Obituary: Clara Berg Zink

Gemologist, equestrian, career woman, great-grandmother

Clara Berg Zink, age 87, died peacefully at her Claremont home in the early morning of November 27. Her ashes were scattered at sea.

The first child of Eastern European immigrants Samuel and Sophie Naliboff, Clara was born in El Centro, California on March 16, 1935.  Her formative years were shared between the family home in El Centro and a working ranch in Julian. During the sweltering summers at the Julian ranch, she and her beloved brother David would rest in the shade of an oak tree and read the encyclopedia from A to Z. This undoubtedly formed the foundation of her lifelong love of learning and explains the amazing depth and breadth of her knowledge.

A stellar student and debate team champion, she graduated El Centro High School in 1953, then attended San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). Based on her experience and love of caring for livestock, her goal was to become a large animal veterinarian. However, typical of the rigid gender roles of the 1950s, she was told that women could not become veterinarians and was directed toward classes intended specifically for women. During her first year at San Diego State, she met and married Selwyn “Sel” Berg.

From San Diego, they moved to Seattle, Washington, then Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then to Ithaca, New York, where Selwyn completed his graduate studies and PhD. In addition to having three children, she worked throughout these years to support her family financially. In 1963 the family returned to sunny Southern California and chose Claremont as the place to raise their children because of the academically focused environment and highly rated public schools. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1979.

A skilled seamstress, she became manager and co-owner of Claremont’s Expres-Sew fabric store on Foothill Boulevard. She is remembered fondly as a patient sewing instructor and was the first employer for many high school students and work-at-home moms. She had a knack for adapting sewing patterns to customize clothes and used this skill to help breast cancer survivors and other uniquely shaped individuals create fashionable clothing, swimwear, and lingerie they could wear with confidence.

Always polished and poised, she was an expert in style and professional appearance. She taught women to enhance their natural beauty with flattering colors and clothing styles so they could present their best professional self. She was the ghost writer of “The Magic of Color and Line,” one of the first books dedicated to improving personal style. Her guidance provided inspiration to women as they entered the workforce and developed their careers.

Ironically, as more women entered the workforce in the 1960s and ‘70s, fewer had time or interest in sewing clothing for their families. Subsequently, her fabric store, and others like hers, went out of business. Adapting to the changing times, she became a successful saleswoman at a local jewelry store. There she learned everything she could about jewelry and gemstones while on the job. In 1987, in keeping with her drive for excellence, she enrolled in the gemologist certification program at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica. While still a student, GIA quickly recognized her academic and instructional talents, and after earning her certification, she was hired to join the teaching staff. Thus began her career of nearly three decades as a gemologist and a key member of the GIA leadership staff and course development program. While there, she formed long lasting friendships with colleagues and the international gemology community.

She met her second husband Robert “Bob” Zink in an encounter group. In 1982 they married in the hayloft of a rustic barn in Claremont. When GIA moved its headquarters from Santa Monica to Carlsbad, she and Bob moved to Vista so she could be closer to her work. They shared a love of animals and travel, and toured broadly, from Central America to Britain and broader Europe, as well as to Africa and the Near East. They also made frequent trips to visit friends and grandchildren.

They were supporting members of the San Diego Wild Animal Park and loved bringing guests to revel in the wildlife experience. Not surprisingly, she encouraged her husband to learn to ride, and together, they had many amazing adventures on horseback. They were married for over 30 years, until his passing in 2012.

Retiring from GIA at the remarkable of age 80, she returned to her hometown of Claremont, where she lived from 2014 until her passing. She continued her love of learning in her retirement by auditing courses at the Claremont Colleges and in the community. Never forgetting her passion for horses, she continued to hone her skills as an equestrian through participating in lessons, trail rides, and horse shows. Despite difficulty walking during her final years, she continued to ride, with the help of the skilled staff at Leaps and Bounds, until just two months before her passing.

“Clara approached life’s many challenges with calmness and resolve,” her family shared. “She considered herself to be a lucky person, successfully seeking satisfying career and lifestyle opportunities and encouraged her family, friends, and colleagues to do the same.”

She was preceded in death by her by her brother, Dr. David Naliboff, and her husband, Bob.

She is survived by her children, Dr. Carrie Knoll (Paul) of Claremont; Sue Berg (Jack Lim) of Alameda, California; and Marc Berg (Julie) of St. Louis Park, Minnesota; stepdaughter Terry Stegman of Goodyear, Arizona; nephew and niece John and Lesley Naliboff; granddaughter Gabrielle Knoll; grandsons Nate Knoll, Chet Lim, Cyrus Lim, Charlie Berg, Benjamin Berg, and Cody Stegman; two great-nephews; and three great-grandchildren.

“A multitalented career woman and trailblazer, Clara was an inspiration to all who knew her,” her family said. “May her memory be a blessing.”

A celebration of life will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, February 19 at the Temple Beth Israel Social Hall, 3033 N. Towne Avenue, Pomona, CA . Please RSVP via email to

Remembrances may be expressed at, by typing “Clara Zink” into “Search Obituaries.”

In lieu of flowers, donations in her name may be made to Friends of Leaps and Bounds at, or the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance at


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