Evelyn Clarkson of Medford is pictured with Bishop James P. Powers at her home parish of Holy Rosary during the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Convention in August. Clarkson was a finalist for the organization’s annual Pax Christi Award. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)
Catholic Herald Staff
Editor’s note: This is the final article in a series on finalists for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2021 Pax Christi Award.
Evelyn Clarkson lives about five miles from the dairy farm where she grew up as the fourth of eight children.
She is a member of Holy Rosary Parish, where her family had a longstanding presence – a witness that the parish Council of Catholic Women honored by naming Clarkson their 2021 Pax Christi Award nominee. The CCW’s diocesan award committee then chose her as one of five finalists.
Clarkson remembers helping with farm chores, making hay and oats, but said the children still found time for play. She and her siblings would get together with neighbor children when they weren’t working and swim in the nearby river.
It was a “good family unit,” she said.
A mother of five sons herself, Clarkson acknowledged some of the difficulties in raising her own family and how it pains her that they were not given some of the same examples of faith with which she was blessed.
The Medford woman met her husband through a blind date set up by her brother. About three years into their marriage, she came face to face with the reality of his alcohol dependency – something that was “crushing” for the young wife and mother.
“It was hard times,” she admitted, recounting how the couple lost the home they built on family land given to them. Clarkson’s husband was incarcerated a few times; there were multiple moves and evictions.
She did leave him a few times and had the support of her parents. It was hard for them to watch the life their daughter was living and the environment in which she was trying to raise her children, but Clarkson said she finally decided it was something she was meant to live with.
“It was not an easy life – still isn’t today,” she said, including that her husband’s lack of belief in God is also a point of contention in their family.
“I feel bad that none of the children attend church, but I pray for them and for light to come in at some point,” she said.
Church, and especially her Catholic friends, are Clarkson’s support and lifeline.
“My church people,” she affirmed, “they’re always there for me.”
Clarkson also acknowledged that people who have not gone through situations with addictions cannot imagine the hardships to be endured.
Notwithstanding, she is grateful her sons have a good relationship with their father and also spoke about the many good memories camping has provided for the family.
When the boys were young, the family would camp in tents for a good part of the summer, Clarkson said. It’s something the extended family continues to this day with an annual campout in June near their favorite spot, the Mondeaux Dam Recreation Area.
Recalling her marriage vows, “for better or for worse,” Clarkson said that a primary decision for making the marriage work was not wanting her children to be torn between their parents and two homes.
As her children got older and were very involved in sports, Clarkson said their home was “definitely always open to the teens,” and that half the sports team would usually end up at their home. The teens’ favorite part were her homemade apple and rhubarb pies.
Motherhood and church friends were healthy outlets for Clarkson. She also got involved with a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter and spent some years as chairperson.
Music has been another interest of hers since childhood. Clarkson’s father played the concertina, but she was the only sibling to show any real desire to learn the instrument. Her dad enrolled her in a piano accordion course and gave her a full instrument at 13. She would play for family events and still likes to “plunk around.”
Having earned certification from teacher’s college before marriage but unable to find a job, Clarkson has used that education during the 40-plus years as a parish catechist.
Clarkson worked for many years when the children were growing us as a certified nursing assistant.
Even though the medical field hadn’t been part of her original plans, “once I got in, I really enjoyed it,” she added. In her 50s, she even went back to school – a challenge at the time. Receiving a gold cord at her graduation as a licensed practical nurse was particularly satisfying.
As described in the nomination dossier, Clarkson “truly is following in the steps of Mary, our heavenly mother…
“She has not allowed (hardships) to stamp out her outstanding qualities and the use of her God-given gifts, her gentle and steadfast spirit. She has never given up and continues to do good works. As she participates in all activities that enhance her life and the lives of others, with a grateful heart she embraces the qualities God gave her, the gifts that shape her experiences.”