Halloween at Eastcliff

Hosting the event is one of many ways Karen Kaler is involved at the University.

University President Eric Kaler and his wife Karen pose for a photo during their Halloween open house Monday evening at Eastcliff, the president's residence.

Anthony Kwan

University President Eric Kaler and his wife Karen pose for a photo during their Halloween open house Monday evening at Eastcliff, the president’s residence.

Greta Kaul

Karen Kaler stood in the entry of Eastcliff, the presidential mansion, dressed as Mary Todd Lincoln Monday night for a Halloween open house.

She welcomed costumed staff, faculty, student parents and their children into her home with a warm Tennessee drawl and a big smile.

Her husband, the 16th president of the University of Minnesota, stood beside her dressed as Abraham Lincoln âÄî the 16th president of the United States.

âÄúKaren told me we couldnâÄôt go see a play tonight,âÄù Eric Kaler joked.

The Kalers rented their costumes from the Guthrie Theater, where Karen Kaler chose a dress with a big hoop skirt and maroon and gold accents.

âÄúI said, âÄòThis is the oneâÄô and it fit me âÄî I was really excited! [But] I have to wear tall shoes because IâÄôm shorter than an actress,âÄù she laughed.

Events like the Halloween open house âÄî with about 235 in attendance âÄî arenâÄôt a big deal at Eastcliff, she said.

âÄúItâÄôs always ready. We can have an event, and I donâÄôt have very far to go home,âÄù Karen Kaler said, gesturing toward the staircase that leads to the KalersâÄô upstairs living quarters. âÄúI can have people over to my house, but I donâÄôt have to worry about putting away all my personal things because I donâÄôt have anything personal [downstairs].âÄù

But that doesnâÄôt stop her from pitching in.

 âÄúI have pink fingers from putting Jell-O jigglers on the tray,âÄù she said.

Also on the docket: hot apple cider and jack-o-lantern tangerines; scavenger hunts and photos with Goldy Gopher.

 

Family

Karen Fults was born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., save for a few years spent in Mobile, Ala.

Her father was a salesman and her mother stayed at home. The Fults family visited their grandparentsâÄô farms often.

She fondly remembers Halloweens when her two sons were children.

âÄúI didnâÄôt sew a lot, but IâÄôm crafty,âÄù she said in her fast Tennessee accent. When the KalersâÄô son Sam was little, he wanted to be a buffalo for Halloween. The next year he wanted to be an apple tree, and next, a totem pole.

âÄúYou donâÄôt just buy those costumes,âÄù she said, imitating her second grade son trying to fit through doors sideways in his costume.

Kaler earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications design from the University of Tennessee- Knoxville.

âÄúI pretty much thought I was going to do communication design and thatâÄôs what I still do,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôll be 55 in November and IâÄôm still doing what I thought IâÄôd do when I was a freshman in college.âÄù

The wife and husband met when Eric KalerâÄôs graduate work took him to Tennessee in the summer of 1979, where Karen Kaler studied art.

âÄúThe funny thing is, Eric has always liked country music and I have not,âÄù she said. âÄúHe would tell that old joke âÄî he likes both kinds of music: country and western.âÄù

 She worked in Eric KalerâÄôs dormitory building and accidentally charged him $30 more than what he owed for his board. She moved with him to Minnesota, where he wrapped up his graduate work at the University.

Kaler started her own business doing graphics design for childrenâÄôs social services. Recently, sheâÄôs worked with Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

One of her favorite projects has been a book of statistics about child development produced for the Annie E. Casey Foundation âÄî sheâÄôs worked on it every year for about 15 years.

âÄúItâÄôs been really rewarding because IâÄôm really making a difference in the lives of children,âÄù she said. âÄúMy real focus is presenting the information so people get it âÄîmaking it easy to understand.âÄù

 

U ambassador

Moving from New York to Minnesota over the summer hasnâÄôt left her with a lot of time for graphics âÄî or reading, another favorite hobby âÄî but it has kept her tied up in communications.

 âÄúI havenâÄôt really had a normal day,âÄù she said.

MondayâÄôs agenda included a chili cook-off, party preparations for the open house and playing hostess to guests at Eastcliff.

She thinks of herself as an ambassador for the University.

âÄúEric says heâÄôs going to be the UâÄôs No. 1 cheerleader, but I feel like, really, IâÄôm the cheerleader,âÄù she said. âÄúI just love finding out about the wonderful work going on and telling people about it.âÄù

Her face lights up when she talks about visiting different departments and campuses in the University system.

Last week, the Kalers made their first visit to the UniversityâÄôs Duluth campus, where researchers are working on a solution that would put human bodies into a state of hibernation. They were testing on a gopher.

âÄúShe was adorable. Eric asked if he could hold her and I said âÄòShe probably bites,âÄôâÄù *********Kaler said.

But one of her favorite things is having opportunity to interact with students.

 She hand-picked most of the art hanging throughout their house from the Weisman Art Museum. But above the fireplace are prints from three first-year photography students: Of the Mississippi River, a tunnel, and a student walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge in the rain.

âÄúThere are some students that I see over and over, and to be able to see students as they grow and change is such a privilege,âÄù she said.

 

Kalers at Eastcliff

The KalersâÄô home is a 20-room mansion on Mississippi River Boulevard. The house was built in the 1920s by Minneapolis lumberman Edward Brooks, and donated to the University in 1958.

 âÄúIâÄôve never been here before âÄì itâÄôs a nice family thing to do,âÄù said Ann Meier, an associate professor in the sociology department. Dressed as a Metro Transit driver, Meier brought her 3-year-old daughter Kiri to the open house. Kiri was dressed as a princess.

Living at Eastcliff has been an adjustment for the Kalers: there are burglar alarms that need to be set at night, and the ground floor isnâÄôt for living but for University events.

 âÄúThere are people here a lot, which is hard on the dogs,âÄù she said. The Kalers have two Spanish water dogs, Mo and Lida. âÄúTheyâÄôre more bashful.âÄù

The Kalers posed for pictures with families as they left to go trick-or-treating.

âÄúWe love seeing the kids,âÄù Eric Kaler said. âÄúItâÄôs a good thing for the community.âÄù