Evelyn Chaiken

This is a piece written by my mother in law Karen Chaiken Kavet. Karen writes it about her own mother, Evelyn Chaiken, who just passed away last month. My mother in law flies out every show and helps up sell the tickets, which is no small task. She has two grown sons, one being my husband. Karen has traveled and continues to travel, the world, mostly on a bike, she is 70 and I can only hope I’ll have half the stamina of her if I reach 70.

Before there was a Glass Ceiling

My mother, Evelyn Chaiken, who died at 97 last month, was born in the wrong time.

The fourth of five handsome children, she had a presence in her adulthood that was imposing. Standing 5’10” in her stocking feet, her posture was perfect (thanks to her dad who insisted she stand up straight), her hair was a pure black well into her late 50’s, her manner was no-nonsense. She did everything well: she was a great cook; she played a mean set of tennis; she created her own greeting cards; she wrote touching tributes that she read at every family celebration; she took up tailoring and made herself a gorgeous coat; at 50 she discovered painting and sculpting and produced show-worthy pieces of each; she was a “good” daughter, wife, mother and friend.

When I was 9 years old she went out and got a job selling The World Book Encyclopedia.

Women just didn’t work when I was a child, and certainly not in such a male-oriented business.  Her sales territory was in a depressed area of New Jersey where people could barely afford to put food on the table. She was a great saleswoman, relentless in her pursuit of sales, a great “closer”. She would park her car at the end of a block in some blue collar town and go knocking from door-to-door until someone let her in. She often had to return in the evening to these questionable neighborhoods to make her pitch to the “man of the house”. My father would hold his breath until she returned unscathed.

It didn’t take long for her superiors to know they had a “good thing”. She quickly became an “Area Manager”, overseeing and training new salespeople, and getting a small commission on their sales. Then on to “District Manager” she went. Now she had day-long workshops with visual aids and lesson plans. She loved it! A show-woman at heart, she had a venue to display her numerous talents and had an adoring following.

The impetus for my mother to start working was to pay her father back for a loan he had given her to buy a new black Buick. Despite the fact that commissions on sales of The World Book Encyclopedia were very small, my mother earned enough money over the years to pay off the loan, clothe herself stylishly, pay for my college education, and give me a lovely wedding.

One wonders what she might have become had she been in her prime in the 1980’s and 1990’s. She definitely had the business smarts, creativity, and perseverance to serve her well in any business setting.  As it was, she broke the “glass ceiling” for women before it ever existed and served as a role model for everyone in my generation who had the joy of knowing her.

15 thoughts on “Evelyn Chaiken

  1. This is just lovely Karen. I wish I could have met her…even for 5 minutes. It’s no wonder you are the woman you are and have raised the children you have. She could certainly teach all of us a few things 🙂

    • I only met Evelyn after she began to lose her memory. But she was quick with her wit even then. I really am just amazed at how she began to pursue art at the age of 50, such an inspiration to me. I feel like the old guideline of needing to peak at 30 is becoming so passe. Thank you so much for sharing Karen.

  2. Your mom was certainly a role model for me as we grew up, Karen. You’ve written a lovely tribute and I’m moved to see these pictures of the Evelyn Chaiken I remember. A beautiful woman inside and out.

  3. I remember your mom well, and I agree that she grew up in the wrong era. I remember her as a lovely, strong woman who delighted in everything and everyone around her. She always had a smile for us. You wrote a beautiful tribute, dear Karen. I feel very blessed to have known your mom, you and your family. I am so glad to have had a visit with you all before her passing.

  4. The tribute to your Mom was touching Karen. Having also sold Encyclopedias early on, I admire her stamina and perseverance! Only knowing her slightly as a lovely gracious woman of talent, she certainly left a legacy of being a wonderful role model, as well as an inspiration to continue to seek new interests. Having seen some of her work, one can see a joy of life..wonderful memories for you as you pursue your joy in life, as gracious and caring as she was. Thank you for sharing

  5. Karen
    Your Mother was quite remarkable. Thank you for sharing your eloquent tribute and reminding me of your Mother’s strength, perseverance, creativity, and professional success.
    She was so talented and left you such a rich legacy. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  6. What wonderful memories of your mother, Karen! A beautiful tribute to an amazing woman who was definitely ahead of her time. You certainly had a wonderful role model growing up under her guidance. Thanks so much for sharing your beloved mother’s memory with us!


  7. Dear Karen,
    Thanks for sharing more memories of Grandma. I hadn’t thought about what a powerhouse she would have been in a business setting today, but I agree with you 100%.
    All my love,

  8. Karen, now I know where you got your humanity. A beautiful tribute to a very special woman. She was definitely ahead of her time.

  9. Karen, Thank you so much for sharing your tribute to your beautiful mom. Your Mom was pure magic & so are you. I would never have made IT without your Mom’s guidance & help. Thank you, Thank you for sharing your life and home with me!!! The pictures are BEAUTIFUL. LOVE, Bari

  10. Karen, You have many of your mom’s qualities and writing this beautiful tribute only adds one more thing you have in common with her. I remember enjoying many of her poems. I loved her marble sculptures. I couldn’t believe she was doing them at such a late stag in her life. But, in person, I admired her sharp mind and quick wit. You have these qualities too. And you also have a warm softer side which makes you uniquely YOU. Thanks for sharing this with me. Just last week I began to wonder how things are going with you and your Dad. How is he? I’d love to hear more about him. Aloha, Ilene

    • Hi Ilene, So nice to see your letter to Karen. Your “mama” is also amazing! I have her CD sitting in front of me and it was such a pleasure to watch. Debbie sent it to me and it was wonderful. We do have a marvelous family, I just wish we weren’t all so far apart. Now with e-mail maybe we can keep in touch more often. Love, Bari

      • Yes, I’ve been sorry that I’m missing out on that family feeling. I still have such vivid memories of you and your beautiful smiling eyes. You always made yourself so accessible even tho’ I was “just the little sister”. I always remember you in sunshine. I guess that’s how you made me feel..thanks for that Bari. I hope you are well and enjoying your life.

      • Hi Ilene, Thanks for the reply, wish we were’nt so far away. Do you ever hear from Jeff? He was here in Santa Cruz for awhile but I have no idea where he is now. Happy days to you… Love, Bari

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