Connections Spotlight — CCC&Y fondly remembers the life of founder Florence Mae Karlstrom

Jan 17, 2023 | CCC&Y Info & Events

Florence Mae Karlstrom during her 100th birthday celebration on Dec. 22, 2022. Courtesy photos.

By the Coconino Coalition for Children & Youth

CCC&Y and community members fondly remember the life of founder Florence Mae Karlstrom who passed away on Jan. 8, 2023 in Amherst, Mass. She had recently celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 22, 2022.

“Many of us in Flagstaff remember Florence. The community we live in today has roots in her work, founding CCC&Y, serving on the FUSD Board, supporting United Way and the vision of early childhood education and development,” wrote consultant and coach Kerry Blume, former president and CEO of the United Way of Northern Arizona.

“I am so sorry to learn of Florence’s passing. … Florence also championed women’s rights and was instrumental in the budding women in history programs at NAU in the early 1970’s which included a cross department collaboration with Peg Morley and Katherine Nutt. Her commitment for building a better world led to focusing on children and the most vulnerable and resulted in the creation of what is now CCC&Y. She was a strong advocate for early childhood education. I worked on her successful campaign for FUSD school board and her unsuccessful campaign for state senate. A consummate community builder who led with compassion, intellect and kindness. During her 100 years many of us got to experience that warm smile and her grace.  A life well lived. Her memory will always be a blessing,” wrote Coconino County District 1 Supervisor Patrice Horstman.

Florence Mae Karlstrom shares a happy moment with former CCC&Y Executive Director Ruth Ellen Elinski.

“The acknowledgement of all of Florence’s accomplishments in her lifetime is truly amazing. I was never aware of Florence’s beliefs in life. But now being aware of them, they don’t surprise me. If you looked deep you would know that she was always giving of herself in a compassionate, love filled way, no matter what she did. In working with Florence most closely as we worked together on the school board, I found a woman who was strong in her beliefs, not afraid to share them and if necessary challenge others on theirs.  At the same time, her quiet love of all of those she worked with and for came through. There were always those times when she would come to me to be sure all was alright. I knew she truly cared and loved those she worked with, no matter what may be going on. She continually demonstrated her faith of love and hope by the way she lived, whether we were aware of the reason or not.  Children were always a top priority. I now wonder if we were all her children, no matter the age. How proud as a founder of the Coconino Coalition for Children & Youth she would be today, knowing of their many accomplishments. For us and our children she not only met the challenge of life, but found opportunity for the young and old in all that she did,” wrote Julianne Hartzell, past board president and member of CCC&Y’s Action & Outreach Committee.

Florence Mae Karlstrom, left, during her recent 100th birthday celebration.

According to an obituary submitted by her family to the Arizona Daily Sun, “During her storied career as an educator she was deeply respected and impacted the lives of countless students. Florence was a true friend to those who knew her, as she lived with kindness, compassion and concern for all creatures and for the Earth. 

“Florence was born Florence Mae Edwards in Edmonton, Alberta in 1922 to William Henry Edwards and Mabel Jessie Fraser. She grew up mostly in Calgary, Alberta, the youngest of 3 siblings (Bill and Mary). …

“In 1937, she joined a group of high-school students selected from across Canada and the British Commonwealth to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England. Florence received her B.Sc. from the University of Alberta at age 19. She attended the University of Chicago – receiving a Masters of Sociology in 1945. … While at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, Florence met and married Thor Karlstrom. … In 1965 the Karlstroms moved to Flagstaff, AZ when Thor was recruited to the USGS Astrogeology Branch to create geologic maps for the Apollo moon program. 

“Soon after moving to Flagstaff, Florence was hired by the Sociology Department at Northern Arizona University (NAU) as an Associate Professor, where she taught from 1965 to 1994. While teaching at NAU she completed her Ph.D. at Arizona State University in Tempe.  At NAU Florence taught in the areas of “Sociology of Childhood”, “Parenting”, “Family” and “Education” and she was a pioneer in “Women’s Studies”, developing many new courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. She represented the Sociology Department in the creation of the cross-departmental “Women’s Studies” minor at NAU. She retired as Professor Emeritus of Sociology in 1994.

“While at NAU Florence saw a need for greater collaboration between community groups that served children and families (including shelters, schools, and behavioral health and psychological services) as well as the five academic departments at NAU that focused on children or families. In the early 1970s she organized symposia to bring together “Town” and “Gown” to explore common interests and the needs of children in the community. This effort grew into a nonprofit organization called the “Coconino County Council for Children,” of which Florence was a founding member. Fifty years later, having added “Youth” to its name; absorbing the Child Abuse Prevention Council; and initiating an afterschool program managed by the school system, the CCC&Y thrives today. In a parallel effort Florence was active in creating a student internship program in the community.  In 1998 Florence was voted Flagstaff’s “Citizen of the Year”, the award citing her many years of service to the community. That year she was also elected to the Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board, serving a four-year term. …”

“The Karlstroms had four children: Eric Karlstrom of Crestone, CO; Karl Karlstrom (Laurie Crossey) of Albuquerque, NM; Karen Fricke of Grand Junction, CO; and Rolf Karlstrom (Paige Wilder) of Amherst, MA. She has six grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren. 

“Florence’s life expressed her beliefs. In her own words, “I believe in the search for meaning, in the choice of hopefulness, and in the necessity of love toward all creatures. By “love”, I mean the whole range of caring behavior: friendship, kindness, compassion, respect for all creatures and for the earth. Love and hope are old and honorable guidelines to action in virtually all faiths. I believe that the search for meaning is life’s great privilege, and challenge, and opportunity. In a world full of wonders, this is the human wonder.”