Carnations 1

Carolyn McElrath

February 9, 1947 ~ August 24, 2023 (age 76) 76 Years Old


Carolyn Handell McElrath passed away peacefully at Carle Hospital on Aug 24 in the presence of her husband Dale McElrath and her brother Keith Handell.  Carolyn was born on Feb 9, 1947 in Madison, Wisconsin, the daughter of William A. Handell and Eunice Mae Woerth. She was among the thousands of baby boomers who were the most visible legacy of returning WWII servicemen like Carolyn’s dad, who served as a tank commander under General Patton. Early pictures of Carolyn show her with curly hair and dressed like Shirley Temple—an image she hated and attempted to discredit by destroying her first Christmas doll and turning instead to her brother’s new set of drums, which according to him she also destroyed. Her family moved from Wisconsin to Ohio and Virginia, eventually settling in Flint, Michigan, where Carolyn graduated high school. She was a precocious writer and published her first article, winner of a seventh grade essay contest in the Flint Journal titled “What is a Dog’s Favorite Color?” Carolyn was very talented in music, taking several years of piano lessons, and playing the clarinet in the Flint Central Marching Band. She was also athletic, playing afterschool volleyball and participating in the Flint, Michigan/Hamilton, Canada international CANUSA games, where her team routinely won their division.

            From 1965-1969 she attended Western Michigan University studying Spanish and pursuing majors in History and her newfound love---Anthropology. She continued to play volleyball, and as the team captain arranged to play the first intercollegiate games with the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Many decades later she was formally recognized and honored by WMU administrators for her participation in women’s athletics at this early stage. In her senior year she met her husband Dale who had decided to major in Anthropology and Archaeology. They had many things in common including a love of music, literature, and the Humanities. In the late ‘60s, revolution was in the air and they embraced the exploration of new ideas and an openness to other cultures. They bonded over a love of English, German and Russian literature and finally admitted their mutual love and devotion to one another, sometime after watching Dr Zhivago on the big screen.

            After graduating WMU, she headed off to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison---wearing shoulder length straight brown hair parted in the middle, bell bottom jeans, a tie dye shirt and her dads army jacket . Her music tastes and meager record collection gravitated toward Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. Madison was at the center of the anti-Viet Nam war movement and walking to classes often involved evading the tear gas lobbed toward protesting students by the National Guard. Carolyn joined field trips to Guatemala, Mexico and a joint two year expedition with her husband to Peru. In the mid 1970s positions were scarce in their chosen field and they both accepted jobs as crew member on a large archaeological project excavating American Indian sites in the area of the ancient city of Cahokia, near present day Collinsville. After four years of digging they came to the University of Illinois in September1980, to analyze and write up the results.

            Carolyn’s talent as a writer and editor were recognized early on by project directors and she was soon tasked with copy editing dozens of reports including the first fifteen major project site reports published by the University of Illinois. Carolyn had returned to regular church attendance after leaving graduate school and routinely volunteered at St Patrick’s Parish in Urbana. Fr Douglas Hennessey hired her to be the Director of Religious Education for the parish, and after he left Fr George Remm recognized her value and kept her in this position, eventually raising her to Associate Co-Pastor. Fr Remm encouraged her to pursue advanced religious studies at Loyola and eventually at Mundelein College where she received her second MA degree. On Fr Remm’s retirement, Fr Joseph Hogan became the pastor and Carolyn continued to work with him until her retirement in 2010.

            Carolyn and her husband over the last forty years took advantage of the many benefits offered at the Krannert Center to enjoy world-class presentations of music and theatre. They were season ticket holders, attending up to twenty events each year with close friends. When the Metropolitan Opera began streaming live operas at the local cinemas, they were invariably seated near the front. For the last twenty years Carolyn enjoyed water aerobics every weekday. She made dozens of friends through her work both at the University and at St Pat’s, which she viewed as her second family. She is survived by her husband Dale, her brother Keith, and two sisters Christine Paulino and Kathryn DeLeal as well as many nieces and nephews. Donations in Carolyn’s name can be made to St Patrick’s Parish RCIA fund (708 W. Main Street, Urbana), where a memorial mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Sept 11, followed by a luncheon.


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