Jean Cleland
Jean Rolfing Cleland, 89, whose life was defined by devotion to social justice, hands-on advocacy, family, and faith, died September 19 in her Wilmette home. Until early 2013 Cleland worked at the North Shore Senior Center as a case manager and the Community Education Director. For 35 years she helped clients plan for retirement and navigate Medicare, Medicaid and other benefit programs. A passionate crusader for fair and affordable housing, Cleland was a founder in the 1950s and '60s of the Wilmette Human Relations Committee and the North Shore Summer Project, catalysts for ending north suburban housing discrimination. The NSSP orchestrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic 1965 speech on the Winnetka Village Green. As members of Wilmette's First Congregational Church, UCC (United Church of Christ) for 54 years, she and her husband, Robert, challenged the congregation to oppose the Vietnam War and to support civil rights and nuclear disarmament. "Justice doesn't happen accidentally," she once said. "It takes hard work and strong beliefs." The Clelands joined the First Congregational Church of Evanston, UCC in 2004. In the 1970s and '80s, Cleland was moderator of UCC's Chicago Metropolitan Association and later, president of its Illinois Conference. She also marched with Cesar Chavez, participated in the Great Peace March, and campaigned for her husband in his bid for a seat in the U.S. House. Cleland was a longtime board member of Open Communities and the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation. As chair of the Wilmette Housing Commission, she successfully lobbied for three low-income senior buildings in the village. A 1944 graduate of Northwestern University, Cleland spent much of her early life in Wilmette. In 1950, she and Robert settled there to raise their children, David, Stuart, Carter, Phillip, Trena, and Roger. As committed as she was to civic life, Cleland loved nothing more than being at home with her family. She was an old-fashioned homemaker, cooking meals from scratch and hanging the family laundry on the clothesline. The Clelands opened their home to scores of foreign visitors and their backyard to generations of local children. Memorial service plans are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes contributions to Open Communities, www.interfaithhousingcenter.org.
Published by Chicago Sun-Times on Sep. 22, 2013.
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73 Entries
It is a privilege to remember Jean, and we still remember her with great love.

Also her husband Bob and entire family whom we watched growing up so happily.
God bless each of you offspring! We miss your proximity!

With love,

The Rutledges (Dick and Betsy plus family)
Elizabeth Rutledge
Friend
September 24, 2020
Jean was a caring & steadfast woman . Faithful worker at Northshore senior center for years & very appreciated!
Jenny Vollen
Coworker
September 16, 2020
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November 26, 2013
Dear Carter,
My thoughts are with you and your family on the loss of a very special lady -- one whom I regarded greatly and whose kindness to my mother when she just moved here in the early 80's from Cleveland to Glenview to be near me will always be appreciated.

Among the first things Mom did was go to Glenview villege to discover what services might be helpful to her. After her first meeting, she told me about this lovely young woman social worker who represented the North Shore Senior Center, and how grateful she was to meet such a kind, knowledgeable and helpful lady.

When I first met Jean after I'd joined NSSC in 2000, I told here how much my mother thought of her, and gave Jean my heartfelt thanks for her kindness in those early 80's to this new arrival from Cleveland who came to be near her "kid" in Glenview.

Jean thanked me and said with a big grin "please be sure to tell my boss" Marilyn -- which I did in Jean's presence. We all had a good chuckle and I came to know over the thirteen years at NSSC what a very special lady Jean Cleland is. I use the word "is" because Mother always told me that the good which people do lives on after them, so I know know that the spirit of Jean will always enrich NSSC as it will continue to enrich my life.

Ginny Van Cleve
Virginia Van Cleve
October 25, 2013
When I think of lovely and very industrious Jean, too many wonderful traits to list come to mind and heart. As neighbors for close to 50 years, we witnessed her tremendous patience and enthusiasm with and for her sizable and delightful, family; we shared in block events; we witnessed her great endorsement of social work, and in general felt her to be one lovely, talented person whom we shall always miss. A sweet poem occurred to me to comfort her family and all of us who will miss her. It is:

Those we love don't go away;
They walk beside us every day.
Unseen, unheard, but always near,
Still loved,still missed. and always near."
Elizabeth ("Betsy") Rutledge
October 20, 2013
This little poem came to me after I attended the memorial gathering at her home:

Legacy

Sunlight
filled the rooms
of the home she loved
on the day so many
gathered to share memories.

