Family Comes First for Claire Tona
Though one of her sons, Joe Tona, bought the property some years ago, Tona still lives in the modest home in Happy Valley that continually resounds with happy voices when family members drop in to help with yard work or repairs and maintenance on the six acres where 37 years of memories have been made. At 81, she labors in the middle of it all. She tends the vegetable garden, mows lawns with her riding mower, prunes and picks fruit from the orchard. At the end of each growing season she pulls out the canning jars and preserves what isn’t eaten fresh. Hand-dug cellar walls display shelves of jars packed with pickles, jams, corn, green beans, peaches and more that Tona has put up for the family pantry. She makes her own garlic powder and hot pepper powder and cures her own olives, all to share with family and friends.
Holidays, birthdays and any old occasion to get together tend to be progressive affairs. Food, games, movies, sports and horseplay usually start at Grandma’s house. Two or three days later, the food seems to have multiplied as the party hopscotches to other family homes. Daughter Anita Drake explains, “We were each others’ best friends growing up, and we still are.”
Claire Tona doesn’t sit still for long. She loves to try new things. Through the years she has become a proficient basket weaver incorporating a variety of natural materials, primarily pine needles, along with raffia and waxed thread. She is an oil painter who wants to take more classes. She raises and dries gourds for a variety of craft projects. Tona participates actively in Sacred Heart Catholic Church activities and has been busy through the years supporting community events.
When her husband died, Tona worked 14-hour days seven days a week to maintain the three businesses he had built. When she realized she couldn’t continue the pace, the family loaded into a van and moved from Lancaster to Happy Valley. Some of the older children stayed behind, but the rest crowded cozily into a single-wide mobile home.
The sale of the businesses and a small inheritance allowed Tona to stay home with her children for the first five years while they built onto the house. They worked together planting the garden and added some animals to their small family farm. One season, they expanded the pond where the kids played out their Huck Finn fantasies. Another summer, the two youngest boys learned the value of hard work along with three cousins: Tona marked off a few feet in the hillside each day for the boys, who dug a cavern big enough for a usable cellar. By week’s end they had earned a trip to the fair. Tona loved to have fun with her family. She didn’t think twice about loading everyone into the van and taking off to visit cousins in Arizona or Colorado.
A patchwork montage of black-and-white family photos displays the image of Tona as a young mom holding one of her infants; it’s a gift that the family presented to her on her 70th birthday. She loves the babies of the family, commenting that she “enjoyed the children while they were home. They were a gift from God.”
Daughter Frances Zuckswert says, “She’s always got our back. She is always thinking of others. She taught us how to give without thinking about what we get out of it.” Drake adds, “When I’m thinking about doing something that I’m not sure I can do, I am inspired by my mom’s example.” Claire Tona has never looked at limitations, only possibilities, and still influences three generations of her descendents to do the same. •