If you were lucky enough to have known Heide Clausnitzer, you know how fierce and dedicated she was when it came to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable among us, especially children.
Heide died on Feb. 8, 2019, at the age of 82.
Born in Germany, Heide lived through the horrors of World War II. She moved to the Brighton area in 1956, and as with everything she did, Heide threw herself into life in Livingston County.
She and her husband, Jack Clausnitzer, who died in June 2018, owned Brighton NC Machine Corp. with Shirley Barton. Heide received the “Woman of the Year” award from the Brighton Jaycees in 1965. (Years later, Heide was also recognized by the 2010 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association with a distinguished Breaking the Silence Award, and her name was added to the Brighton Area Women’s History Roll of Honor in 2014.)
Heidi helped establish the Human Relations Council to support open housing and discourage discrimination in the Brighton Area. A member of the National Organization of Women, she worked for women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. She also put her passion for working with children to good use in the community.
At First Presbyterian Church in Brighton, Heide taught Sunday school and Bible school; she volunteered in the church’s youth fellowship program, directed the youth choir, and counseled kids at the church’s drop-in center.
Heide also led a Girl Scout troop for many years, and tutored children at Miller School in Brighton. She became a paraprofessional, working with severely mentally impaired children at the Livingston Intermediate School District.
So it seems that Heide’s long association with LACASA — which provides help, shelter and hope for victims of abuse in Livingston — was meant to be.
While I’ve served on the LACASA board of directors for many years, since my days as editor at The Livingston County Press, there are those who began long before me, who built the organization from the ground up, back when there was little understanding — let alone acknowledgement — of the effect of violence on families, especially on children.
But Heide knew.
Described as a “visionary” who was “dedicated to the cause, especially regarding children,” Heide became LACASA’s very first children’s coordinator.
“The outstanding work being done by LACASA today on behalf of children is because of the foresight and dedication of Heide in the early years,” said retired Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse, who served with Heide on the LACASA board of directors. “We have been blessed to have had Heide in our lives.”
Bonnie Miller, one of LACASA’s founders, and chairperson of its board of directors for many years, agrees.
“Heide was special, with a huge heart,” Miller said, “especially for children living with violence.”
“Heide was one of the strongest building blocks of LACASA over the years,” said Bobette Schrandt, LACASA’s president and CEO. “The generosity of the Clausnitzer family has left a lasting legacy for which we can all be thankful. LACASA has lost a very dear friend.”
Back when LACASA first began, there wasn’t even a physical shelter. Volunteers housed victims in their own homes. After the organization rented a house in which to shelter women fleeing domestic violence, Heide — who was good friends with Joyce Ewing, LACASA’s executive director at the time — donated several items to help make things more comfortable.
As women arrived for shelter, they brought their children with them, and the need for someone to work with the youngest victims of domestic violence quickly became apparent.
Ewing, knowing Heide’s talents and passions, recruited her, and Heide started developing LACASA’s children’s program, initially as a volunteer because there was no budget to pay her at that time.
Heide stayed on as a staffer through the time that LACASA purchased a home in Howell to use as a shelter, and then she joined the board.
“Back in the ‘80s, we had to fight for every dollar of support and every acknowledgement of respect for LACASA,” Miller said. “The generosity and work of Heide and the Clausnitzer family was a guiding light through those early years.”
I met Heide a decade later, when I joined the LACASA board, and I will forever be grateful for the warm welcome she provided me. I liked to sit near her during meetings if I could because, in addition to everything else, Heide was a whole lot of fun.
That was her way.
“She was caring, funny, and a devoted friend,” Morse said.
“We are blessed to have known Heide,” said the Rev. Dr. David W. Swink, pastor emeritus of Chilson Hills Church who served on LACASA’s board of directors. “There were many people who were touched by her generous and loving spirit.”
Like so many others, I am fortunate to count myself among them.
You can read Heide Clausnitzer’s obituary by clicking here.