Jean Illsley Clarke believed strong self-esteem was a critical ingredient for healthy families, and essential for both children and their parents to nourish throughout their lives.
A Minneapolis-area teacher, parent educator and researcher, Clarke authored and co-authored 18 books shepherding parents through the joys and challenges of child rearing and beyond.
"Her true legacy was teaching us the difference between child development and human development," said colleague and friend Sue Strom. "She was a parent educator decades ahead of her time, helping us steer clear of consumerism and shame. Wisely, she took the important concepts of child development and gave us affirming words to foster healthy growth throughout all of life's stages, cradle to death."
Clarke died at home in Plymouth on June 30, 2021, due to complications from a fall. She was 96. Family and friends are gathering this week to celebrate her life, as well as her husband's.
Clarke was born April 26, 1925, on a dairy farm in southern Minnesota to Harry and Lois Illsley. She graduated from Northfield High School in 1944 and earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota in 1948.
She moved to Spokane, Wash., where she taught for two years before returning to Minnesota and teaching home economics at Minneapolis Public Schools.
Clarke was a television trailblazer, hosting a weekly homemaking show called "Tea at Three with Jeannie K" on public television. Her show was cancelled in 1961 when she was pregnant and started to show — a taboo at that time.
Clarke, then a young mother of one, met husband Richard "Dick" Clarke on a blind date in 1959. They married a year later, settled on Gleason Lake in Plymouth and had two more children.
Clarke left her teaching job to raise her children and volunteer. When her youngest finished elementary school, she decided to focus on a career centered on families and parenting.
"She always wanted to make a difference in the world. She figured out the best way to fix things was to start with babies and kids," said son Wade Clarke. "She decided the thing she could do best is help people understand how to be better parents."
Clarke earned a master's degree in human development from St. Mary's University in 1978. Her first parenting book, "Self-Esteem: A Family Affair" was published that year. In the book's foreword, Clarke shared her personal experiences and struggles as a young mother, and that candor touched a nerve.
"She wrote, 'It was hard and lonely. I had the blues,'" daughter Jennifer Clarke said. "It just took off from there. She became a parent educator."
Jean Clarke's early writings, teachings and research focused on developmental affirmations that parents could share with their children as they grew. They included "I love you just as you are" and "I love you even when we differ; I love growing with you."
She also advocated for self-care for parents and affirmations that extended into adulthood.
"She taught us how to embrace and affirm each of life's stages," Strom said. "She gave us words to affirm what each individual person needs at each stage of life."
Clarke later wrote about the phenomenon of overindulgence in families, co-authoring the 2003 book, "How Much is Enough? Everything You Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible and Respectful Children."
In addition to writing, she designed and led parenting workshops in Minnesota and around the globe for more than four decades.
Clarke is survived her children Wade Clarke of Minnetrista; Jennifer Clarke of Golden Valley; Marc Clarke of Loveland, Colo.; and five grandchildren.
A joint celebration of life for Jean and Dick Clarke will be held on Thursday starting at 10 a.m. at St. Luke's Presbyterian Church, 3121 Groveland School Road in Wayzata.