The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Clemmie Mae Sternberg, a dedicated volunteer who worked to bring educational opportunities and medical advancements to the people of the area, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.
Clemmie Mae Harmon was born in New Palestine in October 1900. She was the daughter of a pair of immigrant families. Her great-grandfather, Michael Harmon, was an early settler who came to the county in 1811. Her mother’s parents were German immigrants who arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century. Clemmie grew up on a farm with her parents and her siblings, and she learned the value of helping her neighbor from an early age.
After finishing school and working as a telephone operator, Clemmie married William G. Sternberg in March 1921. They raised four children, Charles, Ruth, Glen, and Bertha, on a dairy farm in Schuline. While working to provide educational opportunities for her children, she developed a passion for extending those same benefits to others in her community. She was one of the founding members of the Randolph County Home Bureau, an outreach project sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.
The extension project, now called the Illinois Association for Home and Community Education, set out to provide continuing home education classes to women throughout the state. The groups gathered in the homes of its members, providing a comfortable and safe place for women to learn about topics like finances and nutrition. They also offered an important social outlet for women in rural areas who were sometimes isolated from their neighbors, reinforcing a sense of community and companionship. Clemmie helped organize the local bureau, which launched in May 1945, and served on its board of directors. She also frequently hosted meetings at her own home.
Attending the monthly home extension meetings gave Clemmie an even clearer understanding of the needs of the women and families of Randolph County. She was inspired to extend her volunteerism, focusing on ways to support and improve the medical care in the area. She joined the Randolph County chapter of the American Cancer Society, becoming its public education chair. Clemmie also became deeply involved with the efforts to establish a community hospital in Sparta. After the closure of the Sutherland Hospital in the early 1950s left Sparta without a major medical facility, Clemmie joined a group of local citizens who aimed to reopen and renovate the building as a community hospital.
Judge Paul Nehrt appointed Clemmie to the new nine-member hospital board in 1954, and she helped to raise both awareness and funds for the hospital within the community. After an extensive renovation project, the new Sparta Community Hospital admitted its first patients in June 1955. Clemmie was one of the proud members of the board of directors who helped introduce the hospital to the community in an open house. She also joined the new Women’s Auxiliary and was instrumental in setting up Red Cross blood drives at the hospital.
Even as she grew older, her drive to be force for good in her community did not wane. She served as a patroness of Sparta’s Delta Theta Tau sorority, and was an active member of the First United Methodist Church of Sparta, where she taught Sunday school classes. In her retirement years, she could be found at the senior centers in Sparta and Evansville. She was also an active member of the Retired Senior Volunteer program for almost two decades. Her family remembers her traveling to local nursing homes to read the newspaper to residents well into her 80s.
Clemmie Mae Harmon Sternberg passed away in September 1991 at the age of 90. During her lifetime, which spanned more than a century of major change and development in Randolph County, Clemmie was dedicated to leaving the world a better place for those who came after her. Her passion for education gave local women a chance to expand their own knowledge bases and develop a strong and dependable community, and her commitment to establishing state-of-the-art medical facilities in the area offered local patients access to greater advances in healthcare. Today, thirty years after her death, residents of Randolph County are still benefiting from the work she did to improve the lives of citizens at home and within the larger community.