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Photo of Kari Dorothy Eells.

Kari Dorothy Eells August 16, 1945 – December 12, 2014

Kari Eells, a quiet accountant from Morris, New York who became the bedrock of one of the nation's preeminent disability rights organizations, passed away at sunset on December 12th after a short illness, surrounded by family and love. She was 69.

A resident of Oakland, Kari was Finance Manager at Berkeley's Center for Independent Living, Inc. (CIL). Since 1978, she helped steer the organization, behind the scenes, from its chaotic grassroots beginnings, through seasons of financial uncertainty, to its rise as a powerful organization modeling social change.

Though she was not a person with a disability, Kari committed herself to the Independent Living Movement, saying she had "found a home" at CIL and at other groups established to advance full social inclusion for people with disabilities.

Kari Dorothy, born August 16, 1945, was named after her maternal grandmother, Kari Tomine Carsten, and her mother, Dorothy Carsten Erb. She was the middle child of Dorothy, a children's librarian, and Edgar Gillette Erb, a minister and chaplain in WWII and, later, a parole officer.

Kari's early years were spent in towns in upstate New York. At age 12, the family - with brother, Karl, and sister, Susan - moved to Syracuse.

Kari was a graduate of Central High School, where she shined as editor of the yearbook, studied Russian, played flute in All City Band and Orchestra, and sang in Senior Ensemble. In the 1960's, she was a leader in the women's liberation movement in Ithaca, NY. She marched on Washington in opposition to the war in Vietnam. She danced at Woodstock.

Kari aspired to be an investigative journalist, but a visit in the 1970s to her mother and sister in California changed her course. Kari headed to the East Bay in a Volkswagen van (which she tuned up herself) with her friend Darcy, her young daughter Jennifer, two dogs and two cats.

She took night classes at California State University, Hayward, became a Certified Public Accountant, and bought an old house in Berkeley, capably rewiring the home and building and installing kitchen cabinets herself. She had a ramp put in to make her home accessible to all her friends.

Kari joined CIL when the small nonprofit was operating on a shoe string and without much attention to accounting detail. She straightened things out, and came to understand the program needs on a granular level, allowing the agency to leverage its resources to do the most good.

More than just a numbers person, Kari concerned herself with all aspects of CIL's mission. She was a key advisor and strategic thought-partner on major initiatives.

Today, there are more than 400 Independent Living Centers (ILCs) in the United States, and Kari helped establish or support many of them in the Bay Area. She was well-known for offering her expertise to an array of nonprofits in financial distress, restoring clarity and transparency that allowed agencies to function well. She worked for many years as a financial consultant and accountant for Through the Looking Glass, Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, and the Independent Living Resources of Solano and Contra Costa counties.

She put in long hours at her desk, but also knew when to leave work behind. Family, after all, was Kari's priority. She was extremely close with her siblings and adored her nieces, with whom she shared many adventures: trips to the circus, Marine World, family weddings. She listened, gave wise counsel, and was supportive of their goals. They remember fondly the time Kari joined a clown class, putting them all in stitches.

Life came into full bloom when Kari found Margie Bartelt, a longtime friend from Ithaca with whom she fell in love in 1993. Kari and Margie built a beautiful life. They adopted a daughter, Nina, from Guatemala, and settled in to their community in East Oakland.

Kari and Margie married as soon as it was legal to do so and the family traveled often, squeezing in every drop of time together: by train across the country, to Guatemala to visit Nina's birth mom, to The Sea Ranch, where they toiled to clear out the woods and protect Harbor Seal pups around their second home.

Kari will be remembered as a wonderful and fiercely protective mother, holding her daughters to their highest selves, always thinking about them and her grandson.

A gifted artist, Kari quilted and knit sweaters for her family. She joined a drumming circle and danced with abandon at woman's camp. She was a reader, a reflective thinker, a lover of nature, and a personal icon to many. Her spirit, integrity and determination showed through in everything she did.

Kari will be missed every single day by a host of friends and a large, extended family that includes, on the Bartelt side, seven brothers- and sister-in-laws and 17 nieces and nephews.

She is survived by her wife, Margie Bartelt, and her daughter, Nina Bartelt-Eells of Oakland, CA; her daughter Jennifer Hark (Denise) and grandson Carl of Tracy, CA; her brother Karl Albert Erb (Damar) of Kensington, MD; her sister Susan Emilie Erb of San Leandro, CA; and her nieces Janet Mynatt (Tracy) of Knoxville, TN, Margaret Moulton (Tom) of Spotsylvania, VA and Amy Erb (Scott) of Clayton, CA.

The family held a private graveside service on December 19. A memorial and celebration of life will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 31 at the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline Street, Berkeley 94703.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Kari's honor to the following organizations:
Center for Independent Living, Inc., 3075 Adeline St., Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94703; (510)841-4776;www.cilberkeley.org
Through the Looking Glass, 3075 Adeline st., Suite 120, Berkeley, CA 94703; (510)848-1112; www.lookingglass.org - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?n=kari-eells&pid=173530100#sthash.iwMibT3E.dpuf