"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." As a child, I had the importance of the Golden Rule instilled in me by my mother. There was no simpler tenet by which she lived her life. She gave of herself freely - her time, her joy, her spirituality, her vast font of knowledge. Her warmth and light had a way of drawing people into her sphere; no one could remain a stranger for long.
Clarice Eichelberger was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the spring of 1945, the first of Clarence and Clara Eichelberger's five children. The family lived across the street from St. Anthony's Catholic Church, which was where she and her siblings - along with many of the neighborhood kids - attended school. The tight-knit community fostered a spirit of extended family, and Clarice continued to cherish many of those friendships over the years.
It was at St. Anthony's that Clarice felt the first stirrings of a calling that would lead her through many adventures in life. At the age of 14, she moved to Chatawa, Mississippi to continue her high school education at St. Mary of the Pines. Her deep love of the Lord guided her on her journey to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame and take her vows as Sister Mary Clarence. (No relation to the Sister Act movies, although she loved a good singalong.)
From Mississippi, she moved on in her ministries to Texas. While there, she obtained her Bachelor's degree at the University of Dallas, and ultimately became a teacher at St. Mary's School in Gainesville, Texas. Years later, she would still fondly remember her time there - and the feeling was mutual. In the late 90s, she was invited to return to the school in order to be honored for her dedicated work in establishing the school's annual parish fair. The fundraising event had raised over a million dollars for the school since her time there.
It was in the early 70s that Clarice felt her calling shift. Although still a devout Catholic, she requested and received dispensation from her vows from the Pope. This time, her courageous spirit led her north - to the (somewhat) foreign and (much) colder climes of New England. It was here that she met Mario Manabat and fell deeply into a love that would last even after their time together ended.
She lived in Connecticut until shortly after her daughter, Amy, was born. With the help of her siblings, she packed up and headed south, back to the home and community she'd known when she was growing up. Once settled in Baton Rouge again, she began to work for the State of Louisiana. It was here that she found the third most important calling in her life: advocacy.
Clarice possessed a gentle but stalwart soul. She firmly believed in her work with the Disability Information Access Line, Families Helping Families, and the Developmental Disabilities Council. Even after retiring from the State, she continued to do work with The ARC of Louisiana, People First of Louisiana, and the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network (LATAN).
Her fierce desire to see equality for all led her to places all across the United States. A teacher at her core, she eventually brought her daughter along to these conferences, because she understood the importance of widening one's own perspective and horizons. She never hesitated to take Amy out of school in order to accompany her to places like Washington, D.C.; Portland, OR; Santa Fe, NM; San Diego and Los Angeles, CA; and one of their favorite places to visit together - New York City. She always felt that just because it wasn't in a classroom, that didn't mean it wasn't a learning experience.
God, family, and the fight for human dignity. These were the three great passions of my mother's life.
Of course, she also loved good southern cooking, LSU football, Mardi Gras, Community Coffee, Shiner Bock Beer with hot boiled crawfish, watching the Animal Planet channel, also watching all of the Life Below Zero series, playing board games, doing all varieties of puzzles, bawdy jokes, reminiscing with her friends from the old neighborhood, and Barry White.
She never met a creative outlet that she wouldn't try. She loved to paint, draw, and color. She played the piano and enjoyed singing (even if it was sometimes off-key). She loved to dream up all the stories she would turn into books someday. She loved to make jewelry - earrings, necklaces, bracelets, even rosaries - and had begun an Etsy shop with me near the end of 2022.
Clarice passed away on Saturday, February 18, 2023 surrounded by her loved ones. We, her family, would like to extend a sincere 'Thank You' to the nurses and staff at St. Joseph's Hospice.
As my mother taught me in my childhood, so she reminded me in some of her last words: "Always choose kindness, even when others aren't kind to you. Because kindness can change people."
She is survived by her daughter Amy Manabat; her sister Louise Strong; her brother-in-law Benard Strong; her former sister-in-law Lena Lastrapes; her nephews Gene Eichelberger, John Nicholas Lyon, and Joseph Lyon, and her nieces Jana Eichelberger Latoilais and Jodi Perez. She is preceded in death by her father Clarence Eichelberger, her mother Clara Eichelberger, an infant sister whom she and Louise nicknamed "C.C.", her sister Carol Ann Lyon, her brother Louis Eichelberger, her fiancé Bob Swan, and her brother-in-law John Lyon.
Her funeral will take place on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Visitation will begin at 9:30am. Her Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:00am. A reception will follow at noon.
She will be inurned at Roselawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum during a private ceremony at a later date and time.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to The ARC of Louisiana or Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge.