Clara is survived by her sister, Louise Martin, of Davidson, North Carolina and her sister-in-law, Pat Wheeler, of Oviedo. Clara Lee Wheeler Evans, age 93, of Oviedo, Florida died August 31, 2010. Clara Lee was the eldest child of Benjamin Franklin Wheeler, Sr. and George Lee Wheeler whose families were pioneers in early Central Florida. Her grandfather, J. H. Lee, was a county commissioner before 1913 when Oviedo was still part of Orange County. Her father, B. F. Wheeler, Sr. was a county commissioner in Seminole County after the two counties split. Her father and grandfather and subsequently she, her husband John, and now her four sons are still active in the citrus industry as well as other Florida real estate endeavors.
Clara was born February 17, 1917 in Oviedo. She attended school in Oviedo until she went to boarding school in North Florida. She then graduated from Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky in 1937. At Asbury, she had an English professor who had attended Northwestern University, and he interested her in going to graduate school there. From a young age she was intrigued with learning, especially reading and English. She loved words and their nuances and was particularly careful to use the correct word to describe an event or situation. She thought of words in terms of color, character, strength, and intensity and would use them in such a way as to add clarity and interest to her speech and writing.
In the fall of 1938 while at Northwestern she met her future husband, John. Both were attending a young people’s class at the Methodist church in Evanston, Illinois. Her fondest memory of him was seeing his wonderful smile from across the room. Although her given name was Clara Lee, John began to call her Claire. When John first drove to Oviedo from Illinois to meet Claire’s family the roads weren’t paved through all of the states. They were married in the Foster Chapel in Oviedo June 18, 1941. As one of her wedding gifts she was given a number of elaborate latticework arbors which were decorated with native ferns and flowers. Although the wedding took place inside the chapel, the native flowers gave the effect of their being married in and among Florida’s wonderful outdoors. On their wedding trip back to Chicago, they went up the East Coast to Norfolk and then back across Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and on to Illinois where they began their lives together. They enjoyed each other’s company and being married, and were strongly committed to each other until John’s death in 1982.
She worked in an interior decorator’s office while John worked at the Baumann, Finney and Company, a CPA firm and continued his education at Northwestern’s night school. While in Evanston their oldest son, John, Jr. (Wes) was born. After Pearl Harbor John, Sr. enlisted in the Army and after boot camp shipped off to France. Clara went to New York to see him off and then moved back to Oviedo with John, Jr. to live with her parents until the war ended. At that time her father, B. F. (Frank) Wheeler, Sr. asked John to resign his position in Chicago and move to Oviedo to help him with his business, Nelson & Co., Inc. John accepted and the next three sons, Arthur, David, and Charles were born in Orlando.
Clara was a great mother participating with her husband in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, PTA, and teaching Sunday school at the First Methodist Church in Oviedo of which she was an active member for 83 years. She actively planned the family summer vacations because she had travel extensively with her parents as a child and loved to learn about all parts of America. This planning provided the basis for camping trips to the Boy Scout Ranch at Philmont in the West. Another camping trip around Lake Michigan was taken. American history trips to Virginia; Civil War trips to Charleston, Vicksburg and Gettysburg were enjoyed. One summer was devoted entirely to Florida and its history. She planned trips to the World’s Fair in Seattle and New York. An extensive trip to Mexico helped Wes with his Spanish one summer. The Caribbean and its influence on Florida was another outing. Books connected with the areas to be visited were stockpiled and read during the trip. This was not only to keep her young sons occupied but to help them learn about the area that was being visited. Historic hotels that had significance were also selected.
With her English background she stayed up late many a night to proofread a paper for one of her sons. During summer vacations prospective colleges were included in the itinerary. When it was time for each son to go off to college a school trip was instigated. Claire and John enjoyed visiting their sons and meeting their friends in college.
Claire had hoped that when John came back from World War II that none of her boys would have to go to war but that was not to be. Wes and David both joined ROTC in College and were commissioned and then served in Viet Nam. She got up early every morning and had a prayer time for them and their safe return. As her sons became engaged and got married she welcomed each daughter-in-law into the family. She planned with each son a wonderful rehearsal dinner.
She was an active member of her church, First United Methodist Church of Oviedo and her church circle. Some of her other affiliations included the Arts Society, the Oviedo Woman’s Club, the Oviedo Historical Society, P.E.O., and the English Speaking Union.
As her grandchildren began to arrive, reading with them became a way to be part of their lives and pass on her love of books and reading.
She was widowed in her mid 60’s but continued to travel to most parts of the world except the Far East with friends and family. When each of her grandchildren turned 13, she took them on a trip of their choice. These included an African safari, barge trips through France, flying in the Concorde, and sailing on the QE2. These excursions continued the family tradition.
As the grandchildren entered college she continued her visits to see them, learn about the school, meet their friends, and take them out to dinner.
She and John were members of the Winter Park Racquet Club for many years. She loved the club and enjoyed taking friends and family there. When no longer able to drive, her longtime caregiver and friend, Mattie Stephens, began to drive for her. Claire organized day trips for them to take friends around Central Florida to see both old sites and experience new ones. One of her greater joys in later life was the naming of John Evans Elementary School by the Seminole County School Board. This was done to honor her husband for his years of service during the 1960’s. She loved to participate in Founders’ Day. She would go and read to the children as well as teach them the history of Oviedo.
She was also proud of her sons’ participation in the location of Reformed Theological Seminary to Oviedo and her association with Asbury Seminary when it moved a campus to Orlando. To honor her and John and her lifelong association with Asbury and Methodism, her sons established the annual Evans Lecture Series at Asbury Seminary’s Orlando campus.
She is predeceased by her husband of 41 years, John, her brother and sister-in-law, Frank and Jean Wheeler, and her daughter-in-law, Allyson Kinsey Evans.
She is survived by her son, Wes and Kathy and their children Steve and Michelle Long and great-granddaughter Alani, Bruce Long, Debbie and Anel Diaz, and great-grandchildren Patrick and Claire; son Arthur and Beverly and their children Laura (Evans) and Walter Neil and her great-granddaughters, Lily and Claire Neil, Caroline (Evans) and Brian Leibfried, and John Evans; son David and Donna and their children David, Jr. and Jordan and great-granddaughter Kinsey Evans, Kaylin Evans, Laura (Bailey) and Greg Batten and great-grandchildren Grant and Ashley Batten, Brent and Alison Bailey and great-granddaughter Paige, and Andrea Bailey; son Charles and granddaughters Alana (Evans) and Craig Armstrong, and Diana Evans.
In addition, nieces Miriam (Wheeler) Bruce and Anne (Martin) Hendrix and nephews Ben Wheeler, III and George Martin survive her.
Claire loved to read and her favorite book was the Bible. Each room in her home had several Bibles. In each one there were notes and prayers for all of her children, grandchildren, family, and friends. She had a system to pray for one of her family members each day. This wonderful legacy she leaves for them.
In lieu of flowers, a donation may be given to the Building Fund of the First United Methodist Church of Oviedo or the Oviedo Historical Society.
Funeral Service will be 10:00 AM Saturday, September 4, 2010 at the First United Methodist Church, 263 King Street, Oviedo, Florida.
The family will receive friends on Friday, September 3, 2010 between 7 and 8:30 p.m at First United Methodist Church 263 King Street Oviedo FL.
Oviedo Cemetery, Oviedo, FL