Person of the Week: Clara DeFelice
100 years of life to reflect on
Longtime Shelton resident, Clara DeFelice will celebrate her 100th birthday this Friday.
DeFelice was born April 22, 1916 in Branford to Lorenzo and Clorinda D’Onofrio. She was the only daughter of four children.
When she was a young girl, her family moved to Shelton and lived on Center Street. After a few years the family purchased property on Walnut Avenue and built a small home there.
Their house became the first on the street with indoor plumbing which caused quite a commotion as a lot of the neighbors stopped by to get acquainted with this alternative to an outhouse, according to DeFelice.
Education wasn't a priority
She completed her grade school education at Commodore Hull School on Oak Avenue and began her freshman year at Shelton High School (which is today’s City Hall on Hill Street) but had to leave to take a factory job to help support the family as the Depression made it difficult for her father, a stonemason, to find work.
She met her future husband, Nicholas DeFelice, in the mid 1930’s and they were married on June 12, 1939. They had three children, two sons, David and William and one 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 by her family and friends for her cooking, baking, sewing and crocheting skills. Her homemade “macaroni” (fettucine), ravioli or lasagna, meatballs and chicken soup were expected to be on the table for Sunday dinners with family.
Holidays were when she made the “once a year” special desserts and cookies. When special family events such as christening, showers and weddings were held, she always joined her sisters-in-laws to bake numerous batches of special cookies for the huge cookie trays put out for everyone to enjoy at the party or take home.
Clara’s family has been a member of St. Joseph Parish shortly after it was established in 1906 as her mother and father were one of the first couples to be married in the parish on June 26, 1910.
While her children attended St. Joseph School from the late 40’s through the mid 60’s, Clara volunteered in a number of areas at the parish. In the mid 50’s a note was sent to her by the principal of the school, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order, with the request that she come down for the school for a meeting. Right away she asked her sons what kind of trouble they had gotten in that the principal wanted to meet with her.
It turned out in the meeting that the principal needed yards of fine lace to be crocheted to be used to edge the vestments of a young man who was preparing to be ordained as a priest. The problem, though, was that Clara didn’t know anything about crocheting -- which the principal didn’t believe – as, according to the principal, “all Italian girls know how to crochet.”
Not wanting to argue, she ended up learning how to crochet from her mother-in-law and supplied yards of the crocheted lace to the principal. She did later receive a letter from the mother of the new priest who expressed her thanks and appreciation for her hard work which made it all worthwhile, according to DeFelice.
She continued to use her new-found skills to crochet table doilies, sweaters and blankets for many years until the arthritis in her hands made it very difficult to do so. But during the time she was able to crochet, she made several afghans for her grandchildren, personalizing the ones for her grandsons with the logos of their favorite sports team.
In the 1960’s she served as president of the St. Joseph Rosary Society for two terms. The major project she directed as president was organizing the Society’s efforts to raise funds to purchase and install the large metal sign on the Convent lawn which lists clergy names and mass times. She even accompanied her husband, Nick, to Massachusetts to pick it up at the manufacturer’s plant and helped to install the original landscaping around the sign.
When her daughter went away to college in 1969, Clara decided that being home during the day left her with a lot of free time on her hands, so she sought out and took a job in downtown Shelton at the Slim Fit Dress factory, working as a sewer on the dress production line. Needless to say, that did not go over very well with her husband, Nick! His two major concerns were that she would get too tired from working at the factory and taking care of the house. She prevailed, however, and worked at Slim Fit for a good couple of years and loved making new friends among her co-workers.
Clara also gave her time in the community for many years, volunteering once a week for a number of years in the 70’s in the Griffin Hospital Thrift Shop in Derby and at the St. Vincent dePaul Society Thrift Shop in Shelton. She and her husband were one of the small group of parishioners from St. Joseph Church who were asked by Father Joseph McKenna, the founder of the St. Vincent dePaul Society Thrift Shop and a priest at St. Joseph’s, to help establish the organization and start the Thrift Shop.
Clara was one who always enjoyed socializing, and she and Nick began to play cards on a regular basis once a week during the day with other couples, hosting the group once a month as part of the rotation.
Full of love and a fan for sports
She and Nick were also members of the Shelton and Derby Senior Centers and went on many day and overnight bus trips with each center. She's been a huge Yankee fan since the beginning of her marriage and made many trips over the years to Yankee Stadium, the most memorable being ones when her sons were in grade school. She always remarked in later years that “the Yankees were never the same after they traded Mickey Rivers.”
She is also a fan of UConn women’s basketball and enjoys listening to their games. She also enjoyed visiting Connecticut and New Jersey casinos on bus trips with her husband before his passing and did so with her son and late daughter-in-law afterwards.
She has resided with her daughter and son-in-law since February, 2013 who can both confirm that she still has a great appetite and really enjoys her daughter’s home-cooked meals – but her real treat is going to Kentucky Fried Chicken for a lunch of chicken strips, corn and cole slaw.