Claudia Ottoson Hassler died suddenly on the morning of March 2. She was 88.
She leaves behind a legacy of love and a trail of wistful smiles, as she was beloved by her family and friends. And she made friends everywhere she went for all her days.
Claudia was born on Dec. 6, 1931, in Canton, Pennsylvania, to Elmer and Edith Ottoson. She was the eldest of two sisters. Her father was the town dentist and her mother taught piano.
When she was 4, she was joined by her youngest sister, Emily. The sisters enjoyed an idyllic youth, playing in the stream in the backyard and sledding in the winter. Once they took the train to see the World’s Fair in New York City.
Claudia attended Juniata and Wilson colleges, where at her father’s urging, she studied education. She loved her college years, where she made friends for life, but she had other plans too. Claudia had her eye on a guy who was four years her senior, for a long time before he noticed her. He was a football player for Penn and already had a girlfriend.
Turns out, none of that mattered, as Bill and Claudia were wed on June 13, 1953, in the Media, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Church with his dad officiating.
After marrying, Claudia taught school in New Jersey while Bill attended Princeton Seminary. Bill’s first church was in Allentown, New Jersey, a town and church dating to the Revolutionary War days. Their son, Charles, was born in 1955, followed by Emily in 1957. Soon after the birth of Emily, Bill and Claudia took family in tow and embarked on the greatest adventure of their lives, taking on a job as mobile missionaries in faraway Montana. Family members lamented they’d never see them again, but they ended up coming every summer and staying too long.
They first lived in a breathtakingly rustic house in Kalispell, but after a few lean years serving several tiny churches, they moved to Missoula, where Bill served as a campus pastor at the university. Those were wild years during which college kids wandered in and out of the house like family. Claudia loved them all.
In 1967, Bill and Claudia moved to Powell where he became pastor of Union Presbyterian Church. As always, Claudia was a partner in the ministry. Son Chris joined the family in 1969, completing the family. Claudia left Powell in 1978 when Bill took an associate synod executive position with the Presbyterian Church in Pueblo, Colorado.
Claudia made many friends in Pueblo and loved it there, but Bill was not content in Colorado and she amicably agreed to move back to Powell when he semi-retired in 1991. That was the final move of her life. She would spend the next three decades making a home for Bill, helping on the family homestead, helping with her grandchildren, and helping with her church. Helping is what Claudia did.
She and Bill were married 67 years. Her prayer list was a long one. You were probably on it. She wanted everyone included and insisted that the sparrows be fed along with the songbirds.
Claudia’s family will remember her gentle and forgiving spirit as our guiding light. They will remember her patience, kindness and eternal optimism. They will remember the cards and the notes and the hugs. Always the hugs. They will remember the procession of dogs and crazy cats who were fortunate to become her beloved pets across the arc of her life. They will remember the daily crossword puzzles and ubiquitous books. But more than anything, they will remember the bounty of love that flowed from her heart like a great river.
In remembrance of Claudia, the family asks that we go a little easier on each other. Maybe give a hug to someone who’s hurting. She’d like that.
A memorial service celebrating Claudia’s life is scheduled for Monday, March 9 at 11 a.m., at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Powell.