Karen Elizabeth Callahan

May 20, 2022

Karen was born on March 25, 1949 in Front Royal, VA as the first of three girls to Thelma and Hubert Stratton. She and her sisters, Kathye-Lynn and Kaye, attended Handley High School, an endowed public school that Architectural Digest named in 2017 the most beautiful public high school in Virginia. Her father, Hubert, opened his architectural firm in 1957 and designed many local schools, among other projects, in the modernist style. Karen was active in cheerleading, glee club, and Booster Club while at Handley. She graduated in 1967 and left home to study Early Childhood Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received a Masters in Education from University of Virginia in Education in 1972

After marrying Robert “Bob” Wesley Callahan, a graduate of Wake Forest University, in 1971, the couple moved to Chapel Hill, NC for Bob to continue his studies at in the Chemistry Ph.D. program at UNC-Chapel Hill. They lived in married student housing and Karen taught first grade in Orange County (NC) Public Schools. She spoke often of her first class of first graders in a rural NC school system, who she helped learned to read but also how to ‘do school,’ as many had never traveled outside their small hometowns and farms. She credits this experience for producing her exceptionally neat handwriting—which later filled an entire single-subject notebook found by her children in the days after her death; it listed the titles, arranged by alphabetical tab, of every book she had read from the early 2000s to the present day.

Karen and Bob moved to Charlotte after Bob’s post-doc at Ohio State University in 1976 so that he could teach at UNC-Charlotte. Karen’s first child, Erin Elizabeth Callahan, had been born in Front Royal, VA in 1977 during Bob’s short stint at the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office in Washington, DC. They settled in the College Downs neighborhood in Charlotte and in 1982, Karen’s second child, Robert “Chris” Christopher Callahan was born.

During the next three and a half decades, Karen’s work in the early childhood education community in Charlotte was far-reaching. She taught early childhood education at Central Piedmont Community College and consulted for Child Care Services Association and Open Door School, shaping a generation of childcare workers’ and teaching practices and teaching philosophies. Karen often commented that her students, mostly women who were working full time while attending school and raising their own families, were some of the hardest-working and most generous people she had ever met. For these students, she designed preschool science project workshops around sandboxes, homemade play-dough and abacuses. She meticulously graded many hundreds of lesson plans. She was passionate about hands-on learning, social justice and equity in early childhood education, developmentally appropriate practices, and the deep wisdom of young children.

Karen was a member of the Crosstalkers Sunday School Class at Providence United Methodist Church. She made a mean chicken casserole, egg salad, and pimento cheese, and her refrigerator was never without a pitcher of freshly-brewed sweet tea. She religiously watched Antiques Roadshow to build her knowledge base on the many items of antiques and furniture she collected. Her favorite décor items were birds and she had an impressive collection of vintage flower-arranging ‘frogs’ made of enamel and antique glass. She sewed many handmade smocked dresses and Halloween costumes for her children and numerous needlework and cross-stich projects as gifts. She loved folk music and her children remember her playing James Taylor, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel on her acoustic guitar. She was a ferocious ACC Basketball and UVA Cavaliers fan, who once “accidentally” spilled a fountain drink on the head of a UNC Tarheels fan in the stadium row in front of her.

Karen read the Charlotte Observer every morning with a cup of hot tea— in her later years using a magnifying glass— and clipped articles to mail to her children on topics from school integration to Murphy Beds. For the people she loved the most, her two ‘grandgirls,’ she clipped crossword puzzles and word searches, carefully mailed with a handwritten note. On her refrigerator, there hangs a clipping from the Charlotte Observer with a black-and-white photo of Osama bin Laden’s young grandchildren— a reminder, that even in the midst of atrocities, we can find humanity by focusing on our children.

Karen is survived by her children, Erin Callahan of Sylva, NC, and Robert Christopher “Chris” Callahan of Charlotte; her two dear ‘grandgirls,’ Eloisa Fern Callahan (daughter of Karina Vázquez Zazueta and Chris Callahan) and Sabine Stratton Callahan (daughter of Erin Callahan, William B. Gallagher III of Washington, DC and Jeff Faulkner of Durham, NC); two sisters, Kathye-Lynn Stratton and Kaye Conrad Stratton Bock, and mother Thelma Stratton Cameron, all of Winchester, VA.

