Kathryn and Jim Ketelsen are dedicated to philanthropy, giving generously of both their time and financial support to many causes but mainly focusing on education and the arts. Jim Ketelsen is the retired chairman and CEO of Tenneco Inc. While in this capacity at Tenneco for 14 years, he emphasized volunteerism among his employees and focused much of his time in service as a Regent of the University of Houston, Trustee of Northwestern University, member of Board of Overseers at Rice University Jones School of Business, and a life Board member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition. His civic involvements reach far beyond into Houston’s quality of life and economic vitality. He was a founding board member of Central Houston Inc., serving as the Chair for the fundraising efforts for the Buffalo Bayou Sesquicentennial Park. He served as President of Houston Grand Opera and has been a long-time supporter of The Alley Theatre and Symphony Society.
Kathryn Ketelsen, a native Houstonian and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, enjoyed a career in interior design before marrying Jim. Her background in the arts and her interest in underserved children and education have been the basis for many areas of volunteer work. She served on the Bayou Bend Board, The Blanton Museum Council and Communities in Schools for many years. Her service on the Museum of Fine Arts Board focused on arts education as Chair of the Education Committee as well as founding member of the American Committee. Her long-time interest in theatre has led her to serve on the Alley Theatre Board since 1990, serving as President and Chair.
In 1993, after Jim’s retirement from Tenneco, the Ketelsens—realizing the complexities of the challenges facing disadvantaged children—decided to combine their efforts to change the lives of those children through education. They co-founded Project GRAD, an inner-city program focusing on high school and college graduation rates. The program has achieved national recognition, received many grants from the Department of Education and become a model for other cities. In 2002, HISD recognized those efforts on behalf of public education by naming a new school in the Near North Side as James L. Ketelsen Elementary. Kathryn’s passion for the arts led her to create the Fine Arts Program in the elementary schools in the area which has had a profound effect on raising graduation rates in Davis High School. Once known as a “drop-out factory,” Davis now has the lowest drop-out rate of any HISD high schools for the second year.