Beloved Wife, Mother, Grandmother, and Friend, Karen Theresa Cooper passed from this world on the 24th of August, 2019 after a long struggle with illness.
On the 28th of June, 1941, Karen was born to Tony and Christine Overman (née Rowl) in Glenwood, a farming community in Northern Minnesota comprised mainly of descendants of Scandinavian settlers. She was the youngest of four children, with two sisters, Louise and Ramona and a brother, Carl. Karen grew up in the Lutheran Church, with hymns sung in Norwegian filling her home.
Karen’s life took her on many varied paths. She was active in the arts, acting and directing in plays, writing and producing radio and television programs even in her teen years. Later, she would manage theatre productions in Minneapolis, including the first staging of a play based on the book “The Martian Chronicles” by science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who attended the opening night.
Karen would often rope in family members to perform minor roles, often to hilarious effect, and her closing-night pranks achieved near legendary status among her peers. A poor male lead received an impromptu entry into the world of improv when Karen hid prop penguins (bowling pins painted in tuxedo colors) from a previous production on the set, to be discovered by ones and twos as the otherwise serious drama unfolded.
She became an educator, working in elementary school where she would meet a young man named Robert Cooper. Robert saw Karen in the school’s hallway one day and knew right away that she was “the one.” After a brief courtship, they married at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, making a family of three with Karen’s young son Michael. They lived briefly in an apartment in a nearby suburb and then moved into a house in the city proper where they welcomed their second son Carl into the world.
Karen followed Robert through his career, moving to Flint Michigan to support him while he obtained his master’s degree in physical education, and rounding out the family into an even five with the birth of their youngest son Andrew. They then moved to the Zuni Indian Reservation near Gallup, New Mexico where Robert worked as the principal of the public school. Karen often recalled that time with stories of having to beat the screen door of their house to knock tarantulas off it before exiting.
After a year, they moved back to Bloomington, Minnesota to be with family once again. During this time, Karen’s, Ramona’s, Carl’s and Louise’s families grew up entwined, with a total of thirteen cousins spending almost as much time at each other’s homes as at their own. A highlight of the extended “Overman Clan’s” lives was the annual Christmas gatherings that were held in the rec. room of the apartment building where Grandma Christy lived.
During the ten years that Karen and her family lived in Bloomington, she continued to teach, bring up her children, support and engage in the arts (adding painting, batik, and photography to her set of skills).
Throughout her life, Karen stayed true to her rural roots. And so in the latter part of 1979, she and Robert decided to leave suburbia for a life less populated. They moved to Lead, South Dakota in the middle of one of the decade’s worst snow storms, accompanied by their nephew Allan who drove one of two U-Haul trucks through white-out conditions.
In South Dakota, they bought and managed a resort hotel on the side of Sugarloaf Mountain, next to a babbling brook. This would be the beginning of an increasingly Westward migration, with stopping points in Deadwood, South Dakota, Carpenter and Burns, Wyoming. Eventually, they moved to Tucson, Arizona to be closer to their oldest son, and they remained there for the rest of their days.
While they lived in Tucson, their family continued to grow. Robert and Karen truly thought of and loved each of their sons’ wives as the daughters they had never had. In time, they opened their hearts to Jade, Kevin, David, Quincy, Michael, Matthew, Magnus, and “Little” Karen with equal joy at each new addition.
Having raised only boys, it was clear that the two grand daughters enjoyed “most favored” status. Robert and Jade quickly formed a lasting bond, and “The Karens” found that generations and decades between birth dates didn’t make any difference to kindred souls.
Their marriage was a strong one. Robert and Karen were a team in everything they did. He doted on her, probably a little more than was prudent at times. They remained best friends and (sometimes annoyingly) affectionate their entire lives. To their children, they were living examples of what a “marriage” should be.
After a series of heart attacks, Robert’s health declined. A strong and vigorous man even in his latter years, he fought congestive heart failure over a long period. His loss in 2004 was a blow to Karen, but the closeness of her youngest son and his growing family gave her comfort and support.
