Her famous brother-in-law had not yet been elected president. But he already had been vice president, as well as a U.S. senator and a congressman from California, and Clara Jane Nixon wanted to preserve some of his family history.
So, beginning in 1967, the Newport Beach homemaker set out to track down and collect the furniture, books and other belongings that had filled the modest boyhood home of Richard M. Nixon. She hoped that one day the artifacts might be displayed in a museum.
Clara Jane Nixon: In the Jan. 21 LATExtra section, a headline on the obituary of Clara Jane Nixon, sister-in-law of President Nixon, misspelled her first name as Carla. —
With the help of other family members, the wife of F. Donald Nixon, a brother of the future president, found and preserved hundreds of items from his childhood home in Yorba Linda, including the piano on which he took lessons, the table where his family ate its meals and the china and crystal his parents received as wedding gifts.
She found the high chair he used as a toddler, the bed on which he was born and the quilt, dating from 1875, that had been used to cover it. The furnishings and other belongings of the Nixon family are displayed in the 900-square-foot farmhouse, a museum near the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda.
"Clara Jane was just essential to all those artifacts being saved," her brother-in-law Ed Nixon said in a phone interview Sunday. "We're very thankful she was there all these years and for everything she did to preserve the family history."
Clara Jane Nixon died Thursday at a convalescent facility in Irvine where she was receiving care after a recent fall at the home where she had moved after her husband's death in 1987, family members said. She was 93.
She was born Clara Jane Lemke on Nov. 16, 1919, in Westmoreland, a community in Imperial County where her parents were homesteading. She weighed in at less than five pounds, according to the scale — normally used for weighing chickens — that her father employed for the task, her daughter LawreneAnfinson said in a phone interview.
She grew up in Placentia, where her parents, Lawrence and Mae Lemke, were citrus farmers. After graduating from Fullerton High School, she attended Sawyer Business College in Westwood and later worked as a secretary at a law firm.
When she was 20, she was introduced to F. Donald Nixon, who was her third cousin on her mother's side. They dated for just three weeks before he asked for her hand, and they were married on Aug. 9, 1942. They had three children: daughter Lawrene, who was named for her grandfather Lawrence, and sons Donald and Richard.
Their son Richard Calvert Nixon died in 2002. In addition to her daughter and her son Donald, Clara Nixon's survivors include six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
In later years, after President Nixon resigned in disgrace on Aug. 9, 1974, his youngest brother was often asked about the significance of the date.
"Whenever anyone asked me, I would say, 'Well, it was Don's and Clara Jane's 32nd anniversary,'" Ed Nixon said.