ForeverMissed
Claire Olson Szoke passed away on January 30, 2021, at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, after a month-long battle with COVID-19. She was 83. Claire was born on June 16, 1937, in Davenport, Iowa, the daughter of Morton Edward and Rosara Katherine Roberts Olson. Her father served in the Armed Forces in WWII and was present at the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Her maternal grandfather, Horace Gordon Roberts, was the head of the Gordon-VanTine Company, a major producer of manufactured kit homes. As a child, Claire enjoyed visits to her grandparents' summer home on Rainy Lake, near International Falls in northern Minnesota.  When she was 11 years old, her family relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. She attended Tulsa Central High School, and graduated from the University of Tulsa with a double major in Spanish and journalism. Claire came to Champaign-Urbana in the fall of 1959 to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois. She arrived by train, and remembered spending her first night in town at the Inman Hotel. Claire earned her PhD in Spanish Language and Literature in 1969, writing her dissertation on the works of the essayist and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. She was awarded a fellowship for study abroad by the American Association of University Women, and spent time in Mexico and Spain. She married Ronald D. Szoke at the Channing-Murray Foundation in Urbana in 1965. They were later divorced. 

Claire had a long and varied career. She taught Spanish and English at schools in Champaign-Urbana, Danville, and Buckley-Loda, as well as in Dryden, New York. During the mid-1970's, she was a consultant for the Technical Education Research Centers (TERC), working in the newly-developing field of inclusion and career development for special-needs students, which she found especially rewarding. In 1985, she accepted a position as a technical editor in the General Chemistry Department at the University of Illinois, and remained there until her retirement in 2018.

During her time in graduate school, Claire was involved in the Civil Rights movement, and attended marches in Selma, Alabama and Washington, D.C. She continued as a strong advocate for social justice for the next 60 years. Among the many organizations she worked with and volunteered for were the University YMCA, Interfaith Alliance, the Religious Workers Association, WILPH (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), the nuclear freeze movement, Jobs With Justice, the Champaign-Urbana Ecumenical Committee on Sanctuary, and several immigration reform groups, including PACA (People's Alliance for Central America), El Centro, and the Immigration Forum. Claire was a longtime member of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, where she served as Religious Education Director from 1982 to 1989. She was also a guiding force at the Channing-Murray Foundation, the Unitarian-Universalist campus ministry and community center, serving as the foundation's Director from 1991 to 2019. Under her leadership, many successful programs were developed or revitalized at Channing Murray, including the Tagore Festival and the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant. Claire especially valued the diverse, multi-age and multi-faith connections that she made during her years of outreach work. She was always open to new experiences, and enjoyed her travels to Italy and Santa Fe with her family. She loved listening to political news on the radio, and discussing politics in person with her friends was even better. Other favorite activities included baking, gardening, reading, and Scrabble.

Claire is survived by her daughter, Katherine Claire Szoke, son-in-law, Geza Gyuk, and grandchildren, Sophia and Ellis Gyuk, of Glenview, and by a brother, Gordon Olson of Oklahoma City. She also leaves many dear friends, who will miss her faithful presence in the community. A Celebration of Life service will be held via Zoom on Saturday, February 27 at 6:00 p.m., led by the the Reverend Florence Caplow of the Unitarian Universalist Church. For details, please go to the church calendar page at uucuc.org.

In Claire's memory, donations may be made to the Channing-Murray Foundation at https://www.channingmurray.org/remembering-claire-... All donations will be used to provide assistance to immigrant families, honoring Claire's long involvement with this cause.
Posted by Katherine Szoke on February 28, 2021
From Sharon Monday:

