When Kerri Francis McCluskey had her first stroke in May 2016, she told her mother Kathy Francis that she was a “survivor.”
“She said, ‘Mom, I’m going to get through this. I survived a plane crash, I survived this horrible stroke.’ She held on as long with a stroke as anybody would have done. Maybe she wanted to live to see her 50th birthday,” Kathy Francis, 75, of Sonora said.
McCluskey, a Sonora Elementary School counselor and scion of a Tuolumne County family interwoven with education, died at 12:04 a.m. on Jan. 17 at Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson after suffering a stroke on Dec. 31.
She turned 50 on Jan. 14.
Her widower, Andrew McCluskey, 55, said she will be remembered as a tireless advocate for youth education and mentorship after working at Sonora Elementary School for over 12 years.
“Counseling is always something she intended to do,” he said. “It wasn’t a job for her, it was not just a paycheck, it was a calling for her. It was very important for her to meet people and help them through their problems,” he said.
At their family home in Sonora, Kerri McCluskey is remembered with rapturous admiration by her children and fourth-generation Sonora Elementary School students Kristin McCluskey, 21, Connor McCluskey, 18, Annika McCluskey, 14.
“She went above and beyond for the kids at the school,” Connor said.
Though Andrew is a self-described “black sheep” as a graduate of Curtis Creek Elementary School, Kristin described rare days when their entire family would be on campus either teaching or learning.
“She has definitely been a mother to the school there,” Kristin said.
Kerri McCluskey was an educator in a long line of Tuolumne County teachers and school administrators.
Her grandmother, Dotte Francis, retired as a principal-superintendent of Columbia Elementary and Soulsbyville Elementary. Her mother, Kathy, retired as teacher at Columbia Elementary and is serving her ninth term on the Sonora Elementary School Board of Trustees. Her uncle is
Rick Francis, former athletic director of Sonora High School and her father is Roger Francis, who retired as a vice principal of Sonora High School.
“She always accepted challenges,” Roger said.
Kathy Francis said Kerri McCluskey was willing to take on challenges because, at 3 years old, her life was molded by catastrophe.
On Sept. 24, 1972, the pilot of a Korean War-era F-86 Sabre jet fighter lost control of the plane while taking off during an air show at the Sacramento Executive Airport. The plane crashed into Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour, where Kerri and her twin sister, Kristi, were with family friends.
Twenty-three people died, including Kristi.
Kathy said Kerri was the first one to tell her parents that Kristi died in the crash.
“She had a deep and sincere empathy for people, because she experienced such profound loss with her twin sister,” Kathy said.
Kristin added that her mother evolved from that event by seeking to become more connected with her community.
“She didn’t define herself by loss. She grew because of them and with them,” Kristin said. “Throughout this whole experience and how hard it’s been, she reached so many people in personal ways. She connected with people and was sympathetic to them.”
But beyond her profession, Kerri had an immense capacity for recreation and penchant for everything Swedish.
She loved 1980s classic rock like Foreigner and U2, but had a special affection for the German metal band Scorpions, known for their 1983 hit “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
Connor recalled her excitement when she took him to see the Scorpions, his first concert, in 2015.
“She was thriving in that moment. She was able to give that love of music to her three kids,” he said.
At their family home, Kerri McCluskey’s fascination with Swedish-American culture is enshrined in the decoration. Lustrous Dala horses, spiralized kurbit folk art, and a 5-foot mora clock bedazzle the living room. The exterior is painted a traditional Swedish red, and the bricks on the front porch were harvested and repatriated from a fire at her parents’ home in 1997.
“This house is Kerri. She put the plans to it, she decorated it, she painted it. Everything you see here is her,” Andrew said.
Kerri went to Sonora Elementary and graduated from Sonora High and the University of California, Irvine. She earned her masters teaching credential in pupil personnel services at California State University, Sacramento. Andrew and Kerri met on a blind date to te Sierra Repertory Theatre in 1991. They were engaged six months later and married in 1993. They moved back to Sonora in 2006 from Elk Grove.
Kathy Francis said she will be buried next to her twin sister at Mountain Shadow Cemetery in Sonora. Plans for services have not yet been determined.