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Longtime nurse touched many lives

Mother, nurse, champion for Claremont seniors

Muriel T. Farritor, stalwart of local senior causes, died at her Claremont home on Thursday, July 24. She was 90.

She was born Muriel Teeling on June 16, 1927 in Preakness, New Jersey to Muriel (Smith) and Richard F. Teeling. She and her two sisters, Joslyn and Patricia, would all follow in their mother’s footsteps, becoming nurses. Her brother, Richard, would go on to work for San Bernardino County Social Services.

The Teelings were a close-knit, loving family. Mr. Teeling was a successful salesman for the Manhattan Rubber Manufacturing Division of Raybestos-Manhattan in Passaic, New Jersey, ending up in management after starting with the company at 16 years old.

The Teelings spent a month every summer at the Jersey Shore, cultivating a love of the beach the future Ms. Farritor carried throughout her life.

She went to high school near Preakness, and afterward enrolled at Mountainside Hospital Nursing School in Montclair, New Jersey. She graduated in 1948 and left New Jersey on January 2, 1949 with her friend and fellow Mountainside graduate Mary Jane Craig. The pair was headed by rail to Southern California on the Los Angeles Limited, where they were to board the SS Lurline to Honolulu, Hawaii for their first assignments as registered nurses at Queens Hospital.

But the Los Angeles Limited was caught in massive and deadly winter blizzard, and ended up immobile in Hillsdale, Wyoming for four days in whiteout conditions, with whipping winds and temperatures dropping as low as 26 degrees below zero, no electricity and dwindling food for the 200-plus passengers and crew. The two young nurses were thrust into the position of having to keep the entire population of that train healthy and alive—the passengers included scores of elderly and children and at least one very pregnant woman. They made do with what they had, which wasn’t much. On January 6, after suffering through four days in brutal conditions, snowplows finally cleared the way for a bus to take everyone to Greeley, Colorado—and a warm bath and bed. There was a doctor on board the bus to relieve Muriel and Mary Jane, and after several trips, all had been moved to Greeley. Every passenger and crewman of Los Angeles Limited survived, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Muriel and Mary Jane. Many others caught in “The Blizzard of ‘49” weren’t so lucky.

A high school coach and his wife in Hillsdale who had helped the pair, providing them a hot bath, clean clothes and a warm bed after days of unceasing work, declared the young nurses heroines.

After a good night’s rest in Greeley, Muriel and Mary Jane boarded at the comparatively tony City of Omaha, bound for Los Angeles. They were ensconced in Pullman berths, a far cry from just two days before when they were both trudging over snowdrifts to use the bathroom.

A new friend told Muriel that she should meet a sailor on board who might be able to help her get to Honolulu. That sailor turned out to be a young Merchant Marine named Chuck Farritor, who was also on his way to Los Angeles. The pair struck up an immediate friendship, which grew through a series of unlikely coincidences, eventually blossoming into a courtship.

Their bond was tested the following year when Mr. Farritor was seriously injured in Korea after he fell 40-feet from a ship’s deck into the ocean, chipping several vertebra in his back. The military had no idea what do to with the severely injured sailor, so they sent him back to the US Marine Hospital in Staten Island, New York in a steel, canvas and leather back brace.

Muriel was there to greet him. “The nurse at that hospital said, ‘Would you believe that pretty girl is going to marry that basket case in room 301?’” Mr. Farritor said, still tickled by the memory some 67 years later.

They were married in Mountainside, New Jersey on December 1, 1951. “We went on our honeymoon with me in that damned brace,” Mr. Farritor said. “She was a tough girl to have gone through with that. She should have turned me loose, but she didn’t.”

The couple drove to Florida for some well-deserved R & R, and took a plane to Havana, Cuba, which was swinging at that time, Mr. Farritor said. Soon after, they were on their way to California in a Studebaker Starlight Coupe, with Ms. Farritor’s shaggy mutt “Poofer Junior” in tow.

In California, the couple settled in San Gabriel. They found a surgeon at White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles who repaired Mr. Farritor’s back with a procedure that involved grafting pig bones to his vertebra. Ms. Farritor was there every step of the way through the difficult surgery and lengthy recovery.

“He eats a lot of corn and he grunts a lot,” Muriel was known to joke when asked if her husband exhibited any swine-like traits following his surgery, Mr. Farritor said.

The Farritors had two children, Cathy (West) Farritor, born in 1952, and Timothy Farritor, in 1953. The family settled in Claremont in 1955, where they would remain for the rest of Ms. Farritor’s life.

Ms. Farritor also began working as a nurse at Pomona Valley Hospital in 1955. She later held positions at Casa Colina in Pomona, and at Claremont Manor Retirement Community. She retired from nursing in 2014 at the age of 87. “She just never stopped working,” Mr. Farritor said. “She just always wanted to be attending to everyone.”

Early on in Claremont, Ms. Farritor befriended Josephine Smith, who wrote a column for the COURIER called, “On Aging.” “She was big influence on her life,” Mr. Farritor said. “I would put it in the class of mentor. She took Muriel on. She was making things right for seniors in Claremont. There was just nothing here, and Josephine was a crackerjack doer and she picked up Muriel and [COURIER Publisher Peter Weinberger’s late mother] Jan Weinberger, and those three gals, and others, they made it happen.” The women created the city’s Committee on Aging, which is still going strong, and other senior-focused programs and services.

“The senior programming in Claremont is wonderful—it wins awards—and it all started with Muriel and her friends’ efforts from 35 years ago,” said former Claremont mayor and city councilmember Karen Rosenthal, who was Ms. Farritor’s friend and colleague on the Committee on Aging since 1980.

Reverend Homer “Butch” Henderson, himself a well-respected community leader, met Ms. Farritor shortly after he moved to Claremont in 1986. “She was definitely one of the energizing forces behind a lot of the senior programs,” he said. “Her role was mostly out of the public eye. If she saw something that needed to be done, she got it done. Her contribution was extremely positive for our services for aging in this community, especially through the Joslyn Center.”

To honor her passion and her work, Mr. Farritor is creating a foundation called Stories and More with Muriel and Janice. “I’m trying to create a nonprofit corporation that will be here forever with her name, and Jan’s, two good friends,” he said. The foundation will enlist high school and college students to read to seniors and take them on out of the ordinary excursions.

“I’ve got a rocking chair that I’m sitting in now, and if I get five feet from it, it grabs me,” said Mr. Farritor, who is 93. “Seniors must stay active.”

“She was just a force every place she went,” Mr. Farritor said of his late wife. “The picture I have of her that I love so much was taken right after she graduated nursing school, and her face is just so pretty. You just can’t put the two together with what a force she was. Even when she died she didn’t have a wrinkle on her face.”

Ms. Farritor was predeceased by her son, Timothy Farritor, her sisters, Joslyn and Patricia, and her brother Richard. She is survived by her husband Chuck Farritor of Claremont and her daughter Cathy (West) Farritor of Northridge.

A burial will take place at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20 at Oak Park Cemetery, 410 Sycamore Ave., Claremont. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Friends of Claremont Senior Foundation at ci.claremont.ca.us, search “donate,” and click on “Donations and Sponsorships, City of Claremont.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com