Constance McClain

Constance McClain, co-founder of the Chernobyl Children's Project and a Petaluma Christmas tree farmer, died Feb. 17. She was 92.

McClain was a veteran world traveler who volunteered on soup lines, met with runaway teens and built homes in cities like Leningrad and Tijuana and on continents like Africa and Asia.

A sudden closing of the Lithuanian border in 1990 led McClain and her husband, Clifford, on a serendipitous journey to Belarus, then the Soviet Byelorussia.

She had already raised five children and was busy with McClain's Holiday Farm when the unexpected side trip led the couple on a journey to witness the lasting catastrophic effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

They returned home and together started a project to bring children who live in the contaminated region to spend summers in the United States.

The organization brought dozens of children each year from 1991 to 2008 to spend six weeks with North Bay families for a summertime exchange program. The children enjoyed picnics and amusement-park visits but also received dental care and eye exams.

The trip to Belarus was life-changing for McClain, who after returning to Petaluma told a Press Democrat reporter: "This is my mission."

McClain was born Nov. 29, 1920, in Philadelphia to Milton Richard Solivan and Alice Catherine Macgargal.

Her family moved to southern California in 1933 and McClain studied political science at UC Berkeley.

McClain enlisted with the Marine Corps during her sophomore year and served in military intelligence. She met Clifford McClain when she returned to Berkeley.

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