thing for me to do to say, ‘send it to my house. Here’s my information.’ My friends are shocked I give out my phone number and home address, but after determining the parent was legit and not a bot, it’s just what you do. If I see a need I have to step up. That’s what I do.”

If you were to ask Kathy why she’s so committed to helping out strangers she would first correct you by saying there are no strangers, and then remind you of the CSU motto “Rams take care of Rams.” Then she would tell you helping others is easy. All you have to do is say yes.