Colleen Lois (Lee) McElwain, 93

Colleen (Lee) McElwain lived with artistry. Her flair for creativity showed in many aspects of her life—in how she nurtured her children to explore their own pursuits with resourcefulness and ingenuity, how she chose her wardrobe and coordinated jewelry, and in the artwork she sold throughout the area.

You may have one of her paintings, her signature “Connie” in the corner, the bottom of the C swooping to underline her name. She was commissioned to paint pets, childhood homes, and natural scenes on canvas, barn boards, saw blades, and leather.

For years, she taught painting classes in her home. Six to 10 people with easels and acrylic-spattered palettes hung on her every word as they worked on still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. She would walk among her students, pointing out great techniques, admiring light and shadows, and color choices. Everyone would halt at their canvases to watch her demonstrate brushstrokes and blending that always made scenes come alive.

Connie had countless loves: her family always first, then her dachshund Schnauzer von Schnicklefritz and her cat Sweetie Pie.

She loved dancing with her husband, Bob, him twirling her around, their arms weaving as they swayed. She loved crocheting, rides in the car, roaming country roads around Eau Claire or for fall color drives. She loved writing and reading poetry, listening to music, photos of travels, chocolate, and pie, pie, and more pie.

When not tracking down pie, she could sniff out a good deal like a hound finds rabbits. She loved rummaging, and she thrilled at thrifters who oohed over her once treasures at her own garage sales.

Intrigued by other cultures, she welcomed visiting foreign exchange students into her home. Folks from India, Morocco, Korea, Libya, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia became beloved friends. Little gave her more pleasure than knowing her house was where people wanted to be.

Because of this, she truly disliked a messy house—as much as a bad haircut or perm, having to give up her car in her 80s, and being far away from family. And much to her children’s surprise, she hated the chocolate-covered cherries her late husband always bought her, a tradition her children carried on until she finally told them just a few years ago.

Still, even these things made her laugh, perhaps her favorite thing of all—that and making others laugh, right to the end; her last week, she said she’d aged well, like a nice jar of pickles.

She celebrated her 93rd birthday in mid-September and, four days later, joined her parents, Robert and Olive Lee; her twin, Arlene; her husband, Robert; and her grandson Justin—a reunion she spoke of longingly in her last months.

In that time, her “Brookdale family” provided great comfort and compassion, COVID preventing family from being at her side. She passed away peacefully as a particularly kind nurse read from Connie’s book of poems, perhaps rhyming her into heaven.

Connie leaves behind her children Mike (wife Kathy), Pat (Dolly), Sue Ann Marie, and Mark (Sandy), as well as grandchildren Heather (Shawn), Shay (Nivea), Kayla (Jarell), and Alysha (Michael), and great-grandchildren Tehya and Bode—though she didn’t hide the fact that she would have liked more. She also leaves a legacy of beautiful paintings and poems, and a hole her laughter once filled.

Her loved ones will miss her dearly, though they’re certain she’s happy to be where there is never-ending pie in the sky.

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