Mother of Janis Cunningham, Glen Lowe Kleppe, dies in Maryland

The adopted mother of Janis Cunningham, wife of county mayor Jerry Cunningham, died Monday at her home in Bethesda, Maryland.

Glen Lowe Kleppe, 84, succumbed to a reoccurrence of breast cancer, Janis Cunningham said.

Kleppe was the widow of Janis Cunningham’s father, the late Tom Kleppe. Tom Kleppe was a businessman, U.S. Congressman from North Dakota and a cabinet member for two U.S. presidents.

Janis Cunningham said her relationship with Glen Lowe Kleppe was very close, as Janis’ own mother died of cancer when Janis was a child, and her father married while Janis was still very young.

“She was a special person,” Janis Cunningham said.

Glen Lowe was born in Holland, Mich., to Leo and Martha Lowe, went to high school there, and then she graduated with an art degree from Michigan State University where she was a member of the Chi Omega sorority, Janis Cunningham said.

Glen Lowe married and had a daughter, Jane, but her first husband died of cancer.

Tom Kleppe of Bismarck, N.D., also was touched by cancer when his wife died from the disease. “Janis’ biological mother died when she was 11,” Jerry Cunningham said. “A mutual friend introduced Tom and Glen, and they married. It would have been 50 years this year. He died in 2007.”

Tom Kleppe, co-founder of the Gold Seal Co., which was headquartered in Bismarck, brought Glen and her daughter Jane home to live with his daughters and son, Janis, Loaine and Tommy.

Janis Cunningham said her father adopted Jane, Glen’s daughter. Glen, in turn, adopted Janis, her brother Tommy and her sister Loaine, who had Downs syndrome. “It is hard to come into an established family, but we couldn’t be any closer if we were full-blooded,” Janis said.

Janis Cunningham said Glen’s mutual interest in music drew the two of them close. “One of the things for me that made it work so well was mother and I were both into music. She was a good cellist, and, at the time I did flute work, so we did chamber music together,” Janis Cunningham said. “Then I got into singing more. We would do lot of things at church. I would do a solo, and she would play the cello. We always had that special thing between the two of us, and it brought us together. We were like a blended family, and it just worked out really, really well. She helped make our lives a happy ending to a situation as sad as loosing your mother.”

In 1967, Tom Kleppe won a seat in the U.S. Congress, and the family moved to Washington, D.C.

Glen Lowe Kleppe was with her husband as he served in Congress and then afterward during a distinguished career in public service. “He was an administrator for the Small Business Administration for President Nixon and secretary of the Interior under President Ford,” Jerry Cunningham said.

The couple retired to Bethesda in the mid-1970s and enjoyed coming to East Tennessee. “When mother and dad would visit, we would frequently ride horseback in the mountains,” Janis Cunningham said.

Jerry Cunningham said his mother-in-law was an accomplished painter and musician. “She was also a very devout person of very deep faith,” he said.

Janis said burial will be in Arlington cemetery. “She will be buried with her father,” Janis Cunningham said.

Glen Lowe Kleppe is survived by daughters Janis Cunningham, Walland; Jane Sutermeister, Va., and Jill McClelland, Maryland and son, Tommy Kleppe, Florida.

She was preceded in death by daughter Loaine Kleppe, who died in 2000, and her husband Tom Kleppe, who died in 2007.

Memorial services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington. The family will receive friends from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Gawler Funeral Home, 5130 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., 20016.

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