Leaving a Legacy of Community Service: Rest in Peace, Karla Harris


Update: A visitation has been set for 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10, at Salvatore’s/Papa Luigi’s II, 1919 12th Ave. in South Milwaukee. Details here

South Milwaukee has lost a community treasure.

KarlaKarla Harris — one of the most dedicated community servants and volunteers I have ever met — has died after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 62 years old.

I have never seen someone so focused on helping others. Karla was tireless in her work to make her community, and world, a better place. She did so …

As a director for Lions International, building on more than two decades as a South Milwaukee Lion. As president of the South Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission. As executive director of the South Milwaukee Community Center. As volunteer coordinator for the American Red Cross and Women’s Center. As a member of the boards of the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, Wisconsin Make-a-Wish, the UW-Milwaukee School of Education, AFS International, and others. She even helped produce a rap video.

The White House took notice.

And this Champion of Change did all of this in addition to her professional career. Yes, Karla was a truly amazing woman, one who leaves an indelible mark and legacy on this city, and me.

She was, and is, an inspiration, and she will be missed deeply.

Rest in peace, Karla. The Heaven Lions Club is lucky to have you.

Do you have a memory of Karla? Please share it in the comments section of this post.

I will also keep you posted as to service details. Molthen-Bell & Son Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

For now, I share this from the web page established as Karla sought the coveted Lions International director post, which she won (of course) …

My dad was a Lion and I wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way. I know of no other organization that can provide the impact that Lions Clubs International does. There are so many needs in our communities, in our country, in our world. As one person, I can serve and make a difference in my community. As a Lion, I join a family of people dedicated to serving.

I will never forget the moment I handed the little white cooler of corneal transplant tissue over to the surgical clerk. “Thank you,” she said, “someone will see tonight.”   Being a Lion has been the most rewarding volunteering experience I’ve ever had.  I will never forget the tears rolling down the face of the 80-year-old man in Mexico when he found that after 15 years, he could finally read again through the recycled glasses I had just placed on his face. Just like I will never forget the man who told me, “You have not just provided me a Leader Dog, you have given me back my job, my freedom, my life.” 

I will never forget why I am a Lion. I am Lion for life.

A life much too short.


Filed under South Milwaukee

21 responses to “Leaving a Legacy of Community Service: Rest in Peace, Karla Harris

  1. Mike Wileman

    Karla was a very special person our thoughts and prayers are with her family

  2. Larry Rowe

    Karla was the best! We are in shock with her passing. Keeping a good thought for her and her family.

  3. Karla – an amazing woman. Her reach was well beyond Wisconsin. She will forever have a special place in my heart. Rest in Peace sweet lady. Sending prayers for strength to Clarence and family. May our memories of Karla fill all of our hearts with peace and strength.

  4. steve

    God bless Karla

  5. Sandra Sullivan

    I am so sorry. Our memories of a Christian, giving woman will give us solace.

  6. Jeannie Schultz

    I met Karla at Carroll College (now University) when she joined the Alpha Xi Delta sorority that I was in. She left Carroll and we lost touch. We reconnected when I became active in AFS International in Cudahy and the Milwaukee area. I’m so sorry to read of her passing. She is one lady that will be missed in many circles. My sympathy and prayers go out to her whole family.

  7. Rick Justus

    Karla was always an inspiration. Her foresight was 20/20. Her tenacity in the face of adversity was graceful and ferocious. Such a strong and beautiful soul. I feel blessed to have known her. I’m sure she’s on to another cause. God Bless.

  8. Nancy Finch

    Karla has been an inspiration to me as a fellow Lion. She is leaving behind very large shoes to fill and moving forward to happier days in peace. Even in her last few weeks of life, she was participating in a study to help with childhood cancer. Karla’s legacy will live on for ever. I will miss her dearly. Nancy Finch, Oak Creek Lion

  9. Janna Webskowski

    So sorry for your loss. My deepest condolences to Clarence and the family. God Bless.

  10. Sandra Liederbach

    Clarence, so sorry for the loss of this great lady with a great legacy. Thinking of you and your families.

  11. Dawn and Jamie Christensen

    So very sorry. Our heartfelt condolences to Clarence and the Family. We will miss her so very much. Our prayers are with you today and always. May God Bless and keep you. Always.

