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Mary “Happy” Virginia Garner Nelson

Champion camper, happy woman

Mary “Happy” Virginia Fredendall Garner Nelson died peacefully on February 17, 2016 in Claremont, surrounded by her loved ones. She was 90.

She was born November 9, 1925 in Upland to Martha Idella (Fowlkes) and Thomas Benton Fredendall. She was nicknamed Happy by her father, as she was a happy baby. The name stuck and everyone called her Happy until high school, when her English teacher refused to call her anything but Mary Virginia.

Her family lived near their seven acres of orange grove where Oakmont School is now. In addition to their grove, her dad Benton took care of many more acres of neighboring citrus trees. Her mother Martha stayed home and tended the three girls, Charlotte, Mary and Barbara.

She started camping at the early age of one when her family went to Green Creek near Bridgeport, California. In following years, they went to Rock Creek, north of Bishop. They would go for two weeks every summer and always stayed at the same campsite. They all loved Rock Creek and had many happy times up in the Sierras. Mary attended Sycamore School and later Claremont High School. At that time, those were the only schools in Claremont, and junior high was at the high school also. Her favorite subjects in high school were history and math.

Mary loved belonging to her Girl Scout troop, which met in the guild hall at the old Congregational Church. She was quiet and shy as a girl and learned a lot being a scout. She started as a Brownie and stayed with it through high school, making lifelong friends. She was later her younger sister Barbara’s troop leader, as well as troop leader for her daughters Mary and Jane. Her mother, Martha Fowlkes, was one of 14 children born in Centerville, Tennessee. Many of the brothers and sisters ended up in the surrounding area, so there was many a get-together with many, many cousins.

Mary loved sports. She was about the shortest girl in her class in sixth grade, then grew to be the tallest in the next few years. Her favorite sport was basketball. At 5’9” she was a guard. She also liked soccer and hockey. She and her friends would stay after school to play and then walk home.

She met Ted Garner at a dance her sister Charlotte was having at their home and was welcomed into the Garner family. Her father escorted her to Chicago on the train to marry Mr. Garner during World War II, where he was stationed.

After the war, her parents sold their grove and moved up to Tom’s Place, north of Bishop, at the mouth of Rock Creek canyon. They happily ran the Mt. View Motel for many years. Martha minded the motel while Benton led fishing and hunting trips locally and into the back country out of Rock Creek Pack Station. Benton was a first-class wrangler, packer and camp cook.

The Garners returned to Claremont after the war and on Christmas Eve, 1949 welcomed their first daughter Jane. Mary followed in 1951, arriving on Ted’s birthday. Garner Glass Company provided a good life for the family. Mary stayed home teaching the girls to iron and sew, pull weeds, plant and enjoy nature and the out of doors. She took Bobby Wheeler’s gardening class for many years, and her garden on Live Oak Drive was beautiful. She became an expert in cymbidium orchids and had a gorgeous crop every year that she loved to share. She volunteered at the San Bernardino County Museum, Casa Colina and Pomona Valley Hospital. 

The family travelled a lot with a truck and travel trailer and flew all over the country for business, World Fairs and other adventures. Each New Year’s holiday the family would fly to Page, Arizona to watch the Glenn Canyon Dam being built and the town of Page turn from a construction camp to a real town. The family also enjoyed Hawaii and travelled there frequently.

Birds were always important to her. The family had lots of “Stop the car!” moments looking at birds. She kept a life list and her binoculars were always handy. She birded extensively around the United States and went to more exotic locales to add to her life list. Mary loved her cabin at Mammoth. It is a small log cabin, built in the 1920s, in the upper lakes basin at 9,000 feet. It has been in the family for 40 years now. She spent much time in Rock Creek Canyon where she camped as a child, and grew to love the Mammoth area as well. All of the family loves to go to “the cabin.”

Then along came Conrad “Connie” Nelson. He lived down the street from her growing up and was her kid sister’s Barbara’s age. He had a gas station on Bonita and then Connie and Dick’s Garage in Claremont. They married in 1989. They had a lot of fun together and had many wonderful years.

They loved their Lazy Daze RVs. They traveled all over the United States, and loved their trips to Alaska. Connie would drive and Mary loved to navigate with paper maps and keep a book of records about gas stops and the mileage they were getting at each fill-up. They loved to camp in their rig. Favorite places were Carlsbad, San Simeon and Emma Woods on the coast and Death Valley, Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea in the desert. They traveled a lot! They loved visiting family in Idaho and elsewhere. They had been to Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea the week before her passing.

When Mary was no longer able to be in high altitudes, they found their cabin in Forest Falls. They loved it there. The oak trees and tiger lilies were perhaps the favorite parts, but also the fires in the fireplace. Often in the winter when they went up to Forest Falls, she would stay in the car with the heater on until Connie had warmed up the cabin with a fire in their den and turned on the heater. She and Connie went out most every day for a drive. They enjoyed watching airplanes at Brackett Field and trips to the local mountains. Connie kept up their gardens when Mary was no longer able to garden. She loved watching sports on TV and especially liked watching bull riding.

Her family was very important to her, with visits always appreciated. She kept special toys for the great-grandchildren to play with, many of which had belonged to Mary and Jane. She loved to cook and, as her health waned, she taught Connie to be a great cook. He enabled his wife to stay in their home. It wasn’t always easy.

“Connie took such good care of her and she appreciated and loved him so,” family shared. “He was a real blessing and she was a lucky lady to have had such a rich and happy life. Those who knew her were blessed to have her!”

Mary is survived by her loving husband of 27 years, Conrad “Connie” Nelson; her daughters Mary (Chris) Hirsch of Padua Hills and Jane Garner of Upland; her grandchildren Patrick (Jenna) Logsdon of Santa Cruz, Benton Wolverton of Olathe, Kansas, Jonathan Logsdon of Upland and Katie (Robert) Bartosh of Claremont; her great-grandchildren Melia and Robbie Bartosh of Claremont; her first husband Ted Garner; her sisters Barbara (Fred) Switzer of Modesto, California and Charlotte Kern of Oregon and many cousins.

She also leaves the Nelson clan, John (Janet), Chuck (Marilyn), Bob (Edie), Gary (Donna), daughters Sharon and Anna and many grand- and great-grandchildren.

Her family would like to thank Pilgrim Place and VNA Hospice. They did an extraordinary job during the last few days before her passing. Services were held on February 20, 2016.

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