By Kathryn Stocks
It only takes a few minutes with Clara Campbell Lahmer to realize that she is a delightful woman who is still amazingly with it considering she was getting ready to celebrate her 106th birthday on January 1. She has such a cheerful, positive attitude toward life that she was a joy to interview. She wasn’t great on dates and her hearing is going, but she held her own when talking about her long life.
Clara was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1912. Her mother was a nurse and her father was with the Hudson Bay Co. Both parents came from the U.K. but didn’t marry until they got to Canada. They moved to Toronto when Clara was very young.
Clara grew up wanting to be a nurse liker her mother, but at 17 she was told she was too young for that profession and should come back when she was 21. So she became a teacher instead. It was a job she loved and she taught for 43 years before retiring. She was only supposed to teach for 40 years but she was asked back twice. Clara taught mostly at Norway Public School but also at Palmerston and Kent.
Her first class was a D class, meaning she had to teach the students with the most problems. But Clara must have been very good at her job because when it came to testing, her kids came out on top. She remembers spending $60 to buy workbooks for her class. “I didn’t really have $60 to spend but I did it anyway and it paid off.” It’s amazing to think that Clara’s first years of teaching would have been during the Great Depression.
Clara was never a pushover with her students. Once she saw one of her kids driving by in a car with a group of others, none of whom were old enough to drive. The police had to report him so Clara went to the jail, too. She got him out, but didn’t tell his father since the boy was only 9 and would have been punished harshly. “I didn’t comfort him, by the way. I said, ‘Don’t you ever take a ride again. Use your feet!’ ”
In 1967, she took 42 students to Expo 67 in Montreal. She had doubts about taking one particularly difficult boy so his mother came along to help her. Clara recalls him riding down the escalator arm while his mother was watching from the top. She was furious at both of them. “His mother nearly caused my death from heart failure!”
Later in life Clara married Albert (Bert) Lahmer, an engineer, artist and photographer. They had no children but they travelled the world during their years together. Bert had a house built on Haviland Drive in the Centennial area and they lived there for many years. Clara enjoyed life on Haviland and welcomed neighbourhood kids when they played in her yard. She and Bert started going to Grace Presbyterian Church during that time, which she said is “a very friendly church.” People she met there still visit her. She never drove a car but she said her neighbours were very helpful in getting groceries after Bert died.
A photo of Ctara taken when she was a young woman shows an exceptionally beautiful face. Time has taken away some of that outer beauty but her inner beauty remains, along with the sparkle in her eye and the giggle in her laugh. Living now at Cedarbrook Lodge Retirement Residence on Markham Rd., Clara speaks positively about the place. “They take good care of you here.” After a lively 90-minute interview, other centenarians would be exhausted. But not Clara. She was ready for lunch!