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Faribault Native Exemplifies
“Never Too Old” Maxim

Feb. 5, 2009

Think you’re too old to change direction or take on a major project? Then look at Faribault native and Northfield High School graduate Jean Illsley Clarke, who was celebrating her 50th birthday when she decided to write a book—and who is today, at age 84, showing parent educators and counselors how to use the most detailed parenting curriculum most have ever seen.

Clarke, who has lived in the Minneapolis area most of the time since leaving her parents’ Forest Township dairy farm for the University of Minnesota, is the author of the just published “How Much Is Enough Leader’s Guide,” which in 365 pages and dozens of hand-outs and posters provides step-by-step guidance on understanding—and avoiding—overindulgence.

This guide draws on the research that she, Washington state therapist Connie Dawson and Concordia University professor David Bredehoft did for the book. “How Much Is Enough? Everything You Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible, and Respectful Children—From Toddlers to Teens” (Da Capo [then Marlowe & Co.], 2004). It also clarifies that there’s far more to “overindulgence” than spoiling.

Clarke, who started her overindulgence research at age 71, comes by her commitment to work regardless of age naturally: her mother, Lois Bean Illsley, wrote for Faribault and Northfield newspapers until her late 70s. Her father, Harry Illsley, followed many paths concurrently throughout life: besides running the daily farm, he was a Land o’Lakes board member, a troubleshooter for farmer co-ops throughout southern Minnesota, a University of Minnesota-designated Master Farmer, active in the Farm Bureau—and a dedicated Republican.

A graduate of Fox Lake District #19’s one-room schoolhouse, Clarke started her career in 1948 as a home economics teacher in Spokane, Wash., at North Central High School. Her passion for adult education led her to add evening sewing classes to her schedule by 1950, when she returned to Minnesota to teach at St. Paul’s Monroe High School. The “how-to’s” went on television in 1957, when Clarke created the half-hour “Tea at Three,” for a 12-week stint on Minnesota’s new public television station. The program, then the nation’s only one on homemaking, was so popular that Clarke continued with it into 1960. But “Tea at Three” didn’t cover any facet of child development and guidance, and Clarke’s path to that career would be circuitous.

After a decade of intense child-rearing as a stay-at-home mother of three, she had a new focus: racism. Throughout the 1970s Clarke was designing and conducting workshops on racism, sexism, affirmative action, human relations and values clarification for church and synagogue congregations, school districts, YMCA and YWCA branches, human rights commissions and American Red Cross chapters. She also taught courses at colleges, both local and in other states.

It was Clarke’s own children that led her to a yet another career, parent education.

“My husband Dick and I were trying to figure out how to become more effective parents,” she recalls, and while reading Thomas A. Harris’s “I’m OK, You’re OK,” “we realized that many of the Transactional Analysis concepts could help us understand our children better.”

Her immersion in TA, and her conviction that it would help others become more effective parents resulted in a new commitment. On her 50th birthday Clarke decided to translate TA’s therapeutic theories into a child guidance book. Three years later “Self-Esteem: A Family Affair” was published. In print continuously since 1978, “Self-Esteem” was followed by newsletters, contributions to trade and professional books, journal articles, and more books. The most recent is “How Much Is Enough?”. As the trio of authors explain in the book’s introduction, overindulgence is giving children “too much of what looks good, too soon, and for too long.”

They emphasize, “Overindulgence is a form of child neglect. It hinders children from performing their needed developmental tasks, and from learning necessary life lessons.” Because they often lack the concrete skills necessary to manage health, home, and finances, those who are overindulged as children may grow up to struggle with weight problems, poor health, guilt, low self-esteem and loneliness. They may lack workplace and career skills. They also often feel unlovable and need constant outside affirmation.

Today Clarke continues to write and speak at home and abroad on the dangers of overindulgence. “How Much Is Enough?,” the book, has been translated into nine different languages and is being used in cultures as disparate as China and Saudi Arabia.

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For more information:

Jean Illsley Clarke,, (763) 473-1840

Parenting Press,, (800) 992-6657, Ext. 105 (Jean Clarke head shot available here)


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Last updated February 10, 2009