In Cortland, New York on December 5, 1941 she was called by God to be born into this world as Margery Lucille Coon, daughter of Harold and Nellie Coon. Harold and Nellie were from Scott, New York, but had moved to Auburn, where Harold worked for the H. R. Wait Furniture Company and Nellie owned and operated a beauty shop. The second of four children, Margie, as she was fondly called by her family, grew up with her older brother, Carlton, and her younger brother, Gary, until she was nine years old, when she was given the gift of a younger sister, Audrey.
For most of her childhood years their family spent two weeks each summer camping in tents in Scott, NY on land Harold had helped develop in the National Forest Preserve when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression years of the early 1930’s. This gave Marge an appreciation of and sense of wonder about nature and the out-of doors.
She attended West High School, where she provided leadership in school government, many organizations, and activities including speech club, chorus, gymnastics and cheerleading. Among other achievements, she won First Place in several local and regional Speech Contests. She also was active in intramural sports, and as an adult often said how sad she was that when she was in school women did not compete interscholastically in sports. With a reputation as the most popular girl in the school, she was overwhelmingly chosen by the students to be their Homecoming Queen her senior year.
She attended Auburn Community College, where she earned her Associates Degree in 1961. She then enrolled in SUNY Oswego, where she resided in a dormitory for one year before marrying Roger Emig in June, 1962. Her brother, Gary, recalls that over the next twelve years Marge and her family moved thirteen times. They lived on South Street in Auburn, as Margie commuted to Oswego and student taught in Auburn to complete her Bachelors Degree. Upon her graduation they moved to the Southern Tier, where Marge taught elementary school in Elmira, and where their daughter, Karen, was born in Binghamton in 1965. After a brief residency in the city of Oswego while Karen was still an infant, Roger was transferred by the W. T. Grant Company to Willowick, Ohio (near Cleveland), where he was a store manager. He later was recruited by the Hallmark Card Company, for whom he was a regional sales representative first in Cleveland, where their son Douglas was born in 1968, and later in Cincinnati. It was in Cincinnati that Marge, active in her local Presbyterian Church, became connected with the programs of the Ecumenical Institute.
In 1971, her husband became ill with cancer of the spleen, and died in October of that year, leaving Marge a young widow with two small children. One year later her four-year-old son, Dougie, was run over and killed on his way to nursery school by a truck that ran a red light. Margie refused to sue the driver or his company, even though the driver spent months in jail for negligent homicide. The grief over these deaths helped shape the depth and compassion people always experienced when they were in her presence.
Following this second tragedy, Marge and Karen moved back to Auburn, NY, and lived for a brief time with her parents. They then moved to Rochester, NY where Marge enrolled in a Masters Degree program at the University of Rochester. She received her Masters in Learning Disabilities in 1975, and that summer married John Kloepfer, who had one more year of seminary at Colgate Rochester Divinity School. The next year they lived in Penfield, a suburb of Rochester, where Marge worked in the Middle School as a Learning Disabilities specialist.
Upon graduation from seminary John received a call as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Bovina Center, New York, where they lived for eight years. During this time their daughters, Kristen and Kendra, were born and Marge worked as the Director of Christian Education in a large church in Delhi, New York. It was here in the Catskill Mountains that Marge took up snow skiing, which the family did often, as well as tennis and biking, which she and her family enjoyed together for many years. They also bought their first camper while living in Bovina, and enjoyed spending time in it each summer.
In 1984 they moved to Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, where John began a Ph.D. program at Duquesne University and Marge began teaching in the local preschool where Kendra was a student. She loved this job more than any she ever had before or since, but left it after two years, in 1986, when she contracted breast cancer. Marge eventually returned to the work force, this time accepting a position she was offered with Action Housing, a community service agency in Pittsburgh. She was asked to use her expertise in education to design curricula and train teachers for programs in the area of energy education.
In Pitcairn, an old railroad town, the houses were right on the street and very close together with almost no yards at all. They therefore kept their camper at a campground in the country about 20 miles away, and spent most weekends and much of the summer enjoying the outdoors life with their family – not quite as rustic as her childhood experiences of tent camping, but still allowing her to be in nature.
In 1989 she and three others she worked with founded Kinetics, a consultation and training firm that worked with utility companies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York designing energy education programs for low income families and training people to run them. A pioneer in this new field, Marge helped to establish and run numerous workshops for what soon became (and still is) the largest annual conference in energy education, known as Affordable Comfort.
During these early years of consulting, Marge developed strong ties of spiritual friendship with several of the women she worked with from all over the country. They soon became known as the Energy Sisters, and once or twice each year would gather for a spiritual retreat they each helped to design and run. For the rest of her life, this group of crazy, unique and creative women were a source of inspiration, strength and comfort to Marge.
As much as she believed in and loved what she did, Marge did not enjoy the travel and time away from family that consulting entailed. Therefore, in 1992 she accepted an offer by Niagara Mohawk Power Company in Syracuse, NY, who had been trying for several years to persuade her to come and work for them. As she took this new position, she commented that the only time in her life she ever had to apply for a job was her very first teaching position out of college. Every other position she held she was recruited for and offered. This was never surprising to those who knew her closely.