The laden table
symbolized her life
which was nourished by
family, faith, and
a search for social justice.
Marlene Mitchel
October 14, 2013
I had the honor of working with Jean at North Shore Senior Center for many years. She has been such an inspiration to me on many levels -- her determination to continue helping others, vast knowledge of issues, continued quest for learning new things, calm demeanor, sense of humor, and, above all, she was such a nice, sweet person. I will always remember the Community Education projects we worked on together and her ability to gauge the current topics and senior issues of the day that people would be interested in. My condolences to the Cleland family - she is missed.
Loryn Kogan
October 8, 2013
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September 30, 2013
September 30, 2013
I am extremely grateful for the witness of Jean. She took seriously her commitment to justice for all. So did Bob! What a great couple. You have my sympathy.
September 30, 2013
It has been my great honor to know Jean for 12 (short) years.
I will always be grateful for the kindness and generosity which she showed me.
That sentiment is extended to all of the Cleland family et al. as well.
Farewell Jean, and thank you .
Robert MacConnell
September 28, 2013
I took my favorite cousin, Jean Rolfing (Cleland) to the Northwestern Midshipmen's Ball in 1943. What a great dancer she was! ("I could have danced all night") A woman of many talents!
Bill Muenster
Bill Muenster
September 27, 2013
My condolences to you and your family. Your mother was an exceptional woman who stood for everything that was good and righteous. She really made a difference!
Carrie Gilmore Cash
September 27, 2013
Jean was an amazing role model for all of us. I feel blessed to have known her and to have learned so much from her in the 20+ years that I worked with her. My condolences to your family.
Kathy Honeywell
September 27, 2013
Dear Carter,
So sorry about the loss of your mother. I have fond memories of playing in your backyard in grade school. I will always remember your mom with great fondness.
love, Katie Miller
Katie Miller
September 27, 2013
Jean was an amazing person and an inspiration to so many of us. She will be missed but continue to live in our hearts and minds as we work to improve the community we live in. Thank you Jean!
Lali Watt
September 27, 2013
Linda Barnes
September 26, 2013
Our thoughts and love go out to everyone in the family. - Elena, Reuben, and Tania
Elena Harper
September 26, 2013
Trena and Family - my condolences, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
Karen Raggi Keefe
September 25, 2013
Stuart,
I was so saddened to read of your mother's death. All the Bradens knew what a committed activist she was, and she must have been a terrific mother to have such lovely children. I wish you peace.
Pat Braden Albu
Patricia Albu
September 25, 2013
It was a privilege to be involved in the home care of your mom & dad...wonderful people & so sincere. My condolences to all the family,
Jenny Vollen
September 25, 2013
Trena and Cleland Family - sending my condolences, thoughts and prayers to you and your family.
Karen Keefe
September 25, 2013
To all of my Cleland buddies... Your mom Was a great lady! Had much fun in the back yard. She will live on in our memories and in the wonderful offspring she raised!
Chuck Henschel
September 25, 2013
Dear Clelands,
Your parents inspired us so much! My husband, Harry (who died last year) and I knew them through Central School in Wilmette, and then through the various political causes that they were passionate about. I, who had five children, (many of them friends of yours, Sally, Lele, Katie, Tish, Blair,) was inspired and reassured that it was "OK" to be so involved in unpopular causes such as Open Housing and nuclear disarmament because your mom was doing it.

I must say, your mother was the most beautiful woman I ever met. Your dad was no slouch either...what a pair. I know you miss them. I cherish their memory. With love, Lucia
Lucia T. Miller
September 25, 2013
Jean was a shining light of warmth, compassion and singleness of purpose in the cause of justice. I will always "see" her quietly beautiful presence.
Jo Strong
September 25, 2013
Love and prayers to all of you!I have the greatest memories of playing in your backyard on the "zip-line" and your mom's little face smiling through the window. Trena- you have so many of her best qualities. She impacted so many lives and will be well-remembered.
September 25, 2013
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Oh, dear Cleland family, thank you for posting all these wonderful pictures, which let me see you over many years.... It was such a treat. There is such peace and beauty in both your mom and dad.

