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Carol Sontag: Theater namesake, gracious hostess

Theater namesake, gracious hostess

Carol Sontag, a longtime Claremont resident, died on September 12, 2015. She was 91.

She was born Carol Ann Furth on January 8, 1924 in Woodland, California, the third child and only daughter of Victor and Valance Furth of Winters, California in Yolo County. She was a third-generation native Californian, her great-grandparents having migrated west during the Gold Rush.

She was raised on the ranch in Winters owned by her father and grandfather, Furth and Furth Orchards, where they grew apricots and almonds. As a girl, she helped in the drying yards, watching over the muslin sheets where apricot halves were laid to dry in the hot California sun.

The Furth family left the ranch and moved to Berkeley, where Carol graduated from Berkeley High. She went on to attend the University of California, as had her parents and much of her family, living in the Tri Delta house on campus and becoming president of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. She was named a senior standout, an honor accorded for outstanding academic performance.

After graduating with a degree in public speaking in 1945, she spent the summer working at Fallen Leaf Lodge, now Stanford Lodge on Fallen Leaf Lake. There she met her future husband, Frederick Sontag, who was also working at the camp during his summer break from Stanford University. Courtship led to marriage and, following a wedding ceremony in Piedmont, California on June 10, 1950, they moved immediately to New Haven, Connecticut where Fred went to earn his PhD at Yale. Mrs. Sontag was a meticulous speller and, having worked in the registrar’s office while at Cal—where she learned shorthand and perfected her typing skills—typed all of Dr. Sontag’s graduate papers at Yale as well as the dissertation for his PhD.

In 1952 the couple moved across the country to Claremont, where Dr. Sontag had accepted a post as professor of philosophy at Pomona College. They moved into a college-owned house on the corner of College Avenue and 7th Street, now site of the Seeley G. Mudd Science Center. They were joined by a son, Grant Furth, on March 19, 1955, followed by a daughter, Anne Burnett, on May 14, 1956.

The growing family moved to a new tract home above Foothill Boulevard in what was a former orange grove at 713 Cedarview Drive. From there, Dr. Sontag biked to the college every day, taking first Grant and then Anne to Mary B. Eyre Nursery School while Mrs. Sontag kept up the home. She also volunteered as a “Gray Lady” for the American Red Cross, and worked part-time as a secretary in Pomona’s history department and elsewhere on campus.

In 1958-59, the Sontag family enjoyed the first of several wonderful sojourns while Fred was on sabbatical at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1960 the Sontags took up residence in a beautiful vintage home at 1120 N. Indian Hill Blvd. in the Claremont Village, the setting for many a wonderful dinner party hosted by Fred and Carol.

Mrs. Sontag was an accomplished cook and, during a sabbatical year in Paris in 1973-74, she and Anne even took some classes at the famed Cordon Bleu, sharing their culinary delights with a steady flow of guests grateful for a warm welcome and delicious meal. She loved to plan dinner parties, cook, and entertain guests in style—often including Pomona students, faculty and alumni.

Her care extended to the smallest detail, and she added to the table decorations she had made or silver pieces she had crafted working alongside College friends Jean Platt and Masago Armstrong, under the tutelage of silversmith Catherine Bruce. There wasn’t a craft in which Carol couldn’t excel. She was gifted at needlepoint, knitting and embroidery, and her pillows and framed pieces adorned their beautiful home. Unstinting in her generosity, she also shared her handiwork as gifts, along with products from her kitchen and handmade cards.

The Sontags loved to travel, often in conjunction with Dr. Sontag’s scholarly work, and during their lifetime they visited every continent except Antarctica and every state except Alaska. In addition to New York and Paris, Mrs. Sontag set up homes in Rome and Kyoto and, of course, they entertained itinerant Pomona students in every locale. Carol always found a way to coax a dinner party even out of a cramped kitchen. Perhaps her favorite destination was Cambridge, England where Fred was at one point a scholar-in-residence at Jesus College. Mrs. Sontag loved the Gothic architecture, the flowers in the courtyards and going to hear the famous King’s College Choir.

The Sontags shared a love of classical music and were season ticket holders to the LA Philharmonic, the LA Chamber Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl, often taking their children to these venues as well as to many theater performances in the Los Angeles area. Carol served on the Foothill Philharmonic Committee for decades, raising money for the orchestra. She was also active in the Curtain Raisers, supporting productions at Claremont’s Garrison Theater. Dr. and Mrs. Sontag enjoyed attending concerts at Pomona or the Congregational Church where they were members throughout their lives.

In the 1970s, Fred and Carol took up tenancy in Pomona’s Harwood Court as faculty residents, providing yet another generation of Pomona students with their warm welcome and gracious hospitality. They were honored as a couple during their lifetime through the generous gifts of Pomona alumni, who made possible in 1997 the dedication of the Sontag Greek Theatre on campus. 

In 1998 the Sontags relocated for the last time to Pilgrim Place, where they enriched the retirement community by their presence and were able to extend friendships going back decades as well as to establish new ones. Carol made friends readily and was always interested in discussing the news of the day, a recent performance she had attended or the scores of her favorite sports teams. She was proud of the accomplishments achieved by her husband, children and grandchildren.

“She was a talented, gracious and well-loved woman, dedicated to her family and her community,” family shared.

Mrs. Sontag was predeceased by her husband Frederick, her brothers Gordon and Alan Furth, her sister-in-law Nina Furth and her nephew Andrew Furth.

She is survived by her son Grant of Mountain View; her daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Paul Karch of Madison, Wisconsin; and her grandchildren, Rachel, Lydia and Chas Karch (Sally). She also leaves her sister-in-law Virginia Furth of Oakland and nieces Wynne Furth (Don Brenneis) of Palo Alto and Amy Furth of Seattle, all of whom she loved dearly.

A memorial service will be held on November 21, 2015 at 3 p.m. in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place. Memorial contributions may be made to Foothill Philharmonic, Pomona College, Pilgrim Place or VNA Hospice of Southern California, which provided care in Carol’s final days.

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