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Helen-Jeanne Munter: Kind, optimistic and wise

Longtime Claremont resident Helen-Jeanne Munter died peacefully in her sleep on December 20, 2019, in the loving arms and hands of all of her children and most of her grandchildren. She was 92 years old.

Mrs. Munter was much beloved by her family and many friends—who repeatedly noted that she was loving, empathetic, and tolerant; patient, calm, and unflappable; smart and reasonable; liberal, progressive, and unprejudiced; and an extraordinarily good listener and thinker.

She was the loving matriarch of an extremely close, if often widely scattered, family of four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. The Munter family faithfully joined together for weeklong family reunions every year for the past 39 years, in locations ranging from Newport Beach to Jackson Hole.

She was a curious, untiring, relentless traveler and especially loved sampling the cuisine of everywhere she went. Together with her husband Leonard and sometimes groups of good friends and other times with family, she visited more than 30 countries—ranging from Bolivia to Hungary to Mongolia—but her favorite city was Florence, which she visited six times.

She and her husband were also able to spend extended periods of time with each of their children’s families in locations ranging from Oregon to Japan. In addition, she arranged special one-on-one trips with each of her grandchildren in the country of their choice. 

Her last overseas trip was to Malaysia in 2015, where she traveled by wheelchair and rickshaw. She also had recent visits with her two-year-old great-granddaughter and two-month-old great-grandson. 

Mrs. Munter had a special love and affection for Yosemite, where she visited more than 40 times—including several camping trips on the John Muir Trail with family and friends, and many stays at the Wawona Hotel, where she celebrated her birthday every year since 1995—including the last two years in her wheelchair with her portable oxygen tanks. Sitting on the Wawona porch was one of her great pleasures.

When she wasn’t traveling, she spent a great deal of her time and energy as an active community volunteer. She was especially active for many years in Recording for the Blind, the League of Women Voters, and the Friends of the Claremont Public Library. 

Because she loved quantification, she virtually always served as treasurer and board member for these groups. When she moved to Mt. San Antonio Gardens, true to form, she served as the treasurer of the resident organization, on the board of directors, and in various other committee roles.

She was a devout and committed member of the Claremont Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and deeply believed that “there is that of God in every person.” She integrated her religion into her everyday life and was deeply committed to pacifism, world peace, and social justice and civil rights for all. And, not surprisingly, she served as treasurer of the Meeting for 40 years, until the age of 90.

A strong supporter of LGBTQ rights, she and her husband joined their son Seth Daniel marching proudly in the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) contingent of a San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in the early 1980s.

In her free time, Mrs. Munter enjoying reading novels and mysteries (participating in multiple book groups); staying in touch with college friends and local friends (in various regular lunch meetings); playing cards (particularly “Hand & Foot” in multiple card groups); solving number puzzles (like Sudoku) and spatial puzzles (like jigsaws and packing); watching British detective shows; and enjoying her African violets and all purple flowers.

Named after both of her grandmothers, Helen-Jeanne Jewett was born in 1927 in Forest Hills, New York, but her family soon returned to their family roots in California. She grew up in Beverly Hills, graduating from Westlake School for Girls in 1943 and from Pomona College in 1947. 

She was always a top student, and the only mathematics major in her entire college class at Pomona (since the men were away at war). If she had been born in a different generation, her formidable math and physics skills might have led to her becoming a physicist, a computer engineer, or—who knows?—even a rocket scientist. As it was, in her early married life, she worked for the Rand Corporation as a programmer on one of their first computers—until she was fired the day she announced she was pregnant. 

She met her future husband, Leonard, when they were carpooling to work. They were  married in 1949, and remained happily married for 68 years, until Mr. Munter’s death in 2017.

In 1950, Mr. Munter became an elementary school teacher and the ever-expanding Munter family moved first to Walnut Creek for four years and then to Lakewood for six years.

The Munters settled in Claremont in 1961, when Mr. Munter was hired as the founding principal of Mountain View Elementary School. Mrs. Munter was a stay-at-home mom until the late 1960s, and then worked as a bookkeeper at the COURIER, Raku, the Meat Cutter’s Union, a restaurant in San Diego, and the First Harvard Group in Claremont.

 The Munters loved both old Claremont, where they lived for 42 years, and Mt. San Antonio Gardens, where she lived for an additional 13 years, together with dear friends both old and new. 

Mrs. Munter is survived by her children, Mary, Lindsay, Cameron, and Seth Daniel;  grandchildren Daniel, Julia, Chloe, Lauren, and Anna; and great-grandchildren Amalia and Henry.

She was predeceased by her husband, Leonard; granddaughter, Sarrina; and her sister and brother, Joyful and Buzzy. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in Mrs. Munter’s name to the Mt. San Antonio Gardens Scholarship Fund at msagardens.org/giving, or by check (made out to Congregational Homes) mailed to 900 E. Harrison Ave., Pomona, CA 91767.

A memorial service in her honor will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 15 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens’ Assembly Room, 900 Harrison Ave., Pomona.

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