What inspiring people they were. What a privilege to know them a bit.
Linda Dillman
September 24, 2013
Jean's face told who she was. A woman with a gentle, spirited smile. A woman who never believed her work would be done.But never tired of work that would make the lives others changed for the better.
Ellen and Ed McManus
September 23, 2013
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September 23, 2013
Our sincere sympathy and prayers for the Cleland family on the loss of your mother. She was a very gracious and generous lady and we are proud to have met and known her and the family through our association with "Pine Rose"
Carol & Everett Eckstein
September 23, 2013
Jean Cleland was an important part of my life during the nearly tens years that I lived in Chicago. She was like a second mother to me. I am so blessed to have known her and to have experienced her love and wisdom. The world will miss her presence, but her spirit shines on. Thank you Jean for all that you have done for humanity.
Christina Ginter
September 23, 2013
It was my good fortune to have met Jean several years ago when I was doing advocacy work on Medicare and Social Security. She was a special person and a delight to work with. She invited me to be a speaker at a special program at the North Shore Senior Center involving Medicare changes. I received a note from her earlier this year which I will always cherish. She has left a wonderful legacy due to the many contributions she made through her advocacy work. She will be missed greatly. My sincere condolences to her family.
Chester Stroyny
September 23, 2013
I add my own tribute to Jean as a civil rights leader.

Jean R. Cleland never shied away from controversy, from doing what was right, what was "open-minded and enlightened" -- "what Jesus would want me to be doing," she recently said to me -- ever since her childhood in Cincinnati where she befriended African Americans at an interracial high school.

Jean was my moral compass at Open Communities for the last twenty years. It was my greatest privilege to work with her when she was on the Board of Directors, especially when she brokered a community meeting between motel residents threatened with displacement and the Village Board of Morton Grove, ending in handshakes and humility. Jean was about justice and fairness first and foremost.

Jean was a founder of Open Communities in 1972, then called the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council. Before this, she was an integral part of the grassroots North Shore Summer Project which aimed to integrate the housing market against rampant discrimination against "Negroes, Jews, and Orientals." She and her husband were early fair housing testers and actively assisted African Americans to move to Wilmette and neighboring suburbs.

Jean chaired the Wilmette Housing Commission when the Village created it in 1980 and was instrumental in getting Gates Manor, the suburb's first low-income rental building, built in Wilmette, on land owned by her church at the time, First Congregational U.C.C. Her husband, who died a few years ago, was the equally wonderful Bob Cleland, a founder of the North Suburban Peace Initiative and active in so many causes including fair housing.

Jean and Bob were about, and embodied, welcome. Whether it was as a large family with six children, as next-door neighbors, as community, interfaith and church leaders, or as people who would shelter families during the Sanctuary Movement, they were clear, grounded, and warm. Both of them lived the credo, "To those whom much is given, much is expected."

Open Communities and I will miss Jean Cleland, the finest human being I have known, and an example to all who seek inspiration from people of faith or high moral principle in the difficult but most deeply essential cause of racial and economic justice.

Peace,
Gail Schechter
Executive Director, Open Communities
www.open-communities.org
Gail Schechter
September 23, 2013
Dear Cleland family,

Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Jean was a very special lady I had the honor of working with her at the NSSC. We participated on many committees together, I learned a lot from such a caring and loving individual.

Sincerely,

Bill Lustig
Northfield Police Chief
Bill Lustig
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Jean was a very special person. I had the pleasure of working with her on many occasions at the North Shore Senior Center an liked her immensely. She was particularly compassionate and knowledgeable about social programs and made invaluable contributions to the well being of seniors on the North Shore. We all will cherish her memory.
Bill Brandfon
September 22, 2013
May the "God of all comfort" be with you in the days ahead.
Lynn
September 22, 2013
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