St. Olaf College | News

Karen L. Clark ’70 – Helping Ole Women Access the World

Virginia Culhane '21 in Shanghai, China, during Asian Interim. Karen Clark's planned gift helps Ole women like Virginia explore the world each year.
Virginia Culhane ’21 in Shanghai, China, during Asian Interim. Karen Clark’s planned gift helps Ole women like Virginia explore the world each year.

For 32 years, Karen L. Clark ’70 worked in the Minnesota Senate Public Information Office. As a writer and editor, then director, Karen and her team provided detailed coverage of bills, committee and floor debate, and other legislative processes and actions. It was meaningful but hectic work — the senate introduced more than 50,730 bills alone during her tenure. Yet Karen had her anchors — a loyal group of Ole friends that kept together ever since graduating from the Hill.

“She was a treasure,” says Thelma Fricke ’70, one of the six women in the group. “Karen loved to investigate, travel, write, and share — she had a rich and satisfying life. She lived her dreams.”

As an Ole, Karen was among the first to participate in St. Olaf’s partnership program with Manchester College in Oxford in 1968. At the time, St. Olaf had begun investing heavily in integrating international study as part of a St. Olaf education. For Karen it ignited a lifelong passion for travel and learning — she travelled extensively worldwide — returning to the United Kingdom sometimes twice yearly.

These experiences inspired her to establish an endowed scholarship for women hoping to study abroad through her will and estate before she died in 2017. This year her planned gift is helping 10 Ole women study at locations worldwide.

Virginia Culhane ’21 is one of these women. Part of the Asian Conversation learning community at St. Olaf, Virginia had the chance to accompany her class to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo for Interim.

“I was absolutely ecstatic — my family was a bit concerned about our ability to pay,” says Virginia. “Thanks to Karen, I was able to spend my J-term studying Asia in China and Japan. I made new friends, used my Japanese skills, and learned a lot about what life looks like on the other side of the planet.”

For Virginia, it’s been a first year to remember — and like Karen — a chance to immerse herself in adventure and discovery.

“I will never forget that feeling of awe from the first night in a new city, getting to be surrounded by a culture that’s not your own, and trying things you could never do back home.”

Through her foresight, Karen’s generosity will continue to help Oles like Virginia take on the world for years to come.