More than anything except her husband and family, Karen loved reading. Even as a child, everyone who knew her could imagine her most easily as being in a big chair, knees tucked beneath her, holding one of her favorite books (usually a mystery novel). In fact, when her library card was closed out in her adopted town of Tucson, she had checked out over three thousand books in total over the years- and that was just at the one branch!
Next after, or perhaps in equal measure, Karen had a love of animals. Her houses rarely had fewer than five or six cats, a dog or two, and an assortment of chicks, rabbits, and miscellaneous fish and small reptiles. When she moved to a more rural life, she opened her heart to larger animals, including horses, goats, pigs, and chickens- all of whom were treated more like pets than livestock.
After the death of her beloved husband Robert and dear grandchild Jade, her dogs became an increasingly important source of joy to Karen. A large chow/malamute mix called Wooly was a faithful companion to her for many years. But her true “fur child” was a diminutive mutt of unknown breed called “Chi Chi” (or “Chiki” or “Chi” depending your mood and her behavior). Chi Chi, like Wooly before her, gave Karen a reason to get up out of bed and go out into the world.
The two became almost literally inseparable. Chi Chi and Karen were up and on the walking trails before most people went to work. The familiar sight of them trekking around, Chi’s tail held high, ears perked, and bright eyes looking lovingly up at Karen defined the neighborhood. Everyone they passed knew the little pup, and more than a few of them kept treats near their doors so that they could greet Chi with a milk bone or a cookie. Among her favorite snack stops was the gate post to their development, where her daily visits were a highlight of the day.
Any other dog would have gained a ton of weight, but Karen and Chi burned off the calories on their many miles-long hikes.
At some point, Karen realized that Chi Chi could bring joy into more lives than just her own, and the two of them entered into a life of public service. She took Chi Chi to school to become a certified official therapy dog. The two of them traveled to several local hospitals and assisted living homes, giving comfort to patients and the elderly, some of whom had not been able to see their own pets in some time. Chi Chi, usually a ball of energy, somehow knew to stay calm and considerate of the conditions of her new friends. Her presence was always the highlight of a facility’s day.
Karen and Chi Chi continued to seek out other ways to give back to the community, so when the local library system started up a “read to a dog” program, they knew they had found their niche. Karen’s life-long love of reading and Chi Chi’s cheerful charisma made it the perfect opportunity. Chi was the perfect size for it, and she never tired of watching attentively as young readers sounded out words to her. Over the several years that that participated in the program, Karen and Chi Chi were directly responsible for motivating dozens of kids to learn to read. Chi’s fan club was enormous, and she received dozens of letters in the mail, often accompanied with crayon drawings of the little pup in her characteristic “listening” pose.
Along with being a life-long educator, Karen was also a life-long scholar. She earned her BS in 1971 and followed up with a somewhat belated PhD in in 1994.
A series of health scares reduced her mobility, and so Karen and Chi Chi took a well-deserved break from public appearances. Over the last nine months of her life, her health declined more seriously yet her mind- and sense of humor- remained just as keen as they had ever been.
On August 24th, 2019, Karen was called to join her husband Robert, sister Louise, niece Christy, and granddaughter Jade in Heaven. She passed away surrounded by loving friends and family. Her death was peaceful and a blessed release from the pain of her long illness.
She is survived by her three sons, Michael, Carl, and Andrew, their wives (who she loved as she would have daughters of her own) Dawn, Shelly, and Carmen, her grandchildren David, Karen, Kevin, Magnus, Matthew, Quincy, and Spencer, her anticipated great-grandchild Caleb, her dear friends Steve and Tanya, her sister Ramona and her brother Carl, and a vast array of nieces and nephews and their many children.
Her faithful friend and companion Chi Chi will reside with Andrew’s and enjoy the company of their family’s ever growing troupe of pups young and old.
Karen’s memorial service was held in Tucson, Arizona on the 27th of August, 2019. Her remains and that of her beloved husband Robert will be interred in the Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Marana, Arizona later this year.
Due to the timing of the service, it will not be possible to accept flowers or cards. If you wish to donate to a charity in Karen’s memory, we suggest that you choose one related to literacy or animal welfare.