Sky Scene 05

Music by the O'Neill Brothers


Karlene (Counsman) von Szeliski

August 28, 1934 ~ July 31, 2018 (age 83)

Karlene (Counsman) von Szeliski

August 28, 1934 - July 31, 2018


Karlene Counsman von Szeliski, 83, passed away on July 31, 2018 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease at her home in Santa Ana, California with her husband John and daughters Heidi and Victoria by her side.


Karlene was born on August 28, 1934 in Erie, Pennsylvania to Harry G. Counsman, III and Lillian (Bradley) Counsman and grew up in the Midwest. Karlene developed a love for performing and would put on plays for any (unsuspecting) audience of two or more. \During her teenage years, Karlene was fully devoted to acting: she participated in school and civic productions and even took on roles at nearby Wabash College while still in junior high school in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Karlene attended West Lafayette High School where she excelled academically despite her busy acting schedule. She was also chosen as Homecoming Queen and graduated in 1952.


Karlene received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Purdue University, where she majored in Speech and Theatre and minored in Religion. She was an active member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.  At Purdue, Karlene met her husband John J. von Szeliski while performing Shakespeare together. They both were active contributors to Purdue’s public radio station. Despite six break-ups in only two years (they couldn’t stay apart!), Karlene and John somehow decided their arrangement was destined for the long-run and the two were married their senior year on March 28, 1956.  The deal sealer was when Karlene said “if you really want to get married, meet me at the County Clerk’s office in Lafayette Monday morning at 10”.  Needless to say, John was early and the rest was wedded bliss history.


The couple continued their broadcasting work while Karlene began teaching elementary school. They moved to Tampa, Florida, where John began teaching drama. Karlene gave birth to their daughter Heidi in 1959. John’s career later brought Karlene and the family to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where their daughter Victoria was born in 1963. The family moved to Southern California in 1971 and has lived there since.


Karlene’s professional life included a variety of work demonstrating her passion for the arts and education.  Karlene performed on stage and screen, with notable work occurring at the Williamstown Summer Theatre Festival in the Berkshires, as well as the Hudson Theatre and Theatre of N.O.T.E. in Los Angeles. Karlene earned critical acclaim for her role as Ma in “Last Lists of My Mad Mother,” a woman lost in the labyrinth of her own mind as she grappled with Alzheimer’s disease.  After receiving her Master’s Degree in Education from Chapman University, Karlene taught in public schools and pioneered her “love of learning” curriculum that often wove creative dramatics into the teaching of core subjects. She earned Teacher of the Year at Andersen Elementary School in Newport Beach, California.  After retiring from Newport Mesa Unified School District, Karlene continued contributing her talents to performing with STOP-GAP, an award-winning, non-profit theatre company with the mission to stimulate positive change in individual lives through the use of drama as a therapeutic and educational tool.


Karlene was a spirited person whose charity and joy were always overflowing. She was the life of the party and would bring a smile to the face of everyone she touched. Karlene enjoyed a life long interest in travel, the arts, ballet, reading, and gardening. She also loved lively discussions with her Book Club in Floral Park. Karlene had a pillow embroidered with the words “If life is a stage, I’d like better lighting,” which her friends and family will appreciate because of Karlene’s knack for knowing right where to smile for a camera. Karlene and John enjoyed 62 wonderful years of marriage together. She was a devoted wife, loving mother and endlessly-supportive grandmother.


She is survived by her husband John, daughters Heidi and Victoria, sisters Gretchen and Christie, grandchildren Ryan, Allison and Emily, and great-granddaughter Lauren. The family suggests Alzheimer’s research for contributions in memory of Karlene. 



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