The Clara Project: In Memoriam

Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Clara (Claire) Shenefelt Williams, whose collection of 1930s recipe cards inspired The Clara Project that has unfolded here since August 2012. Claire’s daughter, Jan, and I had a lovely lunch together, and then we spent the afternoon visiting Clara at the Mt. Pleasant Retirement Village just north of Cincinnati.

Claire was an absolute delight: sparkly and smiling at age 98. I was struck by the way she spoke so fondly of her husband, Roy, who’d passed away in 2009 at age 96. “He was such a good man,” she said, over and over again.

She didn’t really understand it when we spoke that day, but Claire has been a real source of inspiration for me. Her collection of recipe cards—gathered during her home ec classes in 1934 at Penn State, during her early married life and her later years—is a treasure trove. It represents cooking the way it used to be, in a simpler time, an approach that I’ve come to value greatly. I discovered Clara Shenefelt’s recipes in an antique store by serendipity, but I think it was more an act of fate or Providence. They were just the creative spark I needed at the time, and they continue to bring me joy. I’m so grateful that I got to spend that afternoon with her and Jan.

Claire is back with her good man. She passed away on Saturday.

photo of Bryn Mooth, Jan Williams, Clara Williams

22 thoughts on “The Clara Project: In Memoriam

  1. Beautiful, Bryn. Thanks so much for your loving coverage of my mother over the past year — she really enjoyed her 15+ minutes…. Love, Jan

  2. It is lovely that you met Clara and continue her tradition of good cooking. I started following you when I saw the title The Clara Project. I love your use of her recipes. I do the same with my Grandmother’s recipe card collection.
    And I hope my children will do the same with my recipe collection on the blog and in my family cookbook.

  3. I too started following your blog with The Clara Project. Her family will be so pleased that her memory will be passed along, not only within her family but for all of us through her wonderful recipes.

  4. Such a legacy you have stumbled across . I have enjoyed your Clara project as well as your own delicious recipes. May Clara rest in peace with her dear Roy by her side.

  5. Truly a Blessing she was. It was reading the article on how you came across her recipes i found you, and have been following ever since.

  6. she may not have known the full effect she had on you, but reviving her recipe collection was a wonderful gift, and it’s amazing that you found her and got to meet her. what an outstanding life, to become 98 years old!

  7. Bryn,
    Its very telling that I saw the title in my inbox and the tears began to flow without even opening the email.
    I’ve enjoyed getting to know Clara through your posts, and I am glad she knew about your Project before she passed.
    Thank you for this gift.

  8. Ah, another one of the greatest generation has passed on. So glad you introduced us all to her and her recipes.

  9. You were so fortunate to see and meet such a wonderful lady. I hope you continue to share her recipes. I learned of your recipe cards and then remembered that I had a box full that I had purchased for the box itself…. When looking through the box there is a pay stub for David Reece Deason who I can assume was her husband… He was employed by Armour and Company which was based in Atlanta…. Maybe someone will see this and know of my mystery chef and her history….

  10. Thank you for all the kind comments about Clara’s legacy. I’m glad readers have enjoyed “meeting” her through the Clara Project posts!

  11. Oh Bryn, thanks for the update on this lovely story. It’s so wonderful that you got to meet her and share her legacy. And you are also an inspiration my friend.

  12. I’ve really enjoyed the posts from your Clara Project. What a wonderful memorial for her and her family.

  13. Lovely tribute to Clara and the Project… a beautiful legacy to leave behind for others to enjoy!

  14. Hi Bryn,

    I feel as though I know you through the post on the Clara Project. I know my Mom speaks very highly of you and you have certainly brought a little excitement to all of us. I appreciate your kind words about my Grandma. She was a special lady and I’m so fortunate to have been born into her family – of course my Mom had something to do with that.

  15. Bryn — I have the honor of knowing Claire and Jan. And I appreciate the way you honored not just, Claire, but that whole generation of gentle women who showed us how to live in a noble fashion. And I appreciate the way you bring food and recipes to life in new ways for me.

  16. I had the honor of knowing and loving Roy and Claire. I have fond memories of visiting with them and feel blessed to have known them. They will be missed

  17. I enjoyed reading your warm comments about meeting Claire. Claire’s spirit lives on through the good works and deeds of her loving daughter Jan.

  18. I also had the great privilege of meeting Claire and Roy in their later years. What a joy it was to visit with them. How awesome is our God, who brought you and Claire together. What a blessing to everyone involved.

  19. I’m a collector of old recipe cards as well – starting with both grandmothers (one Danish – good Kringle!, the other Yugoslavian – oh the feta cheese and Greek olives!). On my shelf I have both mom’s and grandma’s Better Homes and Gardens red checkered books and I’ve picked up several more. I happened across your Clara story by happenstance and have to admit, I teared up too when I read of her passing. I know you brought her a lot of joy those last few months, helping her to probably recall stories she didn’t even remember she had 🙂 I know it must have given her daughter some happy moments as well, seeing a stranger take such a loving interest. We all want to think our mother’s are the best and to see someone else see her through fresh eyes makes your heart feel good. I lost my mom 4 years ago, I was her caregiver that last year, and I love to hear the stories that my friends share of knowing her back when we were kids. Thanks for the great story, my love and late condolences to her family. Sounds like a really sweet lady.

    • Thank you, Catherine. My mother (Clara) was a dear woman, a gentle & loving lady who will always be in my life… in spirit. It brings me much joy to know people are still reading Bryn’s story about her 1930’s-era recipe cards and hopefully enjoying some of the cooking from a simpler & healthier time.