Karen earned an M.Ed. at UVA in 1972 and was a child development expert who was active and well-known in the Charlotte child development community. She began by teaching first grade in Orange County, NC, in the 1970s and went on to teach at Central Piedmont Community College and advocate for young children in NC for four decades.

A memorial service will be held May 27, 2022 at 2:00pm in Providence United Methodist Church Chapel, 2810 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211.  The service can be viewed at https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/fkXIe-St9cmA8lbv8zNXM0iagQKLgK1HdCflVISQkKRucAUvtYgDapuqkY2fna4.gt9HdlrG8kYw0yTU

Memorials may be made to Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, 6300 Highland Ave., Charlotte, NC 28215

Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth W. Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Ave., Charlotte, NC; 28204 (704) 641-7606. Online condolences can be shared at www.kennethpoeservices.com.

Share your memories & condolences


  • Catherine Harrington

    Karen Callahan will always have a special place in my ❤. As a longtime educator, she had great influence on teachers in the Early Care and Educatiin field. My most fond memories of her was as a student enrolled in a school age program course. She had so much influence on the way she encouraged me to step outside of the ? and show all the creative energies I had as a student. At the end of the course, I was so blessed to have known Mrs. Callhan. What a wonderful experience that will resonate in my mind forever ❤. We have suffered a great loss in the physical realm but have gained many great memories spiritually. Love you Mrs. Callahan. You are my guardian angel ?. Catherine Harrington, A Lifetime Educator

  • Debbie Gibbs

    Erin and Chris, the Gibbs family is thinking about you today as you say your final goodbyes to Karen. She was a strong educator, fierce mom and so inclusive of your friends. RIP Katen. You will be missed but your light will continue to shine bright through your kids and all of those you touched.

  • Shari Blair Carriker

    So many memories! Karen was a marvelous teacher, truly one of the gifted. Her smile and humor lit up the room. I had the pleasure of working with Karen as a professional and as a parent of two terrific preschoolers at Open Door School. One of my fondest memories is her caring, loving devotion to our mentor, Sue Riley. She touched the lives of so many early childhood educators and her legacy is beyond measure. Love to Erin, Chris and family.

  • Deb Park

    Your mom and I worked together at CPCC and Erin was in school with our daughter Emily. I have many memories of Karen as a fellow mom at Irwin Elementary. One funny story I tell on Karen was once we were sharing resources in the parking lot at CPCC (we didn't have an office yet and were itinerate instructors!) and being new in town, I asked Karen how to get somewhere near South Park. I knew where all the social service centers were but had yet to venture to the "good" part of town. She looked at our 2 dilapidated station wagons and said, "Oh Honey, let's rent a Mercedes and drive over there!" Her humor was quick, but her compassion and ability to teach and inspire her students were inspiring. Due to Covid, I will not be able to attend the Memorial but know your Mom will live on in Erin, Chris, Sabine, and Eloisa. Deb Park

  • Maribel Rivera

    Mis más sentido pésame para toda la familia por siempre en mi corazón

  • Carolyn Maccubbin

    I have so many wonderful memories of Karen and our shared experiences: her infectious smile, growing up together in Winchester, sharing our love of the Outer Banks, being bridesmaids for each other, beginning our teaching careers in first grade and sharing early years of parenthood. Karen shared the journal she kept of books she read when we were together in November and gave me a copy of one of her favorites, A Gentleman in Moscow.
    Erin and Chris, hold tightly to the wonderful memories she created for you, Eloisa and Sabine. She was so very proud of all of you.
    I will be with you virtually on Friday and all of the Callahans and Strattons are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Connie Glass

    I knew and worked with Karen for many years and was always inspired by her knowledge, professionalism, warmth and humor. She was an exemplary teacher and role model. I had the privilege of being the teacher of her son, Chris, and learned that Karen was also a wise and very loving parent. Her loss leaves a huge empty place in my heart, but it also leaves gratitude for the remarkable person she was. Sending love to Chris and Erin for your loss.

  • Kathye Stratton

    I cannot believe that my sister is gone. She was such an amazing woman. I am staying in her home and marveling at all the things she created to make the perfect home and garden! I will miss her immensely! Thanks to all the amazing people in Charlotte at Kenneth Poe and Providence United Methodist Church for all their help in planning her memorial service. I hope you will be able to join us in person or by Zoom! Please leave a comment if you can. I know her children, Erin and Chris, would appreciate it!