Erin Erickson Cleary
Erin Erickson Cleary, 55, peacefully ended her courageous battle with cancer on Thursday, October 22, 2020, leaving behind a legacy of laughter, love and light that will be carried on through her children, CJ Cavanagh, 30, and Madeline Cleary, 19, and husband Mark Cleary.
Erin blessed the worlds of Donald Erickson and Sharon Gannan Erickson on July 1, 1965. She grew up with her older sister, Neely Erickson Schlosser, in the Colony West area of Springfield, across the street from her double cousins Mark Erickson and the late Kim Erickson Jameson.
She was a competitive swimmer and softball player as a youth, and loved watching her daughter Maddie, an accomplished athlete, who is currently on an athletic scholarship at Lincoln College.
“Maddie is more talented than I ever was,” Erin said. “She is smart, and has a great head on her shoulders. I will be with her every day.”
Erin attended Sacred Heart Academy where she was known for her artistic talent and passion for fashion. From plaid elephant stretchy pants with matching vests, to conductor hats and all things animal print, every day of her life, Erin was always, ALWAYS styled to the max.
She was married (twice) to the love of her life, Mark Cleary. “We have been best friends since we met each other 20 years ago,” Erin said. “We have so much fun together. He’s just a good person deep down inside. He will always be my best friend,” she said.
Since her first job at McDonald’s in White Oaks Mall when she was 14, Erin never quit working, right up to the very end of her time on earth. She was an award-winning marketing professional, who spent time at a variety of advertising agencies and associations. If you have been through Central Illinois or the Metro East over the past 30 years you likely saw one of Erin’s quick, catchy advertising campaigns.
She worked diligently for ten years as the Marketing Director at the Illinois Pork Producers Association participating in the creation and execution of statewide campaigns including the popular, ‘Da Burger’, ‘I (heart) Pork’, ‘Porkalicious’ and ‘Cork Meets Pork’.
She capped her illustrious career as Bureau Chief of Marketing and Promotions at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, overseeing Illinois marketing initiatives and events including the Ag Day Breakfast, Products Expo Food Show, Centennial Farms Program, Homegrown by Heroes program for veterans and the beautification of the Agriculture Tent at the Illinois State Fair.
“I had so much fun with the people I worked with and they meant so much to me, and I know I meant a lot to them,” Erin said. “I want them to know how important they are in my world.”
She won a litany of awards for campaigns, including an art award from the International Association of Communicators for a public service campaign and accolades for her collaboration with her childhood friend, St. Louis artist Charles Houska.
“To be honored and for someone to recognize my work as outstanding was very humbling,” Erin said.
Erin bestowed a strong work ethic upon her cherished son CJ. “He is such a hard worker. I am very, very proud of him,” she said.
Erin cherished a close relationship with her mother, Sharon, throughout her life. “She and I were made out of the same fabric – which of course, is very scary!” Erin said.
“My mom has always been my go-to person when I’m struggling in life. She is the kindest most generous person I know. She is the one I would confide everything in…things I probably shouldn’t, but did anyways. I think being so similar has made that happen.”
She also inherited many traits from her father, Don, who passed away in 2012. “I got his sense of self-deprecating humor and telling really bad jokes,” Erin said, followed by a bad joke.
Erin gained her father’s strength throughout her battle with cancer. “I hope I got his positive attitude about being sick. I talk to him every day because of his experience and ask him to give me strength. I think I will see him again,” she said.
Erin had an unbreakable bond with her sister, Neely, who unfailingly never left her side. “She gets things done and takes things over,” she said. “If I should fall she would always be here. She makes sure I’m taken care of. I know she will take my daughter under her wing.”
Erin was full of spirit and passion in everything she did. She aspired to be an example to inspire and encourage those around her. She will be remembered by her friends and family as being exactly who she is.
“When I turned 40 I stopped caring what other people thought and became my own person and if someone didn’t like it – then too bad,” she quipped.
Her advice for her daughter and all young women out there is: “You be you and don’t ever let anyone change you. Be honest and true to yourself and everyone will be honest and true to you too.”
The older she got, the more she learned to focus on the things that matter.
“In life you grow up and little things you thought were really significant are not,” Erin said. “Don’t waste your time on this stuff.”
Erin didn’t have to wait until the end of her life, to let her people know how much she loved them – she did it every day.
“I want my children to know how strong and how special they are at all times, every day,” Erin said.
Her best memories are of her family by her side.
“I want people to know how important family is to me and that I value every single person in my family,” Erin said. “Every. Single. Person.”
She wanted those who loved her to know that she was going in peace. “I am thankful for what I had,” Erin said. “I know God has a plan for me. I have cancer, and it is beyond my control. It isn’t like I want it, but if I have to have it, I want to go out with people remembering me by smiling and laughing and not sadness”.
“People don’t ever see me as sad – they identify me as a happy person who has fun and laughs a lot and says dumb things. That is my personality and how I want to be remembered.”
Most of all, Erin was a fighter who revealed depths of her character little known to others. She awoke strength that could only be found deep inside herself. She fought and fought and just when you thought she was giving up – she fought some more. Until her spirit’s last day on earth, she fought for what she believed in, fought for her friends, fought for her family and fought for her life.
Erin is survived by her husband Mark Cleary; son CJ Cavanagh; daughter Madeline Cleary; mother Sharon Gannan Erickson; in-laws Judy and Earl Lawrence; sister Neely (Tim) Erickson Schlosser; brother-in-law Steve (Margaret) Cleary; double cousin Mark (Julie) Erickson; nieces and nephews, Whitney (Brian) Barnes, Brett (Dave) Gader, Allie Schlosser, Jake Erickson, and Jenna Erickson; many cousins, including Kris Erickson; and friends, including Jamie Oldani.
She was preceded in death by her father Donald Erickson, aunt Marilyn Erickson, uncle Ed Erickson and double cousin Kim Erickson Jameson.
P.S. “I am going to be watching over you and haunting some of you, so ya better be careful.” – Erin.
Celebration of Life: hosted by family from 4 – 7 PM, Friday, October 30, 2020 at VFW Post 755, 2211 Old Jacksonville Rd, Springfield, IL, in the back of their facility.
Memorial contributions may be made to Sojourn Shelter and Services, www.sojournshelter.org
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