I wish to extend my deep sympathy to the family of Claire Szoke and to the Unitarian Universalist Champaign Urbana Community who lost a dear family member and community member in February.
I am grateful for the rich conversations and experiences I shared with Claire and for her example of faithful service at Channing-Murray and in the Champaign-Urbana community. I first met Claire when she was an active member of the CU Sanctuary movement. She helped to nurture this grassroots endeavor to provide hospitality and a witness for our sisters and brothers fleeing the violence in Central America. Claire never waivered in her commitment to immigrant justice; the last time I saw Claire was at a protest at the Urbana courthouse in the summer of 2019 to speak out and give witness to the injustice of detention of immigrants. Although compromised in her physical ability at this time, she stood tall in her integrity and advocacy for immigrants.
The deep conversations with Claire began in the fireside room at Channing-Murray when a graduate student, Michelle, approached Claire about forming a women’s support group in or around the year 2000. Claire in her open-hearted manner encouraged and fully participated in the conversations which involved indigenous wisdom to guide our process and experience. I was a young mother at the time and was most grateful for the far ranging yet deeply personal ways in which we explored women’s spirituality and experiences.
Claire invited me to participate at Channing-Murray as a board member and a guest speaker for some of her Sunday Spirituality sessions. We would often have impromptu lunches together at the Red Herring in which we would share dreams and projects. It would often result in her wide-eyed enthusiastic response to an event to be sponsored at Channing-Murray where we were in a life-giving partnership. A few of the many projects we worked together included Fellowship of Reconciliation workshops on non-violence trainings, the Dances of Universal Peace and Social Justice Education.
Claire loved tenderly especially her beloved daughter Kathy and her family, worked for justice for people denied their dignity and opened wide the doors of Channing-Murray to many people and expressions of spirituality, creative arts and explorations on what it means to be human. She was a true community partner and collaborator in the work of justice. I will miss her loving presence and model of the long distant runner for justice. May Claire’s light and wisdom continue to guide us and speak to and in our hearts.
With Deep Love and Respect, Sharon Monday
Posted by Sandra Hannum on February 27, 2021
We are so glad we had the opportunity to know Claire and work with her on social justice issues. What an inspiring and delightful person. Her passion for the justice work never flagged, and that is a great reminder to us to carry on !
Sandy and Jim Hannum
Posted by Sharon Monday on February 27, 2021
I wish to send you my written tribute. Is there an email I can send it to as I do not see how to download it in this format. Peace to you Kathy, Geza, Sophia and Ellis.
Posted by karla Peterson on February 27, 2021
Claire's passion that lasted throughout her entire life was indeed an inspiration.  I love the "tiny dynamo" designation.... fits perfectly!!
Posted by Meridith Kruse on February 27, 2021
Thank you Claire for your strength and mentorship, especially during my time at the director of the IDF. You were a valuable friend, bright light in the peace and social justice movement, and you will be an inspiration always. Much love, Meridith
Posted by Barry Bridgeford on February 27, 2021
I fondly remember Claire teaching the world's religions to me as a ten year old in the basement on the Green street church. She helped me gain an appreciation for the beauty of this diverse world. She instilled in me how important it is to see the connections that bind us all together.
Posted by Amanda Owings on February 27, 2021
Claire was the fabulous director of CMF while I was in grad school and she always joined us young adults for dinner on Tuesday nights. She often made food for us and provided insightful conversation when we were struggling through college classes and writing dissertations. I also spent many meetings with her, either board meetings or meditation sessions with Florence! Claire and I were also roommates at a GA in Missouri a few years ago. I will miss not seeing her at meetings and driving her home after!
Posted by Karen Folk on February 27, 2021
Claire will always be an inspiration to me to keep on working for justice. I am honored to have had this recent chance to get to know her better.
Karen Folk
Posted by Katherine Szoke on February 27, 2021
I would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support for my mother. She was a part of the Champaign-Urbana community for over 60 years, and made so many connections. In keeping with Claire's open and inclusive spirit, the Celebration of Life service today will be a collaborative effort between the UU Church and Channing Murray, with additional input from some of Claire's colleagues from the Religious Workers Association. It will feature tributes and prayers, sharing of memories, and some of Claire's favorite music. I look forward to hearing everyone's reminiscences, either at the service, or on this page.

