Obituary: Vera McIlwaine Laughton

Centenarian, great-grandmother, longtime music instructor, volunteer, traveler

Vera McIlwaine Laughton died May 29 at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, after living to be more than 100 years old.

She was born in Toronto, Canada on October 5, 1918. Vera and her five siblings moved to Los Angeles with their parents George and Sofia McIlwaine, arriving on her birthday, October 5, 1923.

Born into a musical family, she started playing the piano by ear at age three (she did not know how to read music). Over the proceeding years she played piano and sang with her father, brother and three sisters at various school and church events in South Los Angles.

In 1932 the family moved to Alhambra, where she met Ben Laughton. They were married in 1935 and started a family, welcoming two sons, Ed and Rich.

In 1948 the Laughtons moved to San Bernardino. By 1951 Vera had become increasing interested in piano and enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a minor in English. There she also learned to read music and began a piano teaching career that would last 61 years.

Her interest in music remained strong throughout her life. She focused on improvisation, studying under Everett Swank in Redlands, Erma Grossmueller in Alhambra, Sam Saxe in Hollywood, Jack Lawrence in South Gate and New York’s Marvin Kahn. In turn, she gave lessons to some of the music professors from USC, UCLA, Pepperdine and other colleges. Eventually she became a music instructor at San Bernardino Valley College.

She and Mr. Laughton were also very active in their community. He was president of San Bernardino High School parents club, president of the Colton Lion’s Club, taught business finance at San Bernardino Valley College, and was the owner of Laughton’s Colton Dodge. She was active with St. Bernardine Hospital and the Red Cross, served as a volunteer music therapist at Patton State Hospital, and taught classes at Skadron’s Business College.

Mr. Laughton died in February 1967.  

She and Van Miner were married in 1968, and over the next 16 years they traveled extensively— to Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, the Caribbean, Haiti, St. Thomas, Singapore, Bangkok, Hawaii and Canada—before Mr. Miner died in 1984.

She later married Walter Santelman, whom she was with until his death, in 2008.

In September 2012 she moved to Claremont Manor. The family wishes to thank the Manor nursing staff and management for their excellent support and care of Vera for the past seven years.

She was predeceased by her son Ed (Valarie) who died in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Ed was a 1962 graduate of Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna) and at one time held all the school’s long-distance track records; he was inducted into their athletic hall of fame in 1996.

She is survived by her son, Rich (Fran); grandchildren, Doug (Alison), Glen (Sarah), Crystal (Kyle) and Ron (Krista); and six great-grandchildren, Lauren, Harrison, Hana, Steven, Alette and Sinjon.   

A celebration of life is planned for September 14 from noon to 3 p.m. in Claremont Manor’s Manor Hall, at 650 Harrison Ave., Claremont.

Family and friends are invited to share memories of Ms. Laughton via email to


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