Karen L McGregor
February 4, 1939 – January 21, 2019
Karen Lautenschlaeger McGregor, of Newton, New Jersey, passed away on January 21, 2019, just short of her eightieth birthday.
Karen was an accomplished—and devoted—reading specialist, drawn to those with reading or learning disabilities who needed help, whether they were young migrant children or their parents, or college students, or those who came to her community reading clinic in southern New Jersey, or the teachers she taught and the tutors she prepared as a critical leader in Literacy Volunteers, or those she tutored herself, or the many book publishers and schools she guided toward effective reading instruction. She was an effective teacher, as her many awards attest, but she was more than that, she was relentless. Believing that anyone could learn to read, she was determined to see that as many as she could recruit, encourage, motivate and teach and tutor would do so.
As a letter to the editor of the Daily Record noted, on the occasion of one of the many awards Karen received: “She offers infinite hope for a better future.”
And she did, starting with her early days teaching elementary students in Bloomfield, and teaching reading and tutoring students during the summers, and then moving to Glassboro to teach college students as a Graduate Assistant and then an Assistant Professor and Director of the Community Clinic at Glassboro State College—now Rowan University—from which she received her undergraduate (1961) and graduate (1964) degrees. She pursued doctoral courses at Temple University as well.
She became a Language Arts Consultant for the American Book Company (a Division of Litten Educational Publishing Company), moving up to the position of Product Manager of Reading and Language Arts at the company, a key spot for Karen to be in as she was able to help determine what products to initiate, develop, and maintain and assist regional managers to develop plans and activities for the schools that used the reading programs. She wanted to be sure teachers understood how to use these materials and so she traveled throughout ‘her territory,’ New England, New York and Delaware, to make sure they did. Gently, but firmly, she used her skills and expertise, to instruct—and inspire—them.
In 1976, she decided to become self-employed and formed her own company, KLM Services, to provide support for educational publishing, working with the American Book Company, her previous employer, Scholastic Inc., and Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Again, her areas of emphasis included the language arts and reading, and, broadened to embrace social studies as well.
She continued to do this important work until 1994, when she “retired” and turned her attention to life as a volunteer, directing her considerable talents and resolve to adult literacy, joining forces with Literacy Volunteers of Sussex County. She served as a volunteer tutor of Basic Literacy and ESOL, as a Student Intake Interviewer and Lead Trainer and, at times, as Interim Executive Director, Program Coordinator and, matching tutors to students, as Match Coordinator.
Karen served as the State Trainer for Literacy Volunteers of NJ, from 1997 to 2005, developing a well-earned reputation as a superb trainer and supervisor of other trainers. Moreover, she developed and conducted in-service training on a variety of subjects for other affiliates and at state level conferences as she conducted training for potential tutor trainers. It would be rare for anyone to “pass” Karen’s training without feeling totally confident in what they were about to do, not only to help others to read but to be dogged but patient, dedicated, even devoted, and, of course, skilled and empathetic as they did it. This was about changing peoples’ lives, after all, about making them better. As she said herself, “Literacy is not just about reading.”
Many of the people she trained and tutored became life-long friends.
Meanwhile, Karen’s life—her personal life—was taking a turn. In 1983, she met and married Donald McGregor, an engineer, who was serving with her on a jury in Passaic. They were married for 36 years, a marriage of mutual respect, devotion and love.
During these years, she not only used her reading skills to tutor people living in her county but she also served as a volunteer there—for eight years—with Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice, a remarkable organization that provided compassionate and caring support to Karen in her final days.
Being a volunteer requires no less energy, devotion or commitment than the working life, certainly, and accomplishments mean just as much, if not more. Karen’s literacy students and the volunteers who learned from her were, easily and understandably, in awe of her knowledge, her generosity and her conviction. People needed to know how to read to function effectively in society and Karen did what she could, and then some, to see that many citizens who were “left back or left out” because of learning disabilities, were able to read.
