Life Story / Obituary
A lifelong resident of the community she loved, Claretta Smith was a blessing to all who were near. She knew how to work hard, but she made the time to enjoy life along the way as well. A loving wife and mother, Claretta was filled with unspeakable joy to witness her family tree blossom to include the grandchildren and great-grandchildren she adored. Always one to be busy, she was the sort of person who was rarely still well into her sunset years. Someone who never met a stranger, Claretta will be missed by all who were blessed to know and love her.
The 1930s were some of the most trying days we faced as a nation as the entire decade was cloaked in the hardship of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, the unemployment rate soared, and things only went from bad to worse when a drought covered the nation’s heartland for nearly two years doing this time. It was in the midst of these challenging days that Clarence and Louise (Woods) Thorenfelth were pleased to announce the birth of the baby girl they named Claretta Orline on January 21, 1935, in Muskegon, Michigan. Joined in her family by her three older siblings, Isabell, Lucille, and Carl, as the youngest she became known as “PeeWee,” which was a nickname that followed her for the rest of her life.
Raised in the family home in the Jackson Hill neighborhood of Muskegon, Claretta was a young girl of her generation. Her family often spent summers at a family cottage on Hamlin Lake in Ludington where she loved fishing. Claretta also enjoyed things like roller skating, ice skating, and dancing. As a student she attended local schools including Froebel Elementary School.
New and exciting changes were in store for Claretta when she met the young man of her dreams. His name was James Smith, and they met in a rather unusual way as they were on the roof at Froebel School. No one ever really learned what the backstory was to their reason for being there, but it was common knowledge that it wasn’t long after being on the roof that the couple found themselves deeply in love. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together Claretta and James were married on September 20, 1952, when she was just a young girl of 17. They soon settled into a house at 1391 Lakeshore Drive in Muskegon. Over the 12 years that followed, the couple welcomed seven children including their four sons, James, Karl, Ron, and Sam, and three daughters, Colleen, Karen, and Toni. They eventually moved out to a home in the Cloverville area of Muskegon.
To support their family, James worked at Lakey Foundry and then later at the paper mill, but Claretta worked some as well. She spent some time working at Walgreens and Lakey Foundry while also selling Beeline clothing out of her home. Claretta worked as cashier at the JC Penney Grocery Store and later at Eberhard’s grocery store. When her husband ran a snow plow business, Claretta was right there to help him drive one of the trucks when needed. When he later started a greenhouse business, Claretta helped him with that, too.
First and foremost in Claretta’s life was her family. She was very active in her children’s lives in all aspects. She was there to support them in all of their activities, and she also served as a Girl Scout leader for her girls. As a family they owned a 19 foot Garland inboard motorboat, which they kept at Hartshorn Marina. Claretta and her family had all kinds of fun times water skiing and boating on Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan.
A woman of many interests, Claretta was always a bustle of activity. She and her husband were both social, and for many years they enjoyed playing cards with friends. They also rode motorcycles together. After James retired, they decided to purchase a small campground, OakKnoll Campground, which is located near Big Blue Lake to the north of Muskegon. Claretta and James moved to the campground and operated it together for many years. She also served as the manager of the little store they ran and kept the place looking nice whether she was cleaning up leaves or doing something else that needed to be done. They had regular campers there who became good friends, and together they had fun hobo dinners and times spent around the campfire. Claretta’s family always gathered at her place for holidays, took hayrides in the fall, and had big Christmas Eve parties. She also put together Easter egg hunts for the grandkids for several years.
Eventually, Claretta and her husband built a home right next to the campground. As a resident she served as trustee for Blue Lake Township for two terms. When James died in 1999, Claretta soon sold the campground, but she continued to live in her home next door. Later, her son, Karl, moved in with her to help manage the home. Claretta kept busy and also remained social by working part-time at the nearby general store and playing Texas Hold ’Em. She was known to visit the casino a time or two as well.
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around her, Claretta "PeeWee" Smith lived a life of purpose while holding her loved ones near. She was never one to worry about the hard times, rather, she focused on fully embracing both the peaks and valleys along her life’s journey. With unending devotion to her family and friends, Claretta will be forever missed.
Claretta Orline "PeeWee" Smith passed away Tuesday, October 11, 2016. Claretta’s family includes her sons, James (Lori) Smith of Muskegon, Karl Smith of Holton, Ron (Deb) Smith of Battle Creek, Sam (Denise) Smith of Hawaii; daughters, Colleen (Mike) Macheta of Goose Neck Lake, Karen (Ron) Blamer of Harrietta, Toni (Roger) Martin of Holton; 21 grandchildren; 35 great grandchildren. Claretta was preceded in death by her husband, James, and siblings. Services will be held on Saturday, October 22, 2016, 11:00 am with visitation one hour prior to the service at the Clock Chapel - Muskegon with Rev. Ken Shady officiating. Interment in Goodwell Township Cemetery. Please visit www.clockfuneralhome.com to leave a memory or sign the online guest book. Arrangements provided by Clock Funeral Home- Muskegon.