By Rich Place
Every day is a new adventure for Clara Vredenburg, so it should come as no surprise to those who know her that turning 100 years old on Friday won’t be slowing her down.
Clara, who is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but has lived in Springville for about the past 12 years, continues to live an active lifestyle that stems partly from her experiences — a lifetime of them that stretch back before World War I ended — but is driven mostly by faith.
“I don’t choose to sit down, I choose to get up,” she said during a recent interview at her home. “I trust God implicitly. So everything morning when I get up … the first thing I say is ‘thank you, God, I’m on my feet and I’m going forward.’”
When asked that traditional question about what the secret is to a long, happy and meaningful life, Clara didn’t hesitate.
“One word: God,” she said. “That’s it — it really is. That’s why I am here. God put me here for a purpose. Everybody has a purpose and if you ignore your purpose, you hurt God’s feelings. And I don’t want to hurt God’s feelings.
“I’m serving my purpose and when I have completed it, then God is going to take my home,” she said. Then, with a smile and a wink many close to her know very well, she added, “no problem there.”
Clara’s story begins on April 13, 1918. But many close to her today know her from her last dozen or so years in the Springville area and the 33-year marriage she had with her husband, Charles “Chuck” Vredenburg, who passed away last year.
Clara had been married briefly once but lived most of her life as a single mother. Chuck was previously married for 42 years before his wife passed away in the early 1980s. The two married in January 1985 — after they were both retired — and started their lives together.
“We traveled for eight years in a motorhome,” Clara said. “We had a wonderful time. We had a wonderful marriage, we really did.”
Then, keeping a lighthearted attitude about the subject, Clara continued with the secret to their marriage.
“When you own a motorhome, you can’t run away,” she said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter how hard you fight — you can’t run away. You could step outside but that’s as far as you could go because your house is here and if you don’t stay close it could go without you.”
The annual travels, which always had a theme like canyons, Civil War battlefields or another point of interest, gave the couple a chance to see much of the country. They fell in love with rural Georgia and lived there for about 15 years before moving to Springville.
Clara was born in Cleveland and lived there until early high school, when the family moved to Central New York during the Great Depression. Entering young adulthood, Clara not only lived through the Great Depression but remembers much of it.
“That was when nobody had anything,” she said. Her family was among those impacted.
“My folks were good people but if they ever had any faith, it was killed by the state of affairs — losing all their property and losing the house,” she added, matter-of-factly. “We never went to church but they were good people. There were two things that were always important in our house — always — good music and good reading.”
After graduating high school in 1936, she entered the workforce with Smith Corona Typewriter Company as an assembler.
“There wasn’t an abundance of jobs and no money for college or that sort of further education,” she said. “I think that was another thing I learned from being so poor: everything that you can do to learn, you better grab it because you’re going to need it.”
She eventually transferred to a plant in Syracuse so she could attend school in the evenings to study business. During World War II, the plant went from producing typewriters to building rifles in three weeks, Clara said. In that capacity, she worked quality control.
“I had to measure … to see that the machines were still turning these things out perfect,” Clara explained. “We were in an old building at the vibration of the floor would often throw the machine off just enough.”
She ended up with a handful of jobs in Central New York before working for Morris Pumps in Baldwinsville, west of Syracuse, for 25 years. She retired in 1984.
“I’ve been retired longer than some people have worked,” she said.
When asked about what has changed most about the world in general during the past 100 years – perhaps an unfair question given such a multitude of choices — Clara did her best to give a concise answer.
“I would say the complete change of culture,” she said. “As I was growing up, people were neighbors in every sense of the world.”
But later on she was sure to add that although people aren’t always as neighborly as they once were, she noted that “Springville is the best place in the world, it really is. I have the best neighbors.”
Clara remains active in many facets of the village; during her interview last week she mentioned about a dozen cards she planned to make later in the day for a card ministry she is involved in at her church, the Springville First United Methodist Church.
She also is active in the church’s Sunday School, she’s part of a Bible study on Mondays, participates in activities at the Nutrition Center and Concord Senior Center. She was honored at a birthday party at the Senior Center on Monday, where Legislator John Mills presented her with a proclamation in her honor.
And during the presentation — when she stood by her cake alongside Mills and Concord Town Supervisor Clyde Drake — she didn’t lose her lighthearted, easy-going mentality.
“What I didn’t do is bring my glasses,” Mills noted as he prepared to read the proclamation.
“Want me to read it for you?” she replied with a smile and, again, that wink.
On her birthday, some of her family will be taking her to Buffalo for a surprise birthday treat. And then on Sunday, she’ll be part of a celebration with members of her family and church family at the First United Methodist Church.
Although she’s not one to bask in the spotlight — even of an accomplishment like turning 100 — these birthday parties just sound like more days of adventures.
“Every day is a brand new day and a new adventure,” she said. “My friends always tease me and ask, ‘what kind of adventure are we going on today?’”