Although Karen Skaradzinski faced many challenges over the years, she never complained or wondered “why me?” Kind-hearted and blessed with a childlike joy in life, Karen got the biggest kick out of life’s simple pleasures: a visit with relatives, a good nap, dancing, and arts and crafts. She lived in the moment, taking life as it came, and a characteristic pronouncement was a heartfelt “I’m happy today!” Karen’s positive attitude, unfailing consideration for others, and gratitude for life’s blessings were an inspiration for those around her, and will live on in the hearts and memories of all those whose lives she touched.
Karen Violet was born on November 30, 1954, to proud parents Chester and Ruby Skaradzinski. Karen was the middle child, with an older brother, Jeff, and a younger brother, Daryl. Chester earned his living as a welder, while Ruby worked part-time at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Karen’s childhood was filled with happy memories of trips “Up North” to visit relatives in the Clintonville area. She also looked forward to summer vacations, which the family often took at lake cottages in Northern Wisconsin. Karen loved talking walks, boat rides, and fishing – although she did refuse to put the wiggly worm on the hook herself! At home, Karen loved listening to all kinds of music, from show tunes and ragtime to The Ventures and The Beatles. There was a piano in their home, and Karen and her mother would bang on it together, making their own music.
When Karen was in the fifth grade, her teachers discovered that she was not making academic progress as expected. She switched to what at the time was called special education classes, at a school a few miles away. Everyday, her brother Daryl would walk her to the bus stop, where she caught the bus to her new school. When Daryl went on to middle school, Karen’s mother took over, and diligently walked Karen over in the mornings and met her at the stop every afternoon.
By the time she was a teenager, it had become clear that Karen would not be able to have the kind of life that most of us expect. She still loved music, but hated loud noises, and was prone to anxiety when she was frustrated. She started collecting bells, and enjoyed telling others the stories of each bell’s history. As schoolwork became more challenging, Karen became more frustrated. She was persistent, however, and thanks to some hard work she graduated from Pulaski High School in 1973.
After graduation, Karen started working at the Jewish Vocational Center (now the Milwaukee Center for Independence). Just as before, Karen’s mother walked her to the bus stop every morning, and waited for her to hop off the bus again in the late afternoon. Tragically, one afternoon Karen didn’t get off the bus. The police brought her home 36 hours later, but had little information of her whereabouts, and were unsure if she had been assaulted or not. Karen became reclusive, and sometimes talked of being other people. It was difficult to know what to expect – one day she would be pleasant and relaxed, another day she would be fearful, rushing around closing windows, drapes, and doors to protect herself. Eventually, Karen’s family was forced to recognize that even Ruby’s endless love for her daughter couldn’t protect her from these tormenting fears. Karen was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, placed into protective placement, and began what would be a lifelong program of medical and psychological treatment. Ruby continued to walk to the bus stop every day, this time making two transfers and walking a half-mile herself to visit Karen.
With the help of medication, Karen eventually stabilized, and was able to return home for several years. She had an active social life, and enjoyed attending workshop, church functions, corn roasts, carnivals, trips Up North, dances, and picnics. Along with some friends from workshop, Karen and Ruby took a trip down to Florida. Everyone had a wonderful time – it was the trip of their lives, and they even wrote a story about it back home! Karen had a gentleman friend who was fond of her, and with whom she enjoyed attending dances, but she was never interested in marriage. She would adamantly declare, “I don’t wanna be married. I don’t wanna be tied down.” A homebody at heart, Karen preferred being with family, and also enjoyed her quiet time.
Karen was blessed to have two families that loved her: her relatives by birth, and her family at 44C and 44E (at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex). She spent the last twenty years of her life at Milwaukee Behavioral Health on Watertown Plank Road. Karen loved visiting her relatives, and also loved coming home to her friends at the center. The simplest things would give her the most enjoyment – going to dances, taking a ride in the country, having BBQ chicken at home with her brother and sister-in-law – and she would always eagerly tell her friends at the center all the details of her trips home. She often went on outings with her family at “County,” including shopping trips, movies, Festa Italiana, and rides during West Allis Western Days.
Karen had a keen, child-like view of the world, which was usually quite black-and-white. She let others know in no uncertain terms when clothing wasn’t well-matched, and whether she liked a pair of shoes or dress. She herself liked to dress up, and enjoyed wearing make-up and having her hair done. Karen moved at her own pace, and always kept an eye on the time – to the point that she wore out several Timex watches. She could be in a hurry one minute, and the next dawdling slowly down the hallway, looking at pictures and out the window as if it was the very first time she had been there. She liked to hold hands with people as she walked along – sometimes pulling, sometimes lagging, but always squeezing tight.
Caring, considerate, and humble, Karen was a loving daughter, sister, and friend to many. She will be deeply missed and lovingly remembered by her many friends and family members.
Karen Violet Skaradzinski died on September 22, 2012, at the age of 57. She was preceded in death by her parents, Chester and Ruby Skaradzinski. Her family includes her brothers, Jeff and Daryl (Anne) Skaradzinski, other relatives, and friends.
Visitation will be held on Saturday, September 29, at Suminski LifeStory Funeral Home, 2486 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., from 10:00 a.m. until time of the Funeral Service at 12:00 p.m. Private interment will be at Arlington Park Cemetery. Please visit Karen’s personal memory page at www.lifestorynet.com, where you can learn more about her life, share a favorite memory or photo, and sign the online guestbook.