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Claire Klint, 108; Woman of Firm Faith Taught Sunday School 80-Plus Years

April 01, 2006|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

If longevity ever embraces your life the way it embraces the lives of centenarians, sooner or later people will come to you with questions. They will ask about your secrets for living and your thoughts on the changing times.

If you are like Claire Klint, a 108-year-old woman who built a life on her faith, you will stand on the stage that longevity offers you and remember: the 11 surgeries that God brought you through. The time he put food on the table when there was no money in the house. The way he used a child to help pull you through a dark moment in life.

"The secret [to a long life] is trusting the Lord," Klint often said. "I thank him for each day I get."

She spoke of her promise "to work for him until he takes me home."

Klint's work ended March 14, when she died at the Glendale home she shared with her son Bill. In November she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which ultimately caused her death.

Of her 108 years, more than 80 were spent teaching Sunday school, said her son Ron. She finally had to give up teaching in September because of deteriorating eyesight.

Such a long career earned her a mention in the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" comic strip and stories in the Los Angeles Times and other papers.

But for nearly all of her life Klint was not a newsmaker. Hers was a quiet life filled with gardening, cooking special chicken dinners for her grandchildren and being hospitable.

Longevity, the sheer fact of living, made her noteworthy to strangers. Living in the manner that she did, fulfilling her promise to God, made her deserving of emulation to those who knew her.

"We are her final class, and her life and example are her final lesson," wrote the Rev. Kurt Gebhards, pastor of children's ministries at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. Klint was a member of the congregation for 30 years.

She lived in three centuries. Her life began in Brookville, Ill., where, in 1898, she was born to the Rev. John W. Buente, a pastor with the Evangelical Assn.

In the years after World War I, she lived in Chicago, working in a bookkeeping department and for the Federal Reserve Bank until she married in 1922.

She and her husband, Charles, had three sons, Dale, Bill and Ron. Her sons survive her, as do five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Throughout the changes in her life, as her children grew and had families of their own, Klint's constant passion was teaching Sunday school to second-graders, the ones she thought the ripest for learning.

At that age, before doubt has taken root, children listen to the ancient stories -- of a baby born in Bethlehem, of a wondrous Resurrection, of a flood and a rainbow -- with a mind open to belief.

If anybody doubted, Klint could always offer herself as an example. At the age of 100 she could still recite the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments and other Scripture from memory. She sang verse after verse of the old hymns, such as "Make Me a Blessing" and "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross," without cracking open a hymnal.

"It's the ones that I learned when I was younger that I remember," Klint told a writer for a church bulletin. "This is the memory age, 7 or 8. You remember the things that you learned much more than trying to remember them when you get older."

Despite the fact that a century separated her from her second-graders, she "knew how to relate to them and to their own lives," said Ron Klint. "She had the gift to be able to communicate to the kids at their level."

Difficult times followed after her husband died of a heart attack at 52.

But such ordeals did not cause Klint to stop teaching. In the midst of her grief, her youngest son, Ron, then 7, encouraged her to pray. She washed neighbors' laundry and cleaned their homes to make ends meet. She kept her promise to God.

In 1955 Klint's son Bill was hired as an engineer at Lockheed, and soon the rest of the family joined him in California. The family worshiped at Fountain Avenue Baptist Church in Hollywood and at First Baptist Church of Van Nuys before joining Grace Community.

Eighty years of Sunday school instruction meant Klint taught through five wars: World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and two wars in Iraq. She taught before the birth of television, the personal computer and the cellular phone.

Some changes and trends never caught on with Klint. She preferred the old hymns to the more contemporary worship music. She chose the King James Version of the Bible over the newer, easier-to-read translations. Though the shelves of Christian bookstores are lined with teaching aids -- DVDs, CDs, computer games -- Klint liked to use the simplest of all, a flannel-covered board to which she applied cutout paper characters.

As age took its toll on her body, teaching became physically demanding. To reach her second-floor classroom at Grace Community she had to climb 20 stairs. Church officials offered to move the class, but Klint was not one to accept favors or surrender to difficulties. She was content to climb.

She was still climbing at age 100, when she told a reporter she "felt no different now than I did 10 or 20 years ago."

Though people often asked her about her long life, especially around the time of her birthday, Klint made no fuss about her age, nor did her young charges.

Often the second-graders, their minds open and ripe for learning, did not know her age, nor did they even "realize what a hundred years is."

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