Geraldine (Bicknell) St. Clair, better known as Gerre, was born in Deer Lodge, Tennessee on Christmas Day, 1932, the youngest of 16 siblings. She passed away peacefully on February 21, 2023 surrounded by family. Gerre lost her husband of 66 years on October 13, 2022, then fell and broke her leg 2 days before his memorial service and was not able to walk again. She never fully recovered from this double trauma, and her only wish these last 4 months was to go to sleep and be with her beloved Glenn.
Gerre spent the first 9 years of her life on the farm her parents, Mary and James Bicknell, owned. Because there were so many children, many of her older siblings had already married and moved out of the farmhouse during her early years.
At age 9, because of troubles at home and a parental divorce, Gerre moved up to Hagerstown, Indiana to live with Leonard, her 19 year old brother and his new bride. Most newly-weds aren’t eager to take on the responsibility of a 9-year-old younger sister, but Leonard and Thelma were not the normal or typical couple. They took Gerre in and gave her a loving home through high school.
After high school Gerre attended Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) where she earned a 2-year secretarial diploma. While walking on the sidewalk one day at EMC, she encountered a fellow student, Glenn St. Clair, from Wisconsin, and later told one of her girlfriends that she was going to marry that guy! An obstacle to achieving this goal was Glenn’s quiet and nonaggressive nature, which Gerre overcame by sheer force of her extrovert and engaging personality. She persevered and eventually won her man! Glenn and Gerre married on February 12,1956.
Glenn and Gerre lived in Angola, Indiana for several years while Glenn finished his mechanical engineering degree at Tri-State University. After Glenn graduated, he took a job at Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana where he and Gerre would live for 28 years.
During the Columbus years, Glenn and Gerre’s family grew to include 5 children – Sarai, Carrie, Amy, Jeff, and Mary. Gerre was a full-time, stay-at-home mom while the kids were young. She worked long hard hours to keep the 5 kids fed, clean, dressed, educated, and loved. In those days keeping the kids dressed meant sewing many of their clothes, and Gerre was often up at 4 am sewing a new dress or pants for one or another of her kids while they still slept, and before the chaos of the day made that work impossible. Gerre also kept her kids busy with piano lessons, swimming lessons, yard work, and hoeing, planting and harvesting their large vegetable garden. She taught the kids how to preserve and can food. This habit of keeping the pantry shelves well-stocked with food she herself processed stuck with her throughout her life, and eventually included annual “applesauce-making parties” with the kids and grandkids. These parties didn’t just produce 5 or 10 quarts but would routinely crank out 300-400 quarts of applesauce which was then shared with the extended family. To this day a favorite St. Clair meal is toast with peanut butter and homemade applesauce.
Gerre was heavily involved in the Columbus Seventh-day Adventist church where she served in Childrens’ Sabbath school classes, volunteered at the small church school, was co-pathfinder leader with Glenn, and coordinated church potlucks and parties. As soon as her youngest child, Mary, started first grade, Gerre started working on a college degree in education. She persevered, taking 1 class a semester for many years, finally graduating with a degree in education in 1983, the same year her first-born Sarai also graduated from college.
Glenn’s early retirement from Cummins released Gerre’s family to pursue other adventures, first taking them to southern California for 2 years, and then to Berrien Springs, Michigan in 1985. Four years later, in 1989, Glenn and Gerre accepted a call to Masanga Leprosy Hospital in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where Glenn was hospital administrator and Gerre was his secretary, receptionist, and spokesperson. Other unpaid duties included hosting visiting church dignitaries and foreign medical specialists who came to Masanga to volunteer short-term specialized care. It was in West Africa that Gerre got a new name. This time the name changed to “Lala” – given to her by her first grandchild, Kelsey, who could not yet pronounce “grandma”. And so it was. From then on, for the next 35 years, Gerre was always affectionately called “Lala” by her family.
While in Sierra Leone Gerre and Glenn experienced and survived both exciting adventures and terrifying ordeals. These included hosting important chiefs and the president of the country, an all-night stand-off and gun-battle with armed robbers, and finally, when the country descended into civil war, a harrowing escape from invading rebel soldiers and eventual helicopter rescue by US Marines who ferried them out of the country with only the clothes on their backs.
Not able to remain in war-torn Sierra Leone, Gerre and Glenn next accepted work in Nepal where they lived for the next 7 years. Glenn was country director for ADRA, (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), and Gerre again served as secretary and office manager. While in Nepal, they had opportunity to travel to India, Tibet, and other neighboring countries, experiencing those cultures.
In 2001, when Gerre was 69, she and Glenn returned to America and their home in Berrien Springs. Not one to be idle, Gerre quickly got involved in her church and community again. In the last 20 years of her life Gerre worked as a substitute teacher in local elementary schools (until age 80), volunteered in children’s Sabbath school classes until she could not longer get herself up off the floor, volunteered at WAUS and as usher at the Howard Performing Arts Center, served as an officer with Adventist Retirees Club, served on the Pioneer Memorial Church fellowship dinner team and organized the PMC’s Christmas breakfast, volunteered at Neighbor-to-Neighbor thrift store, participated in the water aerobics class in Johnson pool, took long daily walks with Glenn, and still made time to frequently invite numerous people to her home for meals.
Gerre had the spiritual gift of hospitality and was always intentional about including the lonely and reaching out to people at the margins.
She will be greatly missed by all.
A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University, Berrien Springs. Messages and memories may be shared online at www.allredfuneralhome.com.