Feature obituary submitted by Miriam Tessmer

“What did you learn today?”

If you spent any time at all around Chris Clarke-Epstein, then it’s likely she asked you this question. Or you heard her ask it of her grandchildren. There was no dodging this question. Chris would patiently wait. Change the subject all you want, but know that you would provide an answer. 

Born Christine Marie Blomberg on September 5, 1948 to June Evelyn (Hanson) and Audie (Adolph) Gustav in Chicago, Illinois, Chris immediately held court at family gatherings, then delighted her teachers, and evolved into an amazing woman with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Intellectual curiosity was always her way. 

Career-wise, Chris was a successful salesperson in the insurance industry who turned her natural talent for sales into an amazing speaking and training business which took her all over the United States and the world. Chris received the premier earned designation from the National Speakers Association, CSP – Certified Speaking Professional – in 1993 and was honored to serve her peers as the 2000-2001 NSA President with the theme, Leading the Way to Learning. In 2014 she was awarded the Cavett, NSA’s highest honor. In 2018 the NSA-Wisconsin chapter established the Chris Clarke-Epstein Legacy Award, a tribute to her willingness to share her talents.

If you have a memory of seeing Chris on stage or in front of an audience, then you saw her at her best. You witnessed a master at work. She commanded your attention, weaving stories with facts, emotions with actions. Chris wanted her audiences to change as a result of their time with her. And many did. She influenced, spurred, touched, and transformed. 

Writing, though, that was her passion. Beyond everything else, Chris was a storyteller and as time went by, she took more and more joy in writing (publishing six books and countless articles) and in coaching others to write. “Thinking about writing isn’t writing,” she’d say. “Only writing is writing.” Part of Chris’ execution of this mandate was her weekly Thinking For A Change email, sent to thousands of readers for more than 15 years. She had not run out of stories to tell. 

The lure of the spotlight, her hunger for information, and a wonderful (dare we say wicked) intelligence led to a life well-lived. She read books by the thousands across all genres (and discussed them in the Lusty Lady Literary Society), devoured pop culture (Hello, Sweetie), traveled for the joy of experiencing new things (incurring the wrath of Greek roosters), drank wine (and Scotch), performed marriages (legally), learned at every opportunity (and taught just as often), and laughed with her many (many) friends as often as she could. She wore yellow as her signature color and celebrated her Swedish heritage (mastering making meatballs, but not pancakes) often by singing the Swedish birthday song. She played the banjo, sang alto, and loved good music (she was even known to dance in the grocery store). Chris was also  an advocate of the Oxford comma (and parenthetical statements). 

Chris, child of the Sixties that she was, did not identify as a patriotic person. Instead she believed in Democracy with a vengeance. Civic responsibility, self-education, listening to scientific facts, equality, voting…these things were what mattered to Chris. She was extremely proud to have served on the board of the local chapter of Kids Voting since 2010. You can honor her by voting not just this November but in every election to come. 

In the end, though, metastatic breast cancer was what took her from us too soon. Chris died September 25th, in the care of Aspirus Hospice House in Wausau, Wisconsin, family at her side. This was not a battle lost, an enemy too strong, or a measure of her will to live. It was just the consequence of a terrible disease that humanity has not yet cured. Somebody needs to get on that. 

Chris is survived and mourned by her husband of 38 years, Frank Epstein; son Paul Clarke and his wife Deb; daughter Miriam Tessmer and her husband Steve; and her extraordinary grandchildren, Quinn Clarke, Elroy Phillips, Jake Grant, Eli Grant, and Josie Clarke. She is further missed by her brother Ken (Lynda) Blomberg and their sons Erik (Sabrina) and Karl (Meghan); brother-in-law Steve (Lynn) Epstein and their daughter Lisa (John); and sister-in-law Marilyn Kellogg and her daughter Sarah. Grandnieces, grandnephews, cousins, friends…Chris loved them all.

Chris also appreciated a good obituary. I hope we have done her proud. 

The family will, in deference to the pandemic, not be holding a gathering at this time. There will, instead, be an event in Fall 2021 to celebrate Chris’ extraordinary life. Attendees will be expected to declare what they have learned that day.

In lieu of flowers, now or then, you are encouraged to make a donation to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF.org) or Aspirus Health Foundation (Aspirus.org/donate-now) where you can direct your donation to support Hospice. A donation to a Democrat of your choice is also acceptable.