Lois W. NeSmith
Book-lover, world traveler, activist
Lois W. NeSmith, a longtime Claremont resident, died on April 13, 2013 at the Claremont Manor. She was 94.
Born Lois Bernice Weeks in Mott, North Dakota in 1919, Ms. NeSmith was the third child and only daughter of William and Minnie Weeks. Her father, a rural mail carrier, left North Dakota in 1934 for the arid climate of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in hopes of curing his respiratory ailments. Young Lois received a scholarship to attend the University of New Mexico and it was there she met Woody NeSmith, who was then captain of the University of New Mexico Lobos football team.
A shy man unlikely to propose on his own, he accepted the then Ms. Weeks’ proposal of marriage and the 2 eloped to Bernallio, New Mexico, where they were married by a justice of the peace in July 1939, the same year that the Lobos played in the Sun Bowl.
Ms. NeSmith left college to work at the new Social Security Administration until her husband graduated. The couple lived in many places both in New Mexico and on the East Coast until Mr. NeSmith was drafted into the Army in 1942. The Army sent Mr. NeSmith to put his physics degree to work on atomic energy projects in Muroc, California, until 1946, when Ms. NeSmith discovered she was 4 months pregnant, at which point the Army allowed him to be discharged if he would work at the Los Alamos Laboratories. The couple’s first 3 children, a son, Michael, and 2 daughters, Georgia and Jerry, were born in Los Alamos.
Mr. NeSmith left the laboratories in 1952, intending to get a law degree at the University of Denver, but along came their son Thomas and so the family moved back to California, where he worked for various companies as an electronics engineer. The family moved around quite a bit following Mr. NeSmith’s employment, to Mojave (where Charles was born), Tuscon, Palmdale, Littlerock, Santa Clara and Pomona, before finally establishing their long-term home in Claremont in 1963.
Over the years, the NeSmiths were involved in numerous political and cultural activities. Together, the couple established a branch of the Los Angeles County Library in Littlerock, California that stands to this day. They also jointly ran various chapters and activities of the Great Books Foundation. The NeSmith children recall their parents reading Plato, Aristotle and even Marx out loud to each other. Mr. NeSmith is also remembered for having read classic children’s stories out loud, among them Uncle Remus, with all the nuances of the dialect fully intact.
The family had more than a thousand books in the home before a television was allowed in, purchased from a thrift store in 1960 so the parents could watch the Nixon-Kennedy debates. The children were thrilled to be able to finally watch cartoons—on a tiny green screen.
Lifelong Democrats, the NeSmiths, particularly Ms. NeSmith, were involved with the local Democratic Party. Ms. NeSmith served as secretary during Myrlie Evers’ first campaign for Congress in 1970. She also worked for the Claremont COURIER as a typesetter from 1967-1970.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, the NeSmiths became active in the Claremont Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, where Mr. NeSmith is remembered as a “weighty Friend” and Ms. NeSmith served as secretary and as treasurer for many years.
After Mr. NeSmith’s death in 1976, Ms. NeSmith took to traveling abroad with various companions, visiting such places as Turkey, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Japan, China and Southeast Asia. She was also active with the League of Women Voters and with the Claremont Heritage Foundation.
The late Paul Weeks, a longtime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a tribute to his sister in 2004. He praised Ms. NeSmith for her lifelong political activism, which, he noted, began when she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Roosevelt. He also roasted her a bit for her “