In honor of Claire's decades-long dedication to the cause of immigration reform, starting with her work in the Sanctuary movement in the 1980's and continuing with El Centro and the Immigration Forum, we are creating a special fund to provide assistance to immigrant families. Please donate at https://www.channingmurray.org/remembering-claire-szoke. Thank you.
Posted by Katherine Szoke on February 27, 2021
Nana
Growing up, I admired Nana for her strength and intelligence, and cherished all the wisdom and advice she gave me. I remember having conversations with her about politics and culture, and everything else. She was with us on many family vacations, exploring places like Niagara Falls and Santa Fe, which are some of my favorite memories with her. My mom has told me about Nana’s civil rights work and her impressive record of teaching and leading others. I can only imagine how many people’s lives she touched and I feel so lucky I got to experience her love and care. I know she would want me to get educated, learn about things that I am passionate about, and try to make a positive difference in the world. I will carry on her legacy of helping others and being a welcoming friend to all. My mom has said I have Nana’s personality, and in this way, she will always be with me.

- Sophia Gyuk, granddaughter

Leave a Tribute

 
Recent Tributes
Posted by Katherine Szoke on February 28, 2021
From Sharon Monday:

I wish to extend my deep sympathy to the family of Claire Szoke and to the Unitarian Universalist Champaign Urbana Community who lost a dear family member and community member in February.
I am grateful for the rich conversations and experiences I shared with Claire and for her example of faithful service at Channing-Murray and in the Champaign-Urbana community. I first met Claire when she was an active member of the CU Sanctuary movement. She helped to nurture this grassroots endeavor to provide hospitality and a witness for our sisters and brothers fleeing the violence in Central America. Claire never waivered in her commitment to immigrant justice; the last time I saw Claire was at a protest at the Urbana courthouse in the summer of 2019 to speak out and give witness to the injustice of detention of immigrants. Although compromised in her physical ability at this time, she stood tall in her integrity and advocacy for immigrants.
The deep conversations with Claire began in the fireside room at Channing-Murray when a graduate student, Michelle, approached Claire about forming a women’s support group in or around the year 2000. Claire in her open-hearted manner encouraged and fully participated in the conversations which involved indigenous wisdom to guide our process and experience. I was a young mother at the time and was most grateful for the far ranging yet deeply personal ways in which we explored women’s spirituality and experiences.
Claire invited me to participate at Channing-Murray as a board member and a guest speaker for some of her Sunday Spirituality sessions. We would often have impromptu lunches together at the Red Herring in which we would share dreams and projects. It would often result in her wide-eyed enthusiastic response to an event to be sponsored at Channing-Murray where we were in a life-giving partnership. A few of the many projects we worked together included Fellowship of Reconciliation workshops on non-violence trainings, the Dances of Universal Peace and Social Justice Education.
Claire loved tenderly especially her beloved daughter Kathy and her family, worked for justice for people denied their dignity and opened wide the doors of Channing-Murray to many people and expressions of spirituality, creative arts and explorations on what it means to be human. She was a true community partner and collaborator in the work of justice. I will miss her loving presence and model of the long distant runner for justice. May Claire’s light and wisdom continue to guide us and speak to and in our hearts.
With Deep Love and Respect, Sharon Monday
Posted by Sandra Hannum on February 27, 2021
We are so glad we had the opportunity to know Claire and work with her on social justice issues. What an inspiring and delightful person. Her passion for the justice work never flagged, and that is a great reminder to us to carry on !
Sandy and Jim Hannum
Posted by Sharon Monday on February 27, 2021
I wish to send you my written tribute. Is there an email I can send it to as I do not see how to download it in this format. Peace to you Kathy, Geza, Sophia and Ellis.
Recent stories

Immigration advocate

Shared by Carolyn Vance on February 27, 2021
I first met Claire at the C-U Immigration Forum around 2013 and got to know her initially in the Allies of Faith subgroup of the Forum. She welcomed me and through the Allies of Faith's Immigration Justice Month contributed to my education on immigrant issues.  She was always a bright light of encouragement to me for whatever involvement I was able to participate in, in support of immigrants.  It's hard to imagine C-U Immigration Forum without her. Surely she will continue to be with us in spirit.

carrying on her story

Shared by Emily McKown on February 27, 2021
The most time I spent with Claire was when she was training me into the Director position a year ago, we would sit at the fireside table and she would relay all the goings on of the channing-murray days gone by and I was moved by her continued passion. We would have lunch and she would tell me stories, and I so cherish those moments together.

The hope and resilience she brought to the job is an inspiration to me and I am so lucky to walk in her wake.