For over half a century, Clara Togtman of Orland Park has been a loyal Providence supporter. She has sewn items for residents, volunteered time with churches who visited communities, and generously remembered Providence with financial gifts ever since the first Providence community was built. So when, at age 102, Clara Togtman decided it might be time for her to move to an Independent Living community, the logical choice was Victorian Village—even during 2020, when the coronavirus was at its most active. Was she nervous to move during a global pandemic?
“Not really,” Clara says. “I knew God was there and that he’d take care of me.”
Her response fits what Reverend Michael Kooy, the Victorian Village Chaplain and her pastor at Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, says about Clara. “She’s the kind of person who never lets things fluster her,” he says. “No matter what comes her way, she just rolls with it. And she does it with a smile.”
Clara’s story starts when she was born in 1918, the fourth of what would eventually be eight children. As a young woman, she became engaged, but her fiancé was tragically killed in World War II. However, Clara was never alone. With a loving family, including many loving nieces and nephews, and countless friends, Clara has lived an active and social life, particularly in her devotion to her church and those the church serves. Always a hard worker, Clara became Accounting Manager of Kroger, a job she held for over 30 years, in both the Chicago area and in Grand Rapids. It was no surprise that when she celebrated her 100th birthday in 2018, over 200 people attended to honor her long and beautiful life. “The church was packed with people,” says Rev. Kooy. “It brought tears to my eyes to see this woman who was loved by so many.”
After living independently for many years, and then living with her gracious niece for several more years, Clara decided it was time to make the move to Victorian Village. “I already knew so many people who lived there,” she says. “I knew it would be a great place for me, and it really has been.”
Clara says that the two-week quarantine before moving, as well as the two-week quarantine after moving to Victorian Village, didn’t bother her. “I was used to living alone before,” she says. “And this time, I knew it was temporary. I could be patient.”
But she has enjoyed Victorian Village even more as it has begun to open up. “I go to dinner every day in our dining room,” she says. “And I love puzzles and games, and there are always people who want to play.” After getting both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, she has also been going to church with her nephew in Palos Heights, as well as attending spiritual services on the Victorian Village campus.
Clara is currently the oldest resident at any of our Providence communities, but she has no plans to slow down. This past March, Clara celebrated her 103rd birthday at her new home. The faces of residents and staff alike light up at the mention of Clara’s name. Her positive spirit and devotion for service has been infectious and inspiring to those who encounter her. But Clara downplays that service. “I’m just doing what God wants me to do,” she says. “He’s done so much for me.”
Clara continues to look to the future with gratitude and hope. “In my life, I’ve seen a lot of changes in this world,” she says. “I’ve been through the Great Depression, and so many other events. God has taken care of me every time. I don’t know what else I will experience, but I know God is with me. I am blessed.”