Hach Co-Founder Kitty Hach-Darrow Dies at 97, Leaving Rich Legacy

Hach Co-Founder Kitty Hach-Darrow Dies at 97, Leaving Rich Legacy

Kitty Hach-Darrow

Hach Co. recently announced that co-founder Kitty Hach-Darrow died at her home in Loveland, Colorado. She was 97.

Hach-Darrow’s business acumen and innovative spirit are an enduring legacy at Hach, more than 70 years after she founded the company with her husband, Clifford.  From modest beginnings, Hach grew to become one of the world’s most successful water-quality analysis organizations, employing thousands of associates around the world.

“Kitty is a legend in our Hach business family,” says Hach President Hermes Gonzalez. “She had a remarkable story that was instrumental in building a successful business founded on innovation and ingenuity. Kitty’s mark is very much still felt in the way Hach does business on a global scale today.” 

Driven to learn and break barriers

Kathryn “Kitty” Carter was born in Bucklin, Missouri, in 1922, the only child of a Ford car dealer and a teacher. Her family survived the Great Depression, but then struggled to recover. Her father lost his business and moved the family to a farm. Times were tough, but Kitty was determined to go to college. Before her freshman year, she raised and sold a flock of turkeys to pay for her tuition.

She began her education at what is now Columbia College, but later transferred to Iowa State University where she met her future husband — a chemist named Clifford Hach. They married in 1943 and had three children.

In 1947, Cliff and Kitty founded their company with $15,000 that Clifford had earned from the sale of a patent describing a new way to generate carbon dioxide to fight fires.

By air and by water 

 In the 1950s, female pilots were a rarity, but Kitty had loved airplanes since childhood. She saved up to buy herself a plane, and in Hach’s early days, she often flew herself to trade shows or to visit water treatment plant operators to introduce them to Hach products in person. 

When Cliff Hach developed a simplified titration test to measure water hardness, Kitty figured out how to sell it. She assembled lists of cities with large populations and sent out mailings that included information on Hach products with instructions on how to buy them. The orders quickly started coming in. 

“Kitty most likely can be credited with inventing modern-day direct mail-order marketing in the water analysis industry,” says Liz Veghte, senior director of Omni-Channel Marketing for Hach. “She created targeted lists from an atlas and really got to know her customer base. She hand-delivered products to customers all over the country. Although most of us aren’t pilots today, we certainly strive to meet her example when it comes to delivering the best products and delighting our customers.”  

The business grows

With Cliff leading research and development, and Kitty driving sales, marketing and operations, Hach Chemical experienced brisk growth.

In 1966, the company reached a milestone, generating $1 million in revenue. In celebration, Kitty Hach-Darrow treated the entire company to her famous pecan pie to celebrate — a tradition that continues at Hach today. Over the next three years, the company grew 30% per year, and in 1968, Hach went public. The Hach family kept at least 51% of the stock to retain controlling interest.  

In 1977, the passage of the Clean Water Act intensified demand for Hach’s analysis products, including portable water quality test kits. That year, the Hach Chemical Company moved its headquarters from Ames, Iowa, to Loveland, Colorado, on land near the airport, and changed its name to Hach Company. 

After Clifford’s death in 1990, Hach-Darrow became the CEO, and Hach Corporation grew to become the largest woman-operated business in the state of Colorado, with annual sales in excess of $100 million.

Before retiring, Hach-Darrow guided the company to global leadership in water analysis, and in 1999 it was sold to Danaher Corp. for $355 million.

“Kitty’s enthusiasm for the Hach business endured long after the acquisition of the business by Danaher 20 years ago,” says Danaher CEO Tom Joyce. “Our Hach and Danaher associates always drew inspiration from knowing that she followed us closely. We always worked hard to ensure that she was proud of our stewardship of the business. She will be dearly missed.”

A philanthropist and industry leader

A devoted philanthropist, Hach-Darrow endowed many causes, including $35 million to the American Chemical Society for scholarships for chemistry teachers, $10 million to the Northwood University business school in Michigan for a new student union, and $10 million toward the construction of Hach Hall — a state-of-the art chemistry building on the Iowa State University campus.

She paved the way for other women to serve important roles in influential trade groups like the American Water Works Association and others across our industry. She served as AWWA’s first woman director and sat on numerous committees, including the President’s Advisory Council.

In 2017 at one of her last public appearances at Hach in Colorado, Kitty Hach-Darrow spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s new $25 million research and development building. She reminisced about Hach’s early days, operating out of a 30x45-foot concrete block building in Ames, Iowa.

“I remember how humble Cliff was, and all the thoughts that he had and the things that came afterward,” she said, smiling. “It is so beautiful to see this new building and know that all those thoughts finally came to reality.”

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