Karen Stephens, Volunteer, Retired Teacher and Lifelong Friend – Remembered

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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.

Karen Stephens 1957 Shasta High School graduate.

Karen Stephens 1957 Shasta High School graduate.

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 Stephens at her 1996 retirement party with friend Doni Chamberlain.

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.

Karen - top row, third from the left - joiined her Monday Craft Group for a recent cruise.

Karen – top row, third from the left – joined her Monday Craft Group for a recent cruise.

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.

This was Karen's Women's Group, with whom she'd met for more than 25 years.

Karen – right – enjoyed her Women’s Group, with whom she’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.

Karen and friends out to dinner, out of town.

Karen and friends out to dinner, out of town.

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!”

Friends Shiya Almeida and Karen Stephens.

Friends Shiya Almeida and Karen Stephens.

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.

“She was there for me through the thick and thin, and ups and downs,” said Erika. “She was loved by all!
Karen and baby Erika.

Karen and baby Erika.

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.


Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Such a nice tribute, Doni.

  2. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute to an amazing person. Hugs teach of you folks that were involved in her various activities.

  3. Avatar Jan Gandy says:

    A lovely tribute, Doni.   Monday craft group (Gecko Girls) misses her terribly.  The last cruise we went on was for Karen.  We  took a walker and a wheelchair and managed to get her everywhere she wanted to go.  We knew she was in pain but she never complained.  And boy do we miss the gourmet lunches she’d serve on Mondays.  When it was Karen’s turn to bring lunch we were all so excited to see what she’d bring — homemade soups, dilly bread, fruit tarts for desserts.  We miss her sitting at the sewing machine quilting away on her latest project.  She gave everything away and those of us lucky enough to receive one of her beautiful works treasure it.

  4. Avatar Canda Williams says:


    What a beautiful tribute to our dear friend.  It’s extremely hard to believe she’s gone.  All of us were blessed to have Karen as a friend.  I loved traveling with her as well as hanging out in Redding with her.  Years ago we were roommates on a cruise,  and hearing her retell stories about the bunks in our cabin was a crack up.  She really was a fantastic story teller, and I always said she was a walking historical society.  Knew everything about Shasta County, and just about everyone in the county.  She will be dearly missed for so many reason.  Thank you for the great article on a truly wonderful lady.  xoxo

  5. Avatar Andrea Charroin says:

    I really enjoyed knowing Karen! She was just a ray of sunshine when I was lucky enough to see her out and about. She was my inspiration when I think of what to do in my retirement, I told her I was going to work at Whiskeytown just like her someday! What a great lady!
    Thank you for sharing such a lovely tribute!

  6. Avatar Debbie says:

    Doni – What a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful dear lady.  We had so many great times together in our Ladies Group  that only enrich the memories.  Looking over the photos brought tears (of joy) that we shared such golden moments over dinners on the boat, around our tables and on an adventure in Plymouth.    I’m so grateful for those special times and will never forget.  I think one of Karen’s greatest attributes was her wisdom mixed with her humor.  It was such a gift.  I could ask her anything and she would have an answer:  quick, to the point and ending with a quip.  I loved that about her because she knew ALOT about life, including in the end don’t take it too seriously.  Great way to look at life.  She was one of the strongest, most courageous women I ever met.  She didn’t complain.  And she had it tough.  But she didn’t dwell on it or bring it to the table.  When she had it good we heard about that.  Yet she always extended me her ear and listened compassionately when I needed to unload.  What a blessing she brought into my life as her friend.  I will always love her for that friendship, and cherish her beautiful smile with the memories.

  7. Avatar Cathy says:

    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to a dear friend, travel, Pilate’s & yoga buddy.  Gone too soon, I miss her terribly & am reminded daily of her smile & laughter.

  8. Avatar Shiya Almeida says:

    Oh my, what an absolutely beautiful piece that you have written Doni!! I’m doing all I can, to hold back my tears right now. Only because I’ve been pretty sick with Laryngitis, Sinusitis & Bronchitis. I’m sure we all know what happens when you cry? The upside is…I’m finally over the worst of it! But because of my current occupation, as a Lead Vocalist in two bands & the holidays being here, that means I cannot be in two places at the same time. I will actually be setting up for a wedding, the time of Karen’s service. So unfortunately, I will not be able to attend. Which this is just breaking my heart. I am so very, very touched that you mentioned mine & Karen’s friendship, as she meant the world to me! I also know how much you meant to Karen, as she would always mention you in some of her happiest memories. ?

  9. Avatar Christa Johnson says:

    Thank you for writing such a lovely article about Karen. I particularly love the phrase she was a “seeker of joy”.  Karen was a good friend of my parents and visited us often with Erika. She taught my sister how to ride a bike and maybe me too! She was a good friend to my mom who has struggled with issues for many years and might not always have been a good friend in return. I have good memories of Karen. She was an independent woman in a time not many were. A professional, a good single mom, a warm and caring woman who was so witty! My thoughts are with Erika and her friends.

    • It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to Karen at her service yesterday. She was extraordinary in so many ways. And I’m so glad you knew her, too, and have such good memories of this incredible woman.

      I miss her!