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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: The Cleffmans have a family tradition

  • Many years ago, Raymond and Lola Cleffman started hosting an annual family Christmas gathering.

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  • Many years ago, Raymond and Lola Cleffman started hosting an annual family Christmas gathering.
    Raymond died on Dec. 14, 1996, but Mrs. Cleffman and the couple’s children have continued the party, which was held this year on Dec. 3. The 2012 party is already scheduled for Dec. 1.
    “We had about 90 at the Mulberry Senior Citizen Center,” said Mrs. Cleffman. “We’re into the fifth generation now. I’m looking for the next great-great-grandchild in May, and just got word that it’s a girl.”
    The potluck dinner included Gebhardt’s fried chicken, and Santa Claus showed up around 5:30 p.m. with gifts for children 13 and younger. A brown bag exchange was held for everyone else.
    Troy Cleffman, California, traveled the farthest distance to attend the event, and those living closest were Dan and Jennifer Fullhart and family, who live in Mulberry.
    The youngest present was Avery Kincade, 5 months, and Mrs. Cleffman, 96, was the oldest person attending.
    Mrs. Cleffman was born April 16, 1915, in Fayetteville, Ark. She noted that her late husband was also born on April 16, but in 1911 at Cato.
    “We came on up to McCune, then when I was about 9 we moved to north of Verdella, Mo., a place called Hannon, near Liberal, Mo.,” she said. “That’s where I lived until I got married.”
    Her husband worked as a car man and painter for the Kansas City Southern Railroad for 33 years, and was also a farmer. The couple lived in a Mulberry area home near Gebhardt’s Chicken Dinners for 43 years.
    “My husband didn’t like town, and I didn’t like the country,” Mrs. Cleffman said. “He had to go into a  nursing home, and when I went to visit him he told me to sell the place. So I sold it and moved into Pittsburg. I didn’t want to stay out there by myself. You’d hear all kinds of animals in the night, and it could be scary.”
    Mr. and Mrs. Cleffman had a truly frightening experience around 52 or 53 years ago.
    “A drunk driver hit us going over the Spring River bridge east of Baxter Springs,” she said. “He pushed us against the side of the bridge and if that bridge hadn’t held, we’d have been in the river. They thought my husband was blind, but he was in shock. He thought I’d been killed.”
    The couple had three sons and three daughters. The youngest son, Roy Cleffman, died at the age of 43 from cancer. Surviving are sons Max Cleffman, Colorado, and Rex Cleffman, Florida, and daughters Rae Ann McNamara, Arma, Lois Riley, Franklin, and Alice Baldwin, Liberal, Mo. There are 20 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren, not including the little girl expected in May.
    “I had a lot of good neighbors, worked outside some but not much because I raised my children myself, and loved them all,” Mrs. Cleffman said.
    Page 2 of 2 - She remains active and highly alert, interested in her large family and in the world’s activities.
    “I’ve seen a lot of change in the world, a lot of presidents,” Mrs. Cleffman said. “I don’t know what we’ve got to vote for this year, but I don’t think it’s much.”
    She’s had several relatives who’ve also had long lives.
    “I had an uncle who lived to be 103, and two aunts who were over 100,” she said. “My oldest sibling lived to be 90. She said to me, ‘Lola, we’re survivors,’ then she died a month later. I don’t know why I’m still here, but the Lord has a reason for it. I trust in the Lord to take care of me and He has.”
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