Clara was born April 22, 1916, in Branford, to Lorenzo and Clorinda D’Onofrio, the only daughter among four children.
When she was a young girl, her family moved to Shelton and lived on Center Street. After a few years, the family built a small home on Walnut Avenue. Their house became the first on the street with indoor plumbing, drawing curious neighbors who stopped by to get acquainted with this alternative to an outhouse, according to her daughter, Ginny Harger, who sent in details of her mother's life.
As was common at the time, Clara's family lived off the land, with chickens, turkeys, a cow, a large fruit and vegetable garden and a variety of fruit trees and bushes.
Clara completed her grade school education at Commodore Hull School on Oak Avenue. She started at Shelton High School (at today’s City Hall on Hill Street) but had to leave to take a factory job to help support the family during the Depression.
She and her husband, Nicholas DeFelice, were married on June 12, 1939. They had two sons, David and William, and a daughter, Virginia. The family now includes eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Clara and Nick were married for 63 years until Nick’s passing in October 2002.
Clara was known for her cooking, baking, sewing and crocheting skills. Her homemade “macaroni” (fettucine), ravioli or lasagna, meatballs and chicken soup were served up for Sunday dinners with family.
For holidays, she made the “once a year” special desserts and cookies. For christenings, showers and weddings, she always joined her sisters-in-laws to bake batches of special cookies.
Clara’s family joined St. Joseph Parish shortly after it was established in 1906. Her mother and father were one of the first couples to be married there on June 26, 1910.
Her children attended St. Joseph School. In the mid-1950s, the principal, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order, sent her a note requesting that she come down to the school for a meeting. She asked her sons what kind of trouble they had gotten into. But it turned out that the principal needed yards of fine lace for the vestments of a young man preparing to be ordained as a priest.
But Clara didn’t know anything about crocheting — which the principal didn’t believe, saying, “All Italian girls know how to crochet!" Not wanting to argue, Clara learned how to crochet from her mother-in-law and supplied yards of crocheted lace. She later received a thank you letter from the new priest's mother, which Clara said made it all worthwhile.
Clara continued to use her new-found skills to crochet table doilies, sweaters and afghans until arthritis set in. She made several afghans for her grandchildren, personalizing the ones for her grandsons with the logos of their favorite sports teams.
When her daughter went away to college in 1969, Clara decided to take a job in downtown Shelton at the Slim Fit Dress factory, working as a sewer on the dress production line.
That did not go over well with her husband, Nick, who was concerned that she would get too tired from working at the factory while taking care of the house. She prevailed, however, and worked at Slim Fit for years, where she loved making new friends among her co-workers.
Clara also gave her time in the community, volunteering in the Griffin Hospital Thrift Shop in Derby and at the St. Vincent dePaul Society Thrift Shop in Shelton, which she helped to establish.
She always liked to socialize, and Clara and Nick played cards regularly with other couples. They were also members of the Shelton and Derby Senior Centers and went on many day and overnight bus trips.
A huge Yankees fan, Clara has made many trips to Yankee Stadium. She always said, “The Yankees were never the same after they traded Mickey Rivers.” Clara is also a fan of UConn women’s basketball and enjoys listening to the games.
On weekdays, Clara listens to Mass on TV. On Sundays, she attends Mass with her daughter and son-in-law.
She has resided with her daughter and son-in-law since February, 2013. Both can confirm that she still has a great appetite and enjoys her daughter’s home-cooked meals. But her favorite treat is going to Kentucky Fried Chicken for a lunch of chicken strips, corn and coleslaw.
Over 70 family members and close friends will help Clara to celebrate her 100th birthday at a luncheon on Sunday, April 24, at a local restaurant.
Click here to follow Daily Voice Shelton and receive free news updates.