Clara Ellen Hoyer was born June 27, 1935 in Otis, Colorado the first child of her parents Alvin August and Nina Merna (Ritz) Hoyer. Clara was the apple of her father’s eye and trailed him whenever and wherever possible. To say her upbringing was unconventional would be an understatement, especially by today’s standards. Her dad gave her a .22 rifle when she was a very young girl, and she loved to show off her marksmanship skills to her friends. All was well, until Clara decided to use the wash tub as a target and when Nina found that her washtub would no longer hold water, the firing pin was removed from the gun. Clara gave the little gun to her granddaughter for Christmas several years ago, and it is still without its firing pin. Throughout Clara’s young childhood, the Hoyers moved between Cope and Denver a number of times and Clara adapted each time. When Clara was five years old, brother Bill joined the family. Clara enjoyed Bill, but the real excitement came when Clara was nearly ten years old, and her brother Tom was born. She had a real-life baby to play with. Clara was allowed to take a diaper and baby Tom in the basket of her bicycle and ride around Cope all day. She rarely met a stranger, and made friends wherever she went. She was no push-over and always stood up for herself. When one of the boys in her class poked her with a pin, she took off after him. No doubt, he thought he was safe by running into the boys’ bathroom, but Clara followed him right in to take her revenge. All of the Hoyers were laid-back people and as noted, somewhat unconventional. As a young girl, her dad told Clara to pick up his paycheck, and gave her permission to take some of the money to buy herself a new pair of shoes. Clara took the Denver City bus and her family’s money and found a lovely pair of patent leather shoes. She safely stored the shoes under the seat in the bus, along with her wallet, and rode to her stop. It didn’t take long after she left the bus for her to realize that she had left her brand new shoes and the family’s money. Later in the day a knock came at the door, and a man from the bus stood outside with her shoes and wallet. He had seen her leave without her purchase, so he found her address and returned both the shoes and the wallet with all the money in place.
In April of 1952, Clara was attending high school in Cope and living with Ed and Betty Rapp, while her parents and brothers were living in Casa Grande, Arizona. She had been dating Kenneth Johnston and he felt like he was going to be called up to military service, so they decided to get married. Clara was only 16 years old at the time, so they needed her parents’ permission. They packed into the car with Kenneth’s twin brother Keith to head for Arizona. Upon arrival, they were unable to find anyone locally to perform the marriage ceremony, so Clara’s parents and brothers, along with Keith and Kenneth and Clara headed off to find a justice of the peace to marry them. Keith was intended to serve as his brother’s witness and Clara’s witness was to be her mother. Luck was not with them and they went from place to place searching for someone to perform a marriage ceremony. They finally found a minister that was willing to marry them in the small hours of the morning on April 6 in Florence, Arizona. Keith had already gone to sleep so Alvin and Nina served as the witnesses. For their “honeymoon”, the entire group of seven decided to travel into Mexico. It’s a family story that has been often told and speaks to Clara’s “go with the flow” attitude.
The Johnstons welcomed their first daughter, Jerrie Lee in 1956 and Clara began her journey as a new mother. In 1958, their second daughter Jo Ann was born. Family was important to Clara and she was an involved mother. She was a loving, caring woman but was also a strong disciplinarian. If she said no, she meant no and rarely backed down from her pronouncements. Clara spent a lot of time with her good pal Hilma Madison and daughter Donna. Donna and Jerrie grew to be life-long friends, and everyone considered Donna to be Clara’s third kid – referring to her as K3. They went to “town” together many times and when they were returning from Burlington, they told the girls that if they were good, they would give them a roller coaster ride on the way home. The hills between Burlington and Cope became the roller coaster, speeding up on the way down with squeals of delight from the back seat. Clara’s true pleasure was when she was blessed with Grandchildren. Chelsea, Adam, Shelby and Brent were a joy and delight and she and Kenneth would drop their own activities in the blink of an eye to do something with or for the grandkids. She was always happy to read books, build a fort, play games, bake cookies, teach them to knit and crochet, garden with them, or whatever the kids wanted to do. They loved to listen to her tell stories of her life as a young girl. One of the grandkids said that they remembered her smiling eyes and squeaky laugh, especially when something was really funny, and her homegrown tomatoes. Another of her grandkids fondly reflects on her as being “really funny and the SkipBo Queen”. The next blessing for Clara was her great-grandkids, Kaiden and Addison. She took advantage of every minute she could spend with her grandchildren and greats.
Clara did not have a conventional career, but did many, many things to help support her family. She worked in her parents’ restaurant, cleaned rooms at the Triple L Motel, cleaned houses, worked as a cook at the Arickaree School, painted homes for local people, reupholstered furniture and automobile seats, and served as an inspector for underground cable construction. Clara told the story of painting the bathroom at the home of Harold and Lila Simpson. The ceilings were tall, and she couldn’t reach them. For some reason, a ladder was not readily available, so Harold offered to let Clara stand on his shoulders to get the painting completed, and she always said she never painted so fast in all her life. Clara was an ever-present helper, no matter the task. She and Kenneth built their own home just outside Cope, purchasing materials a little at a time, and doing all the work themselves. She was an avid supporter of her hometown of Cope and enjoyed volunteering to help with community projects. She kept the records for the Cope Cemetery for decades and always helped with funeral dinners, Old Settlers Picnic, and any other community events that were happening. Clara moved to Wray several years ago due to health concerns but considered herself a Cope girl to the end.
Clara was preceded in death by her husband Kenneth, parents Alvin and Nina Hoyer and brother Bill, Aunt Avis & Uncle Jim Galbreath, Aunt Edna and Uncle Wayne Ritz. Family left to remember her are her brother Tom Hoyer and Carol Hunter of Denver, Colorado, Jerrie and Jim Wheaton of Haigler, Nebraska, Jo and Jeff Leyland of Imperial, Nebraska, grandchildren Chelsea and Shelby Leyland of Seattle, Washington, Adam and Brent Wheaton, and great-grandchildren Kaiden Reese and Addison Wheaton all of Garden City, Kansas, many nieces and nephews (who knew full well they better not call her Aunt Clara) and many, many friends. Clara passed away in the Hillcrest Nursing Home in Wray, Colorado on September 7, 2020 surrounded by her daughters and brother. She was a woman of quiet faith, and while we will miss her here on earth, we know she is at peace in the loving arms of her Lord, surrounded by those gone on before her.
Services will be held at the Cope Community Church on Saturday, September 12, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. with Pastor Terry Covert officiating. Inurnment will follow at the Cope Cemetery. Memorials to the Cope Recreation Hall or Cope Cemetery are suggested. Baucke Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
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