No wonder she was recognized with so many awards, ranging from the Knights of Columbus Teacher of the Year award, in 1997, to the Soroptimist International of the Americas award for women of distinction, in 2007. In between were recognition by the sheriff’s office of Sussex County for coordinating the literacy volunteer work done in the county jail, in1999, the United Way of Sussex County’s Mary T. Stuart Community Service Award, in 2000, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Literacy NJ, in 2002, the Literacy Volunteers of Sussex County’s Award of Excellence—its first—in 2002. Karen would say this, though, about awards: “It’s good to get awards in order to expand positive public exposure for Literacy Volunteers, but, to me, “the real reward is seeing students grow and do without us.”
Karen was featured in many columns over the years, sharing her joy of reading, promoting literacy and telling the moving stories of the lives that were changed, including the Cuban woman who was able to return to teaching, the profession she had had in her country for 24 years or the woman who washed hair in a salon who was able to pass her cosmetology test and become a beautician and then there was her special Jimmy, who was having problems with substance abuse and learning problems. With Karen at his side, a guiding angel to be sure, not only did he become proficient in reading, he went on to publish three books of poetry! With Karen’s help, he found assistance in finding a job, housing, and, indeed, he created a new life. He kicked his drug habit, got married and purchased his own home. And he is but one of many for whom Karen made a difference.
Karen L. McGregor was born on February 4, 1939, to Kathryn McDonough Tremel and Frederick J. Lautenschlaeger; she lived all of her life in New Jersey, from early days in Nutley, moving to Passaic, and then, to Clifton, and finally to Sparta and then to Newton, New Jersey.
She leaves behind two sisters, Eve Corino (and husband, Carl) of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Linda Stamato of Morristown, NJ, and a brother, Fred Lautenschlaeger (and wife, Carol) of Arnold, Maryland. Karen’s siblings have one son and five daughters among them, and they have multiple children as well, all of whom were able to spend time with Karen as they grew and matured and visited with her, primarily, in Sparta, on Lake Mohawk, and at various family gatherings over the course of every year. Karen was pre-deceased by her brothers Paul, of Nutley, and David, of Brick, neither of whom married. Karen’s husband, Donald McGregor, survives her as do his daughter, Janet Han (and husband, John), of Maryland, and son, David (and wife, Ruth) of North Carolina, their children and Don’s great grand-children. The McGregor clan was Karen’s second family and she cherished them.
Karen also leaves many friends, both long-standing (Literacy of Sussex County) and of recent vintage (Bristol Glen residents) who will mourn the loss of their good humored, talented and generous friend. Fortunately, for all of us, Bristol Glen, Karen’s last home, was a good choice, and its staff, including the medical staff and its extraordinary nurses, and the support of Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice, helped to make Karen’s last days comfortable and peaceful.
One of Karen’s favorite observations was that offered by Margaret Mead, the late anthropologist:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Karen believed these words and she followed them. In living them, she has left a legacy—the record of a life well-lived and a compelling example for those who were fortunate to know her, to learn from her and to love her.
Among them are ‘graduates’ of her own personal efforts at tutoring who, because of Karen, will be able to read this obituary. They include monks at the abbey, people serving prison time in Sussex County, and, of course, many individuals known by name: Arnolfo, Bertha, Manny, Darlene, Tina, Pilar, Vilma, Uriel, Rob, (her special friend), Abdel, Lidia, Loretta, Leo, Elda, Christina, Tamekea and Rudy.
A Celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, 1-3PM, January 26, 2019 at Bristol Glen Assisted Living, 200 Bristol Glen Dr, Newton, NJ 07860. Remembrances begin at 1:30pm. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made in her memory to: Bristol Glen, 200 Bristol Glen Dr, Newton, NJ 07860 or Literacy NJ, 54 High St, Newton, NJ 07860 or Rowan University, 201 Mullica Hill Rd, Glassboro, NJ 08028.
- Celebration of Life Saturday, January 26, 2019