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December 14, 1943 ~ November 10, 2023 (age 79) 79 Years Old
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Gerry Lynn Stigberg, 79, of Urbana died on Friday, November 10, 2023, after a brief illness, at the home of her daughter in Champaign, in the loving presence of her three children.
She is survived by her children, Kirsten (Jim) Dennison of Champaign; Aaron (Julie Leung) Stigberg of Chicago; and Kate (Rob Farrell) Stigberg of Denver and Carrboro, NC; her grandchildren, James and Isabel Dennison and Nora and Jaden Stigberg; and her partner, George Harris, of Urbana.
Gerry was born on December 14, 1943, in Queens, NY, the only child of John and Gertrude (Jahns) Callis. The family, which included her maternal grandmother Ella “Mutti” Jahns, lived in various places in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut throughout Gerry’s happy childhood. She attended the University of Connecticut in Storrs, where she met David K. Stigberg; they married in June 1964, and daughter Kirsten was born the following March. In 1965 the family moved to Urbana, where David pursued his master’s degree at University of Illinois (UIUC); Gerry supported the family by working various jobs including the University library and Hong Kong restaurant. In the 1970s David’s studies took the family to Mexico, including nine months in Veracruz in 1971-72; this travel fueled Gerry’s lifelong interest in other cultures and peoples. Upon returning to the US in 1972, the family moved to Oak Park, where son Aaron was born the next year.
Gerry completed her undergraduate art studies at University of Illinois-Chicago, often bringing baby Aaron to the studio with her. She later worked as a children’s librarian at the Oak Park Public Library, where she was known for her innovative wall displays celebrating themes such as Black History Month, and for her puppet shows featuring a variety of handmade puppets. Her other creative endeavors during this period included providing graphic design and illustrations for a guidebook to free activities in Cleveland, and designing and making costumes for the local opera company’s production of “Carmen.” She was involved in volunteer work, helping Laotian refugees settle in their new community. On the domestic front, she filled the family home with art she’d made, plants she’d grown from cuttings, furniture she’d salvaged and refinished, and the aromas of home-cooked food from around the world.
These themes of creativity and wide-ranging interests would carry through to Gerry’s next chapter, when the family moved back to Champaign in 1980. Having welcomed a third child, Katherine (Kate) in 1982, Gerry worked at various caregiving and entrepreneurial endeavors to help support the family of five. Examples include a summer spent delivering ice cream with an infant Kate in tow, for which she was profiled in the News-Gazette, and a stint as an aide at Developmental Services Center. She cooked at a university residence, where she enjoyed learning to prepare dishes from the international students’ cultures to ease their homesickness. And she enjoyed a long career as a landscape designer for several members of the UIUC faculty community, which resulted in many rewarding personal connections. Eventually Gerry returned to her original occupation, and she worked at the University of Illinois library for more than 30 years until her retirement in 2016.
Gerry and David divorced in 1994, and a few years later she moved to her last house on Lincoln Avenue in Urbana. When she wasn’t working at the library, she poured her energies into her backyard “jungle”, where she cultivated everything from vegetables and herbs to wildflowers and ornamental plants, and visual art projects, her preferred media being collage and calligraphy. During this time, Gerry ventured on several family-focused trips that were quite meaningful to her, visiting relatives in Europe and Alberta, Canada, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut.
In her later years Gerry enjoyed a comfortable and peaceful life with her devoted partner, George. She kept her travel light with visits to her children and grandchildren in Denver and Chicago, always making a point to visit botanic gardens and museums to stoke her everlasting interest in plants and the arts. And often, spending time with her eldest daughter Kirsten and her family in Champaign, and the day trips they would take together, would be the highlight of her week. She continued to find joy in her lifelong passions of reading, movies, and good food, and enjoyed visits to the Urbana Free Library and the occasional lunch at Huaraches Moroleon or Broadway Food Hall.
Gerry’s family and friends will remember her for her empathy and her care and concern for those less fortunate, and her passion for social justice. She had a genuine curiosity about every person she met and every unfamiliar topic, and she brought an artist’s sensibility to any project or task, however mundane. Gerry’s love for George and her children was unconditional and without judgment; she remembered every detail they shared with her and appreciated every moment spent together. While her absence will be felt profoundly, we will always treasure her memory.
Per her wishes, Gerry will be cremated, and a private family gathering will be held in Champaign.
Condolences may be offered at www.owensfuneralhomes.com.