Tuesday, October 17, 2023
12:30 PM EDT
8501 S. 8th Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
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Life Story / Obituary
Easily content with the simple things in life, Clare Gildea shared two profound loves in this life: his family and the outdoors. Clare relished being on the water fishing, camping far away from the city lights, or hunting throughout the plains of the northwestern states. Nothing though, surpassed his love and pride for his family. Equipped with a strong work ethic, Clare had many successes throughout his life. A quiet but wise man, Clare knew both what he wanted and how to achieve it.
The 1920s marked an exciting time in American history. The nation was prosperous after the end of the Great War; new technologies like radios and washing machines became common household comforts; and, despite the effects of Prohibition, a new style of music called Jazz brought troves of young folks out to dance the nights away. As the decade wound down, the excitement remained for Clare Gildea Sr. and his wife Ruth, as they welcomed their son, Clare Frederick, into their home on May 20th, 1928.
With three older sisters, Clare was the last to join the family on their farm just north of Texas Corners. The children all attended the one-room country school at the corner of what is now 8th Street and Q Avenue. While growing up on the farm, Clare quickly developed a love for the outdoors. He learned to hunt and fish early on, and enjoyed many of the activities that Michigan had to offer, like hiking, canoeing, and camping.
Clare attended Kalamazoo Central High School and took a drafting class, where he excelled and was referred by his instructor to the J.A. Richards Co., a local company that made stamping equipment and cutting dies for companies that produced jigsaw puzzles. He was asked to make drawings of the production equipment and displayed a natural talent for the work. The founder’s son, Robert Richards, saw promise in Clare’s natural abilities and mentored him. After graduating from high school, Clare began studying engineering at nearby Western Michigan University. Clare admits he was not thinking about college after high school and credits Robert Richards for encouraging him to pursue a degree in engineering.
Upon returning from a weekend trout fishing trip in April of 1950, Clare became sick with appendicitis and was admitted to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo. The doctors took his appendix, but it was a young nurse by the name of Kathleen McLean who took his heart. Kate thought that Clare was handsome and didn’t mind that he had to spend several days on her floor; he loved talking about animals with her during his recovery. Clare was a country boy and Kate a city girl, but there was an immediate attraction. A few weeks after his stay in Bronson, Clare called to ask her on a date.
Clare and Kate enjoyed a 6 week romance when the Korean War began. He enlisted in the Air Force because his college deferment expired, and he felt that the Air Force offered more opportunity for technical schooling. After his basic and MOS training was complete in the states, Clare received his orders for Korea. Just days before he was set to deploy, Clare received new orders to report to a radar equipment manufacturer in Montreal for 2 months, then to a radar installation on the Pine Tree Line in southern Canada. Clare’s job was to lead a group of 20 Airmen setting up and maintaining the microwave communication equipment. When he was off-duty, Clare was delighted to spend that time fishing the vast lakes of the Canadian wilderness. He became a student of the local lakes and streams and was well known for catching and frying up some of the best fish in the area. Clare was often assigned to provide a guided fishing tour for General Officers who came to inspect the installation. When he had a weekend pass, he would hitchhike the 16 hour drive from Ontario to Kalamazoo. If he wore his uniform, it turned out to be fairly easy to catch a ride.
The experience was much better than he could have imagined at the outset, and after four years Clare was honorably discharged from the Air Force. Three weeks later, he married Kate McLean. The newlyweds moved into military housing on the campus of Michigan State University, where Clare dove back into his engineering studies. They started a family shortly after marriage, and Clare graduated from MSU with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1958. He found early successes in his career by automating production lines in the cereal and pet food industries, and retired as the Manager of Engineering and Maintenance at Ralston Purina Company in Battle Creek.
While his career offered Clare ample opportunity to use his analytical attributes, his love for the outdoors and exploring never wavered. He canoed the Mississippi, upper Missouri, and Yellowstone rivers; he hunted pheasant in South Dakota and Nebraska, along with mule deer and other big game in Wyoming and Montana; he fished countless bodies of water from Florida to Alaska; and, often from his cabin in mid-Michigan, conquered the forests, hills, and trout streams of the Great Lakes State. One of Clare’s greatest accomplishments was hiking the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in 300-mile segments from Springer Mountain, Georgia in 1989 to Mount Katahdin, Maine in 1995.
For as passionate as he was about his career and his hobbies, nothing could surpass Clare’s love for his family. He was an extraordinarily proud father of four: daughters, Carolyn and Linda; and sons Carl and Larry. The Gildea family spent many vacations driving and camping, where Clare shared his enthusiasm for the outdoors with the kids. Hotels were seldom part of the trips. Instead, a simple Coleman stove at a roadside stop to make his best effort at scrambled eggs and bacon would hold the family over on the way to a rustic campground.
The seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren also learned to appreciate the outdoors, be it apple picking or fishing. Grandpa was their biggest cheerleader, as Clare loved to attend softball games, track and cross country meets, and anything else the grandkids were involved in. He loved to boast that all four of his children and all seven of his grandchildren graduated from college, an accomplishment he is most proud of each of them for completing.
Clare and Kate spent their retirement traveling the country. They continued camping, though they upgraded to an RV from their old tent. They also shared time cruising in the Caribbean and Alaskan waters, and participating in Elderhostel programs. They were members at the First Presbyterian Church in Schoolcraft, where they often volunteered, and where Clare was a member of the Session —a governing group of elders at the church. He often helped with maintenance and renovations, and particularly enjoyed working on the window restoration project.
Though he could be quiet and analytical at times, Kate brought out his soft side. They parented the kids as a team and supported each other in their decisions. Clare helped to care for Kate as she battled her Alzheimer’s, some six decades after she oversaw his appendicitis recovery. They spent 57 wonderful years of marriage together.
For 95 years, Clare Gildea conquered the forests, lakes, and streams of the great outdoors, as well as the steep hills and occasionally turbulent waters of life. He was a humble man who was proud of his family, unafraid to be both. Clare knew that life was meant to be an adventure—and he never stopped exploring.
Clare F. Gildea died on October 7, 2023. He is survived by two daughters: Carolyn Gildea and Linda (Jerry) Gilchrist; two sons: Carl (Linda) Gildea and Larry (Bonnie) Gildea; 7 grandchildren; and 2 great grandchildren.
Services will be held Tuesday, October 17, at 11 AM at First Presbyterian Church of Schoolcraft, with visitation one-hour prior. Burial at Hope Cemetery in Texas Corners. Visit Clare’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, and sign his guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation or Centrica Care Navigators. Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo 269-375-2900.