The family and friends of Clella Kay Thomas mourn her death this month at the age of 77. Her life was marked by fierce affection for her family, friends, food, France, education and the causes that she believed made things better. She loved to help people, plants, and our community to grow and flourish.
Clella was born in Corvallis, Oregon to Carlyn and Florence Winger, who instilled a tireless work ethic through their example. Her mother operated a family horticultural business, and her father was a professor of Speech at OSU. They nurtured Clella’s love of education, an area in which she excelled personally and advocated for others continuously.
She began exploring the world at 16 as an American Foreign Exchange student to Denmark, inspiring her interest in foreign language. She received a Bachelors of Arts in Romance Languages from University of Oregon, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. In 1969 she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Grenoble, France and went on to earn a Master’s of Arts in French at the University of Wisconsin in 1970.
Clella married Bob Thomas in 1970 and accompanied him to Camp Pendleton, CA where she taught French and Spanish at a nearby junior high. By 1973, the couple settled in Bend, where Mark and Whitney, were born. Clella continued to teach French, first at Redmond High school and later at Central Oregon Community College. She brought France to Bend, creating a Tour des Chutes bicycle ride, offering escargot in her children’s elementary school classrooms, and evoking the streets of Paris at the Meal of the Year. Her four grandchildren all knew her as Mémé.
Renowned for her delicious kitchen creations, Clella’s homemade French baguettes, pecan pies and hot sweet mustard were especially treasured. She was equally gifted in the garden, having inherited her parents’ green thumbs. She even operated an “orchid hospital,” restoring many ailing plants back to health.
Clella was a prolific activist for causes to improve the community: Start Making a Reader Today (SMART), numerous school bond measures, COCC, the Bloom Project, Bend Community Center, Tower Theater, OSU Cascades, University of Oregon, United Way, St. Charles Foundation, Education Foundation (for Bend schools) and Partners in Care hospice house. She was a proud member of Campfire Girls, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, PEO, and Allied Arts. The family invites contributions in her honor to any of these causes she championed, and if you listen carefully, you might well hear Clella asking you to give one more time!
Clella is survived by her loyal husband Bob, her children, Mark and Whitney, her grandchildren, Rosie, Ian, Andrew and Alex and her brother, Bob Winger.