  12. Elizabeth Allgood

    Yesterday afternoon I read the news that Lion Karla Harris lost her battle with Brain Cancer.

    I first met Lion Karla during her International Director career in March of 2015. She presented me with the 4th Highest Award in Lions because I stepped up and took on Secretarial duties when our “mama lion”, Secretary Dr. Roxanne Burns, passed away, ironically due to Brain Cancer.

    We hunted her down at International lions events after that and she met our son when he was only weeks old.

    She was inspirational to me last year in Omaha, although she may have never known it. Robbie & I went into Lion Clarences’ session and he got fussy, as any 7 month old would do. I was going to get up and leave so to not disturb Clarence and she was in the back and was the first to say “no, you can stay. We need younger lions and in order to keep them, we are going to have to be accepting of little ones too”. I’ll never forget that. We need more people like her in Lions….she was also inspirational in all that she accomplished in her life.

    She & Clarence loved Robbie from the beginning and even though they have thousands of “friends” on Facebook, she took time to check up on him and watch him grow.

  13. Brenda Johnston

    I worked very closely with Karla as we got the SMPAC started. She was our founding VP of the board. She was so welcoming to me and my boyfriend as we were new to South Milwaukee. She gave countless hours to help make events at SMPAC successful. She was a tremendous source of support, wisdom, and friendship. When I had to work on my birthday, she showed up with a cake and threw me a little party in between prep for the evening’s event. She helped me connect in a new community, helped me become the leader I am today, was always kind, understanding, and humorous, and I’m forever grateful. My heart goes out to her family and the community.

  14. Ante Udovicic

    My goodness was Karla a fantastic person to work with and know. She left an indelible mark on everything she touched. She will be terribly missed. My deepest sympathies go out to her husband and her two fantastic kids Casey and Claren. May they always cherish her in their memories. She will undoubtedly continue to be a source of inspiration for them and those of us fortunate enough to know her.

  15. Julie

    So inspiring, thank you, your footprints 👣 will inspire and a trail for the young girls to follow.
    A life well lived ❤️

  16. Bill Marten

    Only knew Karla from afar, as the big sister to my great friend Kurt. But from my exposure of her good works and great personality/big sisterness – obviously just a great person and a life cut too short. But sometimes God decides to take away truly good people too soon for us, to join him where hopefully someday we’ll all be reunited. Very sad for all of us left behind – thoughts and prayers to her family and loved ones.

  17. craig maass

    Karla was a natural born leader, of the utmost degree. In my lifetime I can’t think of anyone who would rank any higher in humaneness or benevolence than she. Compassion, kindness, understanding and tolerance are just a few of the words that come to mind. In a way, Karla turned her service to her fellow man, into a fascinating work of art…….

  18. Nels Monson

    I have known Karla for many years, and have always respected her kind nature and gentle spirit. SM has lost a truly special person who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers to all her family.

  19. So many of us Lions here in Oregon are feeling a great loss. I want to thank Clarence and Karla when they visited our state Lions convention and taught us the “I’m alive….. and I feel great!” cheer. Three years later and we’re still doing the cheer at cabinet meetings and conventions. Lion Karla helped do many people and her memory will live on forever. -District Governor Bert Diamond-

  20. Barbara Daniel

    I met Lion Karla Harris last year in San Diego and she was a very very nice lion.Encouraged me to go forward in being a Lion Always positive thoughts

  21. Casey Harris

    I am posting this on behalf of my dad Lion Clarence Harris

    Mayor Eric, thank you so much for your kind words. Karla was an amazing woman who touched so many people and truly continues to make a difference around the world from her work on service projects, training, and the many Lion leaders she has mentored.

    I am writing today to thank you Mayor for your service and to encourage the wonderful residents of South Milwaukee to vote YES on the public safety referendum. Our outstanding EMTs saved my wife’s life twice this year. Since April, Karla has gone on to complete several service projects and even started a new one.

    Please support the public safety referendum tomorrow. You never know when you will need their services and you will want the same rapid response we received.

    Our family thanks and supports our fantastic first responders who gave us an additional six months with Karla.

    How much would that be worth for you to have that additional time with the love of your life or your children, or grandchildren?

    The answer is just pennies a day. Please vote yes tomorrow.

    Yours in service, Lion Clarence

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