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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Clara, The Life and Faith of a Westcliffe Legend

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Clara Mary Reida was a rancher, a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. She died peacefully in her sleep on March 19, 2023. On Saturday May 13 about three or four hundred of us gathered at the old Custer County gym to remember Clara. While I saw many old friends and former students, most of whom now either have grey hair or no hair, I know that there were many friends of Clara who could not attend.

Therefore, I offer this post as a memorial to Clara, whom I consider a Westcliffe legend.


Clara Mary Reida

Memorial

May 13, 2023 11:00 A.M.

CCHS Gym

A portion of Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses


Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.


Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…

…A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night….

… (but people) they are like the new grass of the morning:

In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered….

…The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength…

…Teach us to number our days rightly, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Amen

Where do I start to tell Clara’s story? It began on May 4, 1937 in Harper, Kansas where Clara was born to Arnold and Maudie May (Hundley) Reida. She was Raised in Kingman County, in the little community of Rago, where the nearby Chikaskia River was a big part of her life.

Clara’s formal education began in a one room school house in Hopewell where Clara and her younger brother Ray rode their horses to school. She continued there through eighth Grade.

When Ray told me about Clara’s horse, Queen, he said, “When you got on Queen, you had better hold on and get ready to fly, because she was fast.” I can picture a young Clara on that horse.

Clara went to Adams H.S. where she excelled both academically and athletically. After graduation she earned an associates degree from Pratt Jr. College in 1956.

She then went on to Kansas State Teacher’s College in Pittsburg, Kansas where she received her Batchelor’s degree in education in 1959. She began her teaching career at Harper and then Kingman.

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In 1957, on her summer break from college, while a counselor at the Flying G Girl Scout Ranch near Deckers, Colorado, Clara met Margaret Locarnini.

This would begin a lifelong friendship, and in 1965, they purchased a ranch about 14 miles from where we stand today. If you drive East on Highway 96 you can still make out the fading words on one of the sheds…..Appaloosa Horses. The ranch would become Singing Acres, where Clara would live the rest of her life.

After moving to the ranch, Clara taught school briefly in Pueblo and then over the next 25 years she would drive well over 100,000 miles making the round trip from the ranch to Westcliffe where she would teach at Custer County School. She retired in 1991

If you are interested in getting a glimpse into some of Clara’s life and adventures, get a copy of Carol Ann Wilson’s book titled, Because We Wanted To. Today, however, I have the privilege of sharing a few stories of Clara that I know firsthand.

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Barb and I first met Clara in 1974. I had gone to Singing Acres to buy a horse for the Horn Creek Ranch string. When we got there, both Clara and Margaret were in there chaps and cowboy hats, Clara was shoeing a horse and Margaret was smoking a cigar. We would not have guessed, that day, that they would become good friends for almost 50 years.

Several years later, when Barb and I were returning home from the Midwest, our vehicle broke down in Kingman, Kansas. When we got back to Westcliffe and I told Clara about it, she said, “Well, anybody you met, talked to, or even saw in Kingman was probably related to me.”

***************

Clara was tough, determined, and hard working. She bucked bales, broke horses, and built fence. She had to be tough, after all, she taught English to some of you who are here today.

This first story I’m going to tell would not happen in public school today, but remember, this was in a small town school, over 40 years ago.

One day, in the school year of 1977, I think, I happened to be in the library when Clara had her class of high school juniors there. There was a new kid in Clara’s class. In fact, it was his first day at Custer County School. He was about 6’1’’ and by the way he slouched inattentively in his seat, I guessed that he was pretty cocky.

In the middle of class, he stood up and headed for the door. Clara said to him, “Where are you going?” He smirked and replied, “I’m going to get a drink.” Clara said, “No you aren’t”, and the kid said, “Yes, I am,” and he walked out.

The other kids stared wide-eyed and silent, and I thought to myself, ‘Son, you just said those words to the wrong person.’

Clara followed him out into the hall. I heard what sounded like something about 6’1” banging against a locker and Clara’s voice doing the talking. I couldn’t hear what she said, but in about two minutes, Clara came in with the boy in tow.

With a firm grip on his arm, she showed him to his seat, “helped” him sit down, and told him in no uncertain terms that he would leave her class when she told him he could, and not a minute before. By this time the boy’s cockiness had wilted, and It was obvious that he believed her.

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Margaret always seemed to be the emotional one who held to the principle of act-first-think-later, while Clara was the calmer voice of reason.

Just up the road from Singing Acres, at the bog farm, lived a dog that had been chasing horses. Margaret had warned the owner that the next time it happened, she would shoot the dog.

Barb and I were on our way home from Pueblo when we saw the dog running up the road and Margaret stomping along about 200 yards behind packing her 30-30.

