Kari J. Prunier

The world is a lot less fun without this “piece of work” in it. Kari June Prunier (née Barnett) passed away from COPD and congestive heart failure on March 8, 2024 in Orlando, FL, with her loving family by her side. She was 82 years old. A memorial service and luncheon will be held in her honor at Drew University’s Mead Hall in Madison, NJ on Saturday, July 20, 2024 from 11:00am – 2:00pm.

Like a true work of art, Kari was one-of-a-kind, and deserves to be appreciated. An inspirational – and aspirational – force of nature, she confidently lived by her own rules and pursued her own passions. A talented artist, an award-winning porcelain painter, a successful business owner, a girl scout troop leader, a mentor, an aide, a sister, a wife, a mom, a second mom and friend to one and all, her interests were as multifaceted as she was. All her life, Kari loved the pursuit and the art of mastery. First there was her childhood stamp collection (which she still had) followed by her teens as a cheerleader and the very apt nomination of “Wittiest” in high school. Then there were those dress-making days at her Singer sewing machine in the early 70’s. Always curious, always learning, she could be found at her stovetop with butter and white wine whipping up a French-influenced meal. She was gabbing away on the phone. She was painting. She was teaching. She was treasure hunting for antiques or jewelry. She was everywhere, and everything, all the time!

If there was a charm contest in life, Kari would have won it. She had a knack for turning superficial chit-chats into lasting connections. Known for her unabashed humor and for telling it like it is, Kari was a social sage and she didn’t let others rattle her. She had hundreds of infamous quips (“Kari-isms” as her family coined them) which she doled out with her expert flippant smirk, making it impossible not to laugh, or not to love her. She came by her remarks honestly, drawing on experiences from a life that was vibrant and interesting from the get-go.

Kari was born on October 21, 1941 in Fort Benning, Georgia, to Alice (Smith) and rising Army Colonel Norman “Barney” Barnett. The first of three daughters, Kari grew up in various homes all over the world – New Jersey, Virginia, Washington and Rhode Island as well as Japan and Germany. She spent significant parts of her childhood in Summit and Chatham, New Jersey. As an adult, she would nostalgically point out her family homes on Kent Place Boulevard and Southern Boulevard, every time she drove by.

She graduated from the Katherine Gibbs School for Secretaries in 1962, worked on Wall Street, and lived with friends at Christopher and Bleecker Streets in Greenwich Village. She loved to talk of how she would take the subway steps “two at a time” in her pillbox hat and skirt. She met her husband, Jim, nine years her senior, at RCA, and after a dynamic courtship they married on June 26, 1965 with their reception at the Summit Grand Hotel. During her newlywed years in Brooklyn Heights, Kari shifted her focus to home decor and studied at the New York School of Interior Design. In the summer of 1969, Jim and Kari bought her parents’ house on Terrace Road in New Providence and she dove into decorating. She took great pride in her home and carefully selected all of the antiques, rugs and furnishings, not to mention all the perennials and shrubs for their giant garden.

In 1974 Kari learned how to paint on porcelain, a penchant she kept since her travels to Germany in 1960. Her dining room became her studio with clean white vases and dishes serving as her canvases. Her tools were sable brushes, powdered paint, gold leaf and turpentine. A basement kiln – essential for finishing her pieces – melded her intricate designs into delicate masterpieces. Of course, she wanted to share her passion so by 1980, Kari began teaching. Her dining room doubled as a classroom to half a dozen women who would go on to gather weekly for the next 15 years. They often likened their classes to “group therapy”, their voices and laughter dancing along the sounds of metal brushes clinking inside glass paint jars as they sat beneath the glow of Kari’s twinkling crystal chandelier. It was not at all uncommon for the women to linger after class ended, enthralled by Kari’s wit and wisdom.

Those sessions eventually moved to the back room of the Art Craft House in the New Providence Shopping Center, a hobby craft store “with everything for the artisan” that Kari took ownership over in 1982. In the 1980’s and ’90’s, the Art Craft House became a bustling community center (and a support group!) for customers, family members, and friends alike. She and her partner, quilter Marcia Rymer ran the business until 1998, and sponsored hundreds of classes over the years from oil painting to stenciling to wreath and ornament making. Many people in the community and beyond shopped there, inspired by the supplies and encouraged by Kari to embrace their creativity.

In 2005 Kari’s sister Sandy recruited her to work at ECLC of Chatham where Kari served as an instructional aide for young adult students with developmental disabilities. Until she retired in 2014, Kari (in her colorful, spirited way) enjoyed fostering the students’ independence. And of course, she made great friends with the teachers, too. She also loved having a reason to dress up, and that passion for fashion spanned her lifetime. No doubt about it, Kari had style. She enjoyed matching patterned tops with the right pair of pants or skirt, always accessorizing with gold jewelry she bought at antique shows.

A gypsy soul from birth, Kari loved a good jaunt. She traveled throughout her life, usually with her sisters Sandy and Pammy. They were a close, boisterous trio whose children became close as well. Chicago and Orlando were frequent domestic destinations for Kari (to visit her daughter and son), while Spain and France were two of her globetrotting highlights when her nieces joined her, too. Her most notorious adventures included Hong Kong with Sandy in 1986 (where they practically cleaned the island out of pearls!) and a Caribbean cruise in 1995 with her family and Sandy’s (where she literally almost missed the boat, but regretted nothing because she returned with her trademark gold necklace – the one that’s in almost every photo of her). In more recent years, the sisters and their broods hosted huge family reunions in New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan and North Carolina; always with three generations sharing one giant home for a week.

In the fall of 2022, after 53 memorable years on Terrace Road, Kari and Jim finally left New Jersey and moved to the Orlando area. It was a seismic move in many ways; 30 of those years had been spent with her sister Sandy as her next door neighbor, followed by another eight years living beside Sandy’s son Daryl and his family. A well-worn cobblestone path linked their driveways to their always open back doors. The two houses melded into one welcoming home.

Her relationships were quite possibly Kari’s greatest works of art. She created a tight knit family, fostered deep friendships that spanned decades and connected with many, many people. She did it all with an unforgettable sense of humor and a feisty attitude. Kari was well-known. It’s that legacy that her family cherishes, especially now in her absence.

Kari is survived by her husband, Jim and her children Aimee Prunier Stoltz (John) and Granger Prunier (Stephanie) along with her sister Pam Linke (John) and nephew and nieces, Daryl Fornuff (Laura), Katie Fornuff Ohnsorg (Rob Cirino), Cybil Boss (Brad) and Buffy Linke (Randy Brodner). Kari was the grandmother to Amanda, Liam and Kyle Prunier and Simon and Zoe Stoltz and great-aunt to Dylan and Alexa Ohnsorg, Trevor and Rebecca Fornuff, Ben and Sylvi Boss. Kari is predeceased by her sister Sandy Fornuff and her brother-in-law, Don Fornuff.

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