Obituary: Clara Soto Ivey

Beloved church, community leader, teacher, traveler

Clara Soto Ivey, a cherished church and community leader who inspired thousands of students in her Spanish classes to see the world and who never stopped loving her native Cuba, even after becoming an American citizen, died peacefully in her beloved Claremont on September 6. She was 86.

Clara taught at Claremont Graduate University, Pomona College, and The Webb Schools. She was an active member of Claremont United Methodist Church and volunteered frequently, often helping refugees, people who, like her, were forced to leave a land they loved in search of freedom.

In her final years, she was a key part of the community at Pilgrim Place, where she often shared stories, and flan, with other returned missionaries.

Affectionately known as Señora Ivey and Clarita, Clara Estrella Soto was born on April 24, 1936, in Omaja, Oriente, Cuba. Her father, Juan Soto, was an officer in the Cuban military. Her mother, María Soto, was a teacher, seamstress, and church leader.

Her mother saved money she made sewing to make sure that she and her older brother attended good schools and learned the value of service and education.

She found her passion for teaching while living at El Hogar Universitario, a Methodist dormitory and community in Havana. She taught visiting missionaries from the United States, among them Olin Marion Ivey, Jr., a young seminarian who caught her eye.

She and Olin married on September 10, 1960. They left a turbulent Cuba two days later, with roundtrip tickets and a plan to come back to a more peaceful future. They never returned to Cuba together. In 1961, they helped her brother, Onell Soto, get to the U.S., where he eventually became an Episcopal priest, a missionary, and eventually bishop.

When they left, her father, Juan, was beginning what would eventually be a 12-year sentence as a political prisoner. She was instrumental in making sure he did not face a firing squad. Her mother, Maria, would remain in Cuba until the late 1960s.

The young couple settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. Just two years after arriving with limited English, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University, graduating magna cum laude. Her husband earned his MDiv from Drew University in New Jersey.

She taught at Fairleigh-Dickinson University. Her first son, David, was born on November 27, 1964, in Brooklyn.

The family then moved to Southern California, where a second son, Daniel, was born November 20, 1966. Mr. Ivey earned his PhD, and she earned her MA from Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University).

She taught at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., while her husband taught at Evangelical Theological Seminary, also in Naperville, for four years. The family then moved as missionaries to Costa Rica, where she helped oversee three private schools.

Returning to Claremont in 1977, she briefly taught at the Claremont Unified School District. In 1978, she became the first woman to serve as a full-time professor at The Webb Schools. She was supportive of the new Vivian Webb School for girls, founded in 1981.

At Webb, she would organize trips to Spain for her students, many of whom became friends and colleagues as adults. She was also known for her delicious Cuban flan, baking it for special occasions and especially for birthdays.

In the winter of 1979, following years of efforts by her and her brother, Onell, their father Juan came to the United States. He settled in Claremont in 1980, joining his wife, María, after a forced separation of 20 years.

In 1979 she started teaching simultaneously at Pomona College and Webb. She would stop off to visit her parents on her way to or from teaching assignments.

In 1988, she and her husband divorced amicably.

She taught at Webb Schools until 1996, and retired from Pomona College in 2007, when she began teaching a summer course at Claremont Graduate School, which she maintained through 2019.

She was a national lay leader with the United Methodist Church, particularly with its Board of Global Ministries. She served also on the boards of Pomona Valley Habitat for Humanity, David and Margaret Youth and Family Services, and volunteered with many other organizations.

She traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, Machu Picchu, Peru, the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, Buenos Aires, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece, and many, many other destinations. With dear friends Shamsi Katebi, a Webb colleague, and Lidia Vasseur Tuttle, a friend from Cuba, she saw many wonders of the world.

Her travels also took her to Alexandria, Va., where her older son, David Ivey-Soto, is a chef and educator, and Albuquerque, N.M., where her younger son, Daniel Ivey-Soto, is a state senator and attorney.

She cared for her cousin, María Ester Mayo, in her final years.

Arabella Perez-Rumbos cared for her during her final months, visiting daily at Pilgrim Place Health Services Center. Tuttle and her daughter, Liana, cared for her as she was preparing to move to Pilgrim Place Health Services Center.

She is survived by her sons David Ivey-Soto (Lisa Ivey) and Daniel Ivey-Soto; granddaughter Olivia Rae Soto; sister-in-law Nina Soto (predeceased by her husband Onell A. Soto), and their children, Ana María Soto and her daughter Susana, Lidia Soto-Harmon (Robert Harmon) and their children Tomás and Nina, Onell R. Soto (Robin), Elena Soto-Chapa (Santiago Chapa) and their children Cristina, Alicia, and Lucas. She is also survived by cousins Enneris “Mike” Borrego and his family, Franky Cruz and his family; and by her former husband, Olin.

Señora Ivey, Clarita, Clara, Tía, Mami, and Abuela will always refer to Clara Soto Ivey. She is remembered as an inspiring educator, church leader, mother, and world traveler.

Memorial services are at 2 p.m. Saturday, October 15 at Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont. It is being streamed at youtube.com/c/ClaremontUMC. There will be a recording available on YouTube at the same channel under “Videos.”

Celebration of life services at Vivian Webb Chapel, 1175 W. Base Line Rd., Claremont, will be announced later.

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