Cover photo for Karen Cleary's Obituary
Karen Cleary Profile Photo
1945 Karen 2023

Karen Cleary

November 1, 1945 — September 8, 2023



Karen L. Cleary

Age 77, Appleton, WI

Karen died peacefully on Friday, September 8, 2023 at Ascension-St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton with her family by her side. Karen was born on November 1, 1945, in Pontiac, IL. She graduated from Pontiac High School in 1963 and went on to attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, IL earning a Bachelor of Arts in French in 1967 along with a teaching license. Karen married John Cleary from Odell, IL in 1969 and recently celebrated her 54th wedding anniversary this past June. John and Karen eventually settled in Appleton, WI in 1974 where they raised their two daughters, Anne and Ellen.

Karen will be remembered for her infectious laughter along with her enthusiasm for life. She loved people and always enjoyed making new friends and celebrating the birthdays of her grandchildren who loved when she and John came to visit. Whenever Karen was in the room, there was always laughter. She was inclusive and progressive in her warmth toward others and often an advocate for the causes important to her.

John and Karen traveled extensively over the course of her life. One of her favorite trips was to Europe. Karen researched and planned extensively, charting out the 80-day route on a large map covering the wall of their small apartment in Rochester, New York. In the years following, she enjoyed trips to Canada, China, and India as well as dozens of road trips exploring many of the national parks and presidential libraries throughout the United States. One of her favorite foods were croissants and holiday dinners with family always included her special recipe.

Karen was full of energy. She led an active life and enjoyed many outdoor activities including canoeing in the Boundary Waters, camping with her family, cross country skiing, tennis, hiking, and gardening. She enjoyed many years of activity and community at the YMCA in Appleton, taking a variety of classes where she often enjoyed talking with others.

Karen was a voracious reader, visiting the public library multiple times a week. She was a life-long learner and teacher with an interest in history, culture, language, and travel. No road trip with Karen was complete without extensive research, a detailed itinerary outlining trip highlights, and personalized car trivia for her grandchildren.

Karen is survived by her husband John of Appleton, WI; her daughters Anne (Craig) Olson of Menomonie, WI; Ellen (Nettie Colón) Cleary of Minneapolis, MN; and grandchildren Evan and Benjamin Olson of Menomonie, WI. She will be missed by many including her brother Kent (Karen) King of Bloomington, IN and her cousins. Karen was preceded in death by her parents Truman and Wilma King of Pontiac, IL and her sister-in-law Jeanne Donze of Appleton, WI.

The family would like to thank the doctors and nursing staff at St. Elizabeth Hospital for their excellent care and kindness. In memory of Karen’s volunteerism and activism, and in lieu of flowers, consider donating to YMCA of the Fox Cities or Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. A private celebration of her life will take place at a later date.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Karen Cleary, please visit our flower store.


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