Former Ben Avon mayor Claire Wilwohl dies

Even though she never sought the top spot of Ben Avon Borough government, Claire Wilwohl served three terms as the mayor, deciding not to run for a fourth term in 1998, but having compiled a list of accomplishments that ranged from procuring grants for new street lighting to officiating at the weddings of 25 couples, to helping the "Lorenzo's Oil"crew with any needs during the several months of filming the movie in the borough.

"Her time as mayor of Ben Avon may not have been an ambition of hers, but she was effective in the office," recalls former council member Dick Herchen-roether, now the president of the Ben Avon Area Historical Association. "To work with her and observe her work with others was both enjoyable and a learning experience. Her years as mayor of Ben Avon were appreciated by a large majority of the voting public."

When she died on Feb 4 at age 87, a lifetime of serving in many capacities beyond her mayoral duties ended, and it would have been understandable if the borough hall clock that bears her name had paused for just a second to note her passing.

Born and raised on Pittsburgh's North Side, Claire lived for 60 years on Church Avenue, where she was an active volunteer not only in Ben Avon, but in the entire Avonworth community.

In addition to her tenure as mayor, she served as president of the ACORD board, started the Concert-in-the Park program there, and helped to build Kids' Kingdom. She belonged to the Women's Auxiliary at Suburban General Hospital and was an original member of the "Just for Fun" book club. She also was a member and past president of Avon Club and sexton at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon (CPCBA) where, for nearly two decades, she also served as the wedding coordinator.

As if all of that were not enough, her son, Scott added that she "…worked tirelessly with Barb Kholer to keep the church sparkling clean, even during the two years of reconstruction when the Ben Avon Presbyterian churches merged."

And in her spare time, she was a volunteer crossing guard when Avonworth School District could not afford to increase the guard staff.

While working at the neighborhood market, Elstes, from the mid-1960s until its closing, she learned to butcher sides of beef and pork, while at the same time friending more people than might be found on most Facebook accounts.

Former Ben Avon Heights mayor Bob Kiser recalls, "Claire always -- and especially during her years as mayor -- had her finger on the pulse of Ben Avon. She knew everyone and knew everything going on in Ben Avon, and everyone knew her. She was really 'wired in' to the community.”

Sharing that view, Herchenroether said. "I equate Claire and people. She was friends with many, and friendly with almost everyone else. Although not wealthy with money, the impact of the time she committed was difficult to account for other than to say she made many lives better in the process."

Rose Meacci and her family were among those friendships struck up at Elstes. "I stopped in one day and she asked if we were new to the community," Rose said. "A few days later, she invited us to dinner and from then on, we were friends. We shared so many good times together. She was always there for us and she was a great supporter through my cancer -- caring, calling, making dinners."

Although she approached every job and position with intensity, her priority was her association with her church.

Former pastor Jean Henderson said, "Claire was a living archivist for the Ben Avon church. She was a complete Presbyterian: member, officer, staff. She answered every question ever asked with clarity and cheerfully accepted any task requested with grace."

Pastor Donna Giver-Johnston met Claire in the summer of 1994, when she was a pastoral intern at CPCBA,. "I will never forget the first time I met her. She introduced herself as 'Claire Wilwohl, the sexton of the church.' I was embarrassed that I did not know what she was talking about. Before I could ask her to explain, she said, 'I take care of the church.' For the next couple months, I witnessed Claire care for the church -- thoroughly, faithfully, lovingly.

"In the last year, as the pastor of the church, I have known Claire, not as the sexton, but as a church member. I have visited with Claire, not at the church, but in her home. Still, she always asked how things were at the church. Even though she could not be there, still Claire cared for the church-thoroughly, faithfully, lovingly. Although she is no longer sitting at the desk in the narthex and welcoming people, the desk is still, and will always be called 'Claire's desk.' It will serve as a reminder of Claire's loving care for the church, as well as a call to all of us to do the same."

Claire Wilwohl is survived by sons Stephen, Scott, and Jeff, seven grandchildren, six great grandchildren and two sisters. She was preceded in death by her husband, Jack, her daughter, Eve, and two sisters. A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. at CPCBA.

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