Katherine Charapich gives new meaning to the term "mother-in-law."
At age 43, after a successful career in real estate and with a husband and two children at home, Charapich went to law school.
It was a challenging three years at Liberty University in Lynchburg, but Charapich - and her family - persevered. She graduated, passed the Bar on her first try and has opened her own office in downtown Culpeper near the Depot.
"I've known since I was in sixth grade that I was going into law," said Katherine. "I knew it was part of God's plan for me. I just didn't know it would be when I was older and with teenage children."
Katherine said that her heart's desire was to go to Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, a Christian university founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. The law school was established in 2004.
"It was a gift to attend such a fine law school," she said. "I truly sat at the feet of people I consider great men and women."
Husband Jim said there was never any doubt about Katherine's career switch.
"Katherine's personal ambition had been to go to law school for some time," Jim wrote in an e-mail. "Circumstances and opportunity converged and the timing was right. We just looked at each other one day and said 'it is time to go...' We never looked back. The decision was made. The details were just that...details. As questions came up we sought prayerful advice from family and friends...I supported her every step of the way."
Home away from home
"We were pleased that (she would be) only two hours away," Jim continued. "We were able to purchase a home in Lynchburg allowing us the stability of both a home in Culpeper and in Lynchburg. As it turned out the privacy and stability of the home in Lynchburg gave Katherine the opportunity to focus on her studies without distraction. I was able to take advantage of the fitness complex at Liberty and Bryce loved to go to the indoor skate park and the brand new Liberty snowboarding park."
Bryce agreed: "I'm happy for her and I'm glad she did it," Bryce wrote via e-mail. "It was nice, traveling every weekend to see her."
Breckenridge was 16 and Bryce, 12, when Katherine headed for Liberty.
"It was tough living apart from Jim and the kids," Katherine said. "But they came over on weekends and I came home for the summers."
Katherine said she was fortunate to have a retired state appellate court judge as her faculty adviser.
"He gave me his cell phone number and stayed on the phone as long as it took - even at night - to answer my questions," she said.
In her second year, Katherine became editor-in-chief of the Liberty Legal Journal...a coveted position for any law student. She said her prayer from the time she started law school was to touch a life every day.
"I'll never forget walking into that empty house in Lynchburg and saying 'please don't let this effort be in vain.' That was my constant prayer."
Katherine said she was proud of the way her kids took on extra responsibilities in her absence.
"It gave them an understanding of what families can do when they work together," she said. "Our daughter rose to the challenge my first year. She began college at VCU as I entered my third year of law school. Then she transferred to Liberty. I never expected that!"
Breck adjusted well to the new family environment.
"I had to learn to do my own laundry and to pick up a few more responsibilities around the house. I had a bit more practice taking care of myself before I went off to college and that helped a lot.," she wrote in an e-mail. "I'm so proud of my mom for pursuing her dreams and making them into a reality and I hope that one day I have the courage that she has. The only difficult part was that my mom didn't get to see me go to prom or get ready for it, but it was a small sacrifice to make for my family. We went to visit her a lot and sent her lots of pictures of events she happened to miss."
Tech savvy assist
And during her recent Spring Break, daughter assisted mother in taking her law office into the digital world.
"I helped her get her social media set up," Breck said. "I enjoy helping with that because as a young adult I admittedly spend a lot of time on it. Most days were spent with her at the office. While she worked, so did I. It was kind of like bring your child to work day, except I'm all grown up."
Katherine said learning to focus on her studies and disciplining her mind was the only way she could get through law school.
"The judge told me there would be times I would want to worry about things at home and that I should set a time to do that and then get back to my studies," she said.
Katherine said one of the highlights at her time at Liberty was editing the legal journal.
"Only one issue had been put out," she said. "I came from a business background so it is my nature to be busy 24/7. This gave me a business to run within the law school venue. I developed close relationships with the journal team of students and with the faculty and administration. I miss it very much."
Jim said he believes Katherine's reputation in Culpeper as an associate real estate broker has helped her build a brand of respect, consistency and trust.
"She is known for her kindness and generosity," he said. "She has a special talent for working with senior citizens. I think she is not so much getting started as building on her service to the community begun decades ago. And it is great to have her office around the corner from mine. The journey was tough, but now we are able to work together to support our community in greater ways."
Katherine said not only her professional standards, but also her faith will guide her practice of law.
"I hold myself to a high level of responsibility," she said. "My work has got to exceed all expectations. Mediocrity is not an option. I only have a limited amount of time to make a difference here."