She and John had a home built in Onondaga Hill, where the family still resides. In 1993, soon after moving into what they believed was a house larger than they could ever possibly need, Marge’s daughter, Kristen, gave birth to Nathan, giving Marge her first grandchild. And less than two years later, in 1994, her oldest daughter, Karen, gave birth to Bryan. Both daughters and their sons, in addition to Kendra, who was in Jr. High School, were then living in the house, making Marge’s life both full and very happy.
While her job responsibilities kept changing, the programs in energy education she designed throughout her initial years in Syracuse are still being offered throughout Upstate New York. Indeed, they have been replicated and adapted by utility companies all over the United States.
In 1996 John became pastor of Columbian Presbyterian Church in LaFayette, NY, and Marge became active once again teaching preschool age children, this time in the Sunday School program. She was loved by all the children, and was affectionately known as “Miss Marge.” Of all the many things Marge loved and enjoyed, the thing that brought her the most satisfaction was being with and teaching young children. It was during this time in Syracuse that Marge and her husband switched from road biking to mountain biking as their main form of exercise, as there are many wonderful and challenging biking trails in the undeveloped areas near their home.
From the mid-80’s on, both Marge and John were experiencing an expanding interest in spirituality, eventually finding Kikis Christophides, a spiritual director on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Since 1999 they have both loved to visit and study under him at least once each year.
In 2001 Marge had a recurrence of breast cancer. In September of 2004 she and John spent three weeks in a small village in central Brazil visiting a spiritual hospital. This experience strengthened Marge both spiritually and physically, and she was convinced that it was one reason she was able to survive her cancer for so long. In spite of her constant struggle with cancer from that time on, these were some of the most enjoyable years of her life. She had said for a long time that after she retired she would take up golf, because she just knew she would enjoy it.
It was also during these last years that Marge derived immense pleasure from her family. In 2003, her oldest daughter, Karen, gave birth to Eva, a third grandchild, and Marge acted as midwife, as she had earlier with Bryan. That summer Karen, Bryan and Eva moved in with their parents, and one of the things Marge looked forward to every morning was little Eva coming into bed with her before anyone else in the house was up.
She was also able to see two of her daughters get married, Kristen in 2004 to Rick Lape and Kendra in 2005 to Brian Knebel. Helping with the planning and being part of these weddings gave her great pleasure, and just this past January Kristen and Rick gave birth to her fourth grandchild, Carter. One of her greatest delights these past seven months was taking care of both Eva and Carter at home two days each week. She was able to do this right up into July of this year.
Marge insisted on keeping busy and involved in many aspects of life. In 2004, for example, she accepted nomination to the Session of her Church, and became Chair of the Property Committee, where she felt she could make use of her years of project management at Niagara Mohawk.
Marge was one of those rare souls who had a way of endearing herself to everyone who met her. She loved to host people in her home, where they were all made to feel like they were the most important person in the whole world. Many who knew her closely considered her to be their very best friend, perhaps partly because they derived spiritual strength whenever they were with her. She was a rare woman with an open mind, a generous heart, an inspiring presence, and an infectious smile. She will be missed terribly by those who knew her.
~~ Jean Watts
I have many happy memories of Marge, beginning during our year in the Rochester House (1974) when both Marge and John were active and gifted colleagues. Abe and I got to know them and rejoiced when they decided to marry. When they were in Bovina Center and we were back in Vestal, we had regular metro cadre meetings, and in rotation met in their home. Wonderful insights from Marge and John, and always it was so much fun to be with them.
One particular evening I remember we had two teams facilitating Town Meetings on the same night. I can’t remember who my partner was – I think we went to Watkins Glen, NY. Abe and Marge were the other team, and went to a small town across the border in Pennsylvania. Those were the 2-hour town meetings in small towns, often in church basements, with two facilitators if you were lucky. The facilitators took turns leading workshops, with the person not up front working on the document, which was usually run off on the purple ditto machine that we carried with us – or on a church mimeograph.
The four of us met after the town meetings, at Howard Johnson’s in Horseheads, NY (in between our two towns, just off the highway, and it stayed open all night). My partner and I had a pretty usual town meeting to report, probably around 20 people; the big news was that we had a few youth participating in addition to the adults. Marge and Abe, however, reported a big struggle at the start of their town meeting. “They were very suspicious of outsiders coming to town and prying into what their town problems were. They wanted to know why we were there, and thought they shouldn’t tell us anything.” I could just see a group with faces set and arms folded defiantly.
Then Marge said, “So I could see that we needed a ‘win them over’ maneuver.” And brilliant facilitator that she was, she got them to talking about the great things in the past of that community, before tackling the challenges. Well, they melted, and the town meeting came off. This insight hit me like a thunderbolt. Probably others were discovering it as well in conservative small towns. Now it’s pretty standard to use at least a conversation about past great people/events (if not a full-fledged Wall of Wonder) at the beginning of much strategic planning. In this area and in every town meeting I ever helped with we began to start with a conversation about the positives of the community. I always remembered Marge’s term of “win them over.”
It was inspiring to hear about Marge’s work these past few years. I feel loss, wonder at a life so very well completed, and great sympathy for those who have spent time with her recently. What a hole she leaves. Bon voyage, bright spirit.
~~ Janice Ulangca
My brother’s wife, Marge Kloepfer, was one of those rare exemplars of what St. Francis of Assisi in the Prayer of St. Francis called an “instrument of peace.” Most of us pray to attain the attributes of love, pardon, faith, hope, light, joy and seek to console, understand, forgive, and give. Marge succeeded in her life to manifest them.