Jeoraldean Sandra McClain

Honored by:Mary Jo and Harry Brearley
Brick location:K:12  map

Jeoraldean McClain was a heroine in many ways. In spite of a health problem for which she had to take medicine all her life, she succeeded in gaining a fine education and having a long and admirable career as a professor of art history at ISU, a major public university. She enriched the lives of many students.

In addition, she used her resources in a number of ways to help others. She established a fellowship, the McClain Faculty Fellowship in Art History to help foreign language instructors to study art history abroad. After her retirement, while she was living in St. Louis, she made the home she still owned in Ames available to graduate students, particularly those from foreign countries wanting to bring families with them and study at ISU.

This home was not in use late in 2006, when my daughter Caroline and her family asked me to find them a place to live while Caroline was on maternity leave from her USAID post in El Salvador. When Jeoraldean heard of this, she generously-even eagerly-offered her home to them. She bought a new dishwasher for the house and had the stairs to the basement rebuilt to be safer for a very pregnant mother.

The family arrived in September and stayed until early January in 2007. The baby arrived October 29, 2006, and thrived in the environment. During the Christmas season, lights twinkled on the evergreen outside the door. On one of her trips to Ames Caroline and family invited Jeoraldean to come see them, and she did. She enjoyed the visit and talked to me later about how well they had arranged things, particularly how the colors were lovely.

All this time, neither Caroline no I, suspected that Jeoraldean had cancer. As far as I know, no one in Ames knew about it. When I received a phone call on February 14, 2007, shortly before Jeoraldean’s death, saying that Jeoraldean was in the hospital in St. Louis and desperately ill, it was a real surprise and shock. I sent flowers, and E-mailed Caroline in San Salvador.

Knowing that Jeoraldean would not be able to read and E-mail, or letter, Caroline called the hospital and talked to a nurse about giving Jeoraldean a message. As she wrote to me “I dictated it to her and she dutifully read it back word for word.” The message was this: “Thank you for helping make our recent stay possible. It was four of the best months of our lives. Your friendship has been very important to my mother. We were glad to meet you.” In her letter to me Caroline added: “She was a wonderful lady and was sweet to us.”

Caroline was right about the importance of Jeoraldean’s friendship to me- and, I’m sure, many others. Those four months when Caroline was in her house were four of the best months of my life too.

Mary Jo Brearley

Submitted on June 21, 2007