Co-founder of Hach Co. in Loveland, Kitty Hach-Darrow, speaks in 2017 at a ribbon-cutting for the company's new research and development building. Courtesy Hach Co./Sean Brubaker

Hach co-founder, philanthropist Kitty Hach-Darrow dies at 97

LOVELAND — Kitty Hach-Darrow, co-founder of the Hach Co. and generous philanthropist, died at her home in Loveland June 4. She was 97.

Hach-Darrow’s business acumen and innovation are an enduring legacy at Hach, more than 70 years after she founded the company with her husband, Clifford. 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,” said Hermes Gonzalez, Hach president. “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.”

Kathryn “Kitty” Carter was born in Bucklin, Missouri, in 1922, the only child of a Ford dealership owner and a teacher. Her father lost his business during the Great Depression 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 at Ames, 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.

In the 1950s, female pilots were a rarity, but Kitty had loved airplanes since childhood thanks to her aviation-loving father. She saved up to buy herself a plane and in the company’s  early days often flew herself to tradeshows and to visit water treatment operators 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,” said 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.”

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 by generating $1 million in revenue, or $7.8 million in today’s dollars. In celebration, Hach-Darrow treated the entire company to her pecan pie to celebrate, a tradition that continues at Hach today. Over the next three years, the company grew 30% annually and in 1968, Hach went public. The Hach family kept at least 51% of the stock to retain controlling interest.

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

After Clifford’s death in 1990, Hach-Darrow became the CEO and grew it into 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 the 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,” said 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.”

Today, Hach employs several thousand across the globe.. 

Hach-Darrow was also a devoted philanthropist; she 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.

The UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies recently named the fifth-floor outdoor deck “The Hach Landing” in her honor after a contribution that was used to expand surgical capabilities and add new medical equipment.

“The Hach family as a whole has left a huge legacy for Northern Colorado and have been generous with the community foundation, Colorado State University and Poudre Valley Hospital,” said Ray Caraway, CEO of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado.

Hach-Darrow paved the way for other women to serve important roles in trade groups such as the American Water Works Association. 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, she spoke at the ribbon cutting of the company’s new $25 million research and development building. She reminisced about Hach’s early days, operating out of a 30-by-45-foot concrete block building in Ames.

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

Editor’s note: The Hach Co. and its website provided much of Kitty Hach’s background for this report.