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Karen Joy Stephens died at her home in Redding on Oct. 30 after a decade-long battle with three bouts of cancer. She was 77.
Born Karen Joy Johnson on Aug. 20, 1939 in Moline, Ill., her family moved to Redding in 1943 where she attended local elementary schools and graduated Shasta High School in 1957.
She earned her teaching credential from Southern Oregon University and then traveled to Germany where she taught elementary school at an American military base. She eventually returned to Redding where she worked as a primary school teacher for the Pacheco School District until her retirement in 1996.
Karen was renowned for her bright blue eyes, wide smile, easy laugh, long legs and pragmatic attitude. She was an exceptional listener who had a knack for drilling down to the essence of an issue for a practical solution. She jumped at the opportunity to create a spontaneous social gathering, even turning a house-sitting gig into a chance to invite friends over for a pizza-making party.
She loved cooking, and often arrived at friends’ homes with a quilted casserole carrier that contained something so delicious that she anticipated people would surely request the recipe.
Karen was a do-er, a joiner, an optimist, an adventurer, a traveler, a truth-speaker, quilter and a seeker of joy. She loved hiking, camping and any excuse to be outdoors, especially if it involved a picnic. She also loved history and geography and could be counted on to whip out a map to show the precise location and coordinates of even the most obscure places mentioned in conversation.
She was a minimalist who had a short attention span for shopping and couldn’t understand people who collected things. Instead, Karen collected people, which explains her wide circle of friends with whom she participated in myriad activities.
There was her Skogen Lodge, a local Swedish group, a nod to her beloved Swedish heritage. There was her book club and the YMCA Pilates and yoga classes she attended with friends, followed by her favorite part, hanging out at the the YMCA cafe to chat. There was her Monday craft group, lifelong friends who traveled extensively together, even taking a cruise earlier this year, despite Karen dealing with increasing pain and immobility.
She also participated in her monthly coffee with Pacheco retired schoolteachers, and enjoyed time with her pottery group and her monthly get-togethers with one group of friends who’d met for more than 25 years.
Despite the spread of cancer within the last year that made it painful for Karen to walk, she continued to participate in outings with friends, whether it was a cruise, or an out-of-town trip with her Women’s Group.
One friend and neighbor, Shiya Almeida, summed up Karen in this Facebook post:
“Karen was just an amazing woman all around! She was loving, giving, funny, a great story teller, intelligent, full of life and laughter… But most of all, she was strong and brave!! She didn’t want to burden anyone with her troubles. But at the drop of a hat, anyone who loved her would be there for her. That’s how much she was loved!”
It was important to Karen to give back to the community, which was why she volunteered over the years at the Redding Museum of Art and History, the Whiskeytown Visitor Center and Old Shasta events, the latter of which had Karen dressed in full historical outfits, which she loved.
One of life’s greatest joys for Karen was her daughter, Erika Stephens, who grew up feeling lucky to have the kind of mom who instilled in her the concept that all choices have consequences, as well as the ability to properly mow a lawn. From the time Erika was a little girl, she developed a confidence that with her mother at her side, they’d win the 4-H cake-decorating contest, like the time the mother and daughter duo created a treasure box entirely from cake.
Karen, a single mom, held onto the tradition Christmas Eve dinner, which featured cold crab and have all the fixings for a crab salad. She made deviled eggs. and would serve some amazing dessert just before the gifts were opened. And Karen continued to hang a stocking for Erika, even far after she’d left childhood.
Erika said her mom was the go-to person for anything she needed, and would give advice or help for any creative ideas, whether it was for a job working with kids, or an exciting Halloween costume.
In addition to being survived by daughter Erika Stephens, Karen is also survived by cousin Gunnel Cole; sister Glady Nagel and husband Jim Nagel, nephews Jon Carlson and wife Karen, Eric Carlson and wife Kimberly, and many many friends.
Memorial contributions may be made in Memory of Karen Stephens to the Shasta Family YMCA Camp for Foster Camp 1155 N. Court St., Redding, Ca. 96001.
A celebration of life will be held in Karen’s honor 11 a.m. Dec. 10 at the First United Methodist Church at South and East streets in Redding.