Close behind Margaret was Clara, in the old blue Volkswagen headed out to try to stop her. And I’m sure that this would not be the only time Clara had to rein in Margaret’s impulsiveness.

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One Saturday morning, Margaret called to tell me that she was going to butcher a hog, and asked if she could hang it in our walk-in cooler. I asked her if she wanted me to come over to help her kill it and get it ready but she declined, saying, “No thanks, I don’t need any help.”

That afternoon, Clara, Margaret, and what had recently been a 300 lb. hog showed up at our house. It took all three of us to carry the carcass to the cooler.

We were just getting ready to lift it when we discovered that Margaret had cut the tendons at the hocks which would support the hog’s weight on the hooks. Margaret, was a little embarrassed, but she was mostly just plain mad at herself.

Now, our only option was to get the slippery hog high enough to hang it by the ribs. After much grunting, groaning, and a little cussing from Margaret we managed to do it.

When we emerged from the cooler, all three of us covered with hog blood and fat from head to toe. I don’t remember Clara’s exact words, but they went something like this: “Margaret, you don’t even know yet, how much you owe me.”

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I don’t know how many of you know it, but Clara and Margaret had a secret. Everybody thought that they were raising horses on their Singing Acres Ranch,…..Actually, they were raising kids.

They welcomed to the ranch, girl scouts and students from Canon City’s St. Scholastica Academy where they learned to ride horses. Most of the valley’s children in the 1970’s and 80’s learned to ski at Silver Hills ski area, a subsidiary of the ranch.

Over the years, Clara and Margaret took in young people who were in trouble or needed food, guidance, work, or a place to stay.

At the ranch, they taught them about horses, about work, about solving problems, and about living life.Some of you who are here today, may have known that experience firsthand.

Clara’s hands were as tough as leather and her heart was as big as the mountains.

She was honest, and she expected the same from you. When I started writing some stories about our life in Westcliffe, I asked Clara if she minded me writing about her and Margaret. She said, “I don’t mind, just as long as you tell the truth.”

One of my blessings was walking into that old log house one day while Clara was sitting in her chair. She had her oxygen on and it was late in the day, so she couldn’t really talk much. However, the copy of my stories I had given her was lying nearby. When she saw me walk in the door, she smiled and gave me a thumbs up.

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In the Bible, we read that there were two sisters, who had a brother who became sick and died. Jesus told his sisters, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies….” But what would it mean to believe?

Some people seem to think that belief in Jesus means agreeing with some facts about God, and accepting certain statements about Jesus. I think Jesus had a different idea.

Once, he told a story about sheep and goats. Now, running a Colorado horse ranch, I’m not sure what Clara knew about sheep and goats, but I think she understood this story.

Then the King will say to those on his right, (the sheep) ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (Because you talked about your faith, and believed correct doctrines about God.)

No, not really. You see, Jesus wasn’t too big on verbal statements of faith. But he knew what faith looked like in real life. And so, what Jesus really said was this:

Come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…

The people responded,…‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’…

…And Jesus said,…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

You see, these people of faith never made a big deal out of their acts of compassion. They didn’t announce their kindness or put their faith on public display so that people would notice it. They didn’t spend time replaying their goodness to others or to themselves. These people simply and quietly valued and cared for those who were in their path.

And that sounds a lot like the Clara Reida that I knew.

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No, Clara was not perfect. She had her faults, and she could name them better than anybody else could.

We talked about faith and God a few times. Clara’s faith was not conventional, or institutional. She might not have used what some people consider the “correct” words to explain her faith. But like Jesus, I think she knew what faith looked like in real life.

Without ignoring their faults, she saw the goodness in people, and she welcomed friends and strangers alike.

She found God’s purpose in the glory of creation, the birth of a foal, and meaningful work well done.

She knew the value of solitude and prayer. She found inspiration in music. And I think she saw glimpses of eternity in everyday life.

Living and giving generously—loving and nurturing children—looking after the needs of the hurting, the wounded, and the broken—and caring for God’s good earth…This was the substance of Clara’s faith.

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Barb and I were privileged to have taught school with Clara for many years. As young teachers, Clara was a mentor to us, Not by intentional lessons or planned counsel, but just by being herself.

Someone has said, “The people who influenced my life the most were the people who weren’t trying so hard to influence my life.”

A fitting tribute—Well done, Clara!, “Well done!”

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Prayer

Lord God of all creation—We have gathered here today to grieve because Clara has died. We have gathered here today to laugh and remember because Clara has lived.

And we have gathered here today to embrace the deep mystery that beyond death, we touch eternity. Thank you, Father, that you give us life and that Jesus offers us hope. May we have the wisdom to nurture the seed of faith and seek first the kingdom of God, that you have planted within us.

—Amen—

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1 Comment


gillum.peggy
Aug 14, 2023

A stirring tribute that fills my heart with thankfulness.

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