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Margaret Boggess

Loving matriarch and friend, passionate gardener

Margaret M. Boggess died peacefully in her sleep on May 1, 2014. She was 100 years old.

She was born Margaret Elmira Miller on September 11, 1913 at her grandparents’ house in Pomona. Her parents, Nellie and Charles, lived on a five-acre dairy on Kingsley and Monte Vista in Pomona. She and her two brothers, Harold and Alfred, grew up roaming the surrounding groves and enjoying trips to the beach. Life wasn’t all play. Young Margaret made at least a dozen pies a week to help feed the many men who worked in the dairy. Expert baking was a talent she would be known for throughout her life.

Margaret graduated from Chaffey College with an Associate of Arts degree in 1933. Soon after, she met Iowa native Clayton Boggess through a friend of a friend when he was out visiting southern California. The couple was married in 1934. They resided in the Hawkeye State for two years before coming back to the Inland Valley, where Mrs. Boggess would live for the rest of her life.

She and her husband lived in a few different places in Pomona before settling in 1946 at their final home, located on nearly an acre in north Claremont. The land was in a lemon grove so the yard was packed with lemon trees, but she longed for a garden she could make her own. Mr. Boggess knew a thing or two about trees, having co-founded B & R Tree Service a few years earlier. He landscaped the yard for his wife, allowing her to plant a variety of fruit trees. Margaret also created an expansive garden, featuring masses of roses and tulips, as well as a sizeable vegetable patch. 

“She loved to see gardens and gardeners the world over and would marvel at the similarities and differences and just revel in the sheer beauty of nature,” her granddaughter Margaret O’Neill shared. “When talking about the differences in gardening styles, she would always remark, “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Everybody likes something different.’”

Having lived through the Depression, Mrs. Boggess let nothing go to waste. She canned tomatoes, made her own applesauce and was famous for her jams and jellies, featuring homegrown ingredients like apricots, pomegranates and blackberries.

“Anything that grew on the property got canned, so to speak,” her grandson Steven Felschundneff said. “And anyone who ventured on the property at the right time of year left with a jar of jam and maybe a jar of pickles.”

Mr. Felschundneff fondly recalls her bread and butter pickles as well as her “wicked stuffing” and baked goods.

“She would bake bread every week,” he said. “That warm bread with butter was the best thing in the world.”

Mrs. Boggess had an uncanny way of remembering the favorite pies of her friends and relatives. On their birthdays, Mr. Felschundneff and his sister Theresa knew they could count on their grandmother preparing a fresh-from-scratch pie, coconut cream and cherry, respectively.

Mrs. Boggess, who insisted “handwork is a woman’s sanity,” also spent a great deal of time knitting and sewing. She made handmade clothes for her children and grandchildren and continued to knit prolifically into her late 90s. Over the years, she turned out dozens of knitted washcloths to sell at the Pilgrim Place Festival and countless beanies to help warm the premature babies at a local hospital.

While she enjoyed many traditionally feminine pursuits, Mrs. Boggess had a bit of snap to her.

“She was a very poised woman but, as she used to say, she loved a beer straight from the can now and then,” Ms. O’Neill shared. “And she was a stubborn woman. Grandma was a sweetheart, but she always stood up for what was right.”

With her quick wit, striking blue eyes, beautiful smile and vivacious personality, Mrs. Boggess left a lasting impression on everyone who met her.

Mrs. Boggess’ zest for life was especially remarkable because she endured so many losses over the years. The first of the Boggesses’ children, David, died as an infant. They had a son, Johnny and a daughter, Janice, who passed away in their teens in the 1950s. Mrs. Boggess was widowed in 1965 and eventually outlived her daughters Joan and Jane, as well as her teenaged granddaughter Gretchen.

“She just soldiered on. That was part of her character,” Ms. O’Neill said.

Joan, a longtime Claremont resident, was a well-loved and respected science teacher whose service at Claremont schools earned her a Teacher of the Year award. Jane spent many years traveling and had a distinguished career in the family planning field. Both were known for having inherited their mother’s fierce independence.

“They were called ‘The Damn Boggess Women,’ and it wasn’t always meant as a compliment,” Ms. O’Neill laughed. “But they always took it as a compliment. They were a force to be reckoned with—movers and shakers in their own way.”

Mrs. Boggess also passed on her love of all things culinary, and enjoyed nothing so much as cooking with her daughters. Joan died in 1999 and Jane died in 2004.

B & R Tree Service came to thrive, servicing many of the street trees in Claremont as well as doing much of the tree work for the Claremont Colleges. They also worked to help clear the trees for the Mt. Baldy ski lift. Mrs. Boggess served on the city of Claremont’s tree committee for many years, putting her arboreal expertise to good use.

After Clayton died in 1965, the homemaker turned businesswoman. Margaret ran the tree service until she retired in 1979. Her leadership in a male-dominated field was an unusual feat for the time.

She spent her retirement traveling, gardening, baking, cooking, knitting and sewing. She continued canning the many fruits that she grew in her groves and made homemade jam and pies until the last few years of her life. Mrs. Boggess, who had a recurring dream of flying with the birds, was also an amateur birdwatcher. She loved hearing the mourning doves and always waited eagerly for the mockingbirds to begin calling in the spring.

“She was a woman of the earth,” Ms. O’Neill said.

She was a dedicated grandmother, always interested in the lives of the young people around her.

“She lit up when talking about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their many activities and accomplishments,” Ms. O’Neill said.

Mrs. Boggess’ home provided an idyllic refuge for her grand- and great-grandchildren. It was a small farm, surrounded by citrus groves, and home to rabbits, goats, chickens and peafowl. She also found room to house various relatives’ horses and ponies. There was space to wander and a blackberry vine begging to be harvested.

Mrs. Boggess was a woman of many interests, her grandchildren shared. She was very involved in all of the doings of the Claremont United Church of Christ, serving on the flower committee among other groups and volunteering for Meals on Wheels. In her younger years, she was a Girl Scout troop leader. She enjoyed listening to classical music, pored through the newspaper every day and tuned into informative TV programs like the “MacNeil News Hour” and Huell Howser’s “California Gold!” She was especially interested in news about agriculture and farmers the world over.

In 1987, Mrs. Boggess became seriously ill. Mr. Felschundneff remembers his mom connecting with the entire family via telephone, telling them to prepare for the worst.

“She said, ‘Grandma’s in the hospital and she’s not going to make it,’” Mr. Felschundneff remembered. “As it turned out, she outlived all the people making those calls.” 

In her last days, Mrs. Boggess, who celebrated her 100th birthday at the Los Angeles County Fair, derived great pleasure from being around her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many friends. She was a constant inspiration, according to family.

“I was always amazed at the number of people that would call or drop by her home of 68 years and tell about times when Margaret helped them when they were in need, either with a meal on the table, a listening ear or advice that was genuine and from the heart,” Ms. O’Neill said. “She is a woman who made an impression on so many lives—a mother and mentor to many in her own family and beyond. She will be dearly missed.”

Mrs. Boggess is survived by three grandchildren, Theresa Darrass and her husband David, Margaret O’Neill and Steven Felschundneff and his wife Grace as well as by his nephew and his wife, Richard and Barbara Miller. She also leaves four great-grandchildren: Niko, Hannah, Josh and Jasmine.

A memorial service for Mrs. Boggess will be held on Saturday, May 24 at 2 p.m. at the Kingman Chapel of the Claremont United Church of Christ, located at 233 Harrison Ave. in Claremont. A reception will follow at the house of her grandson Steven. All are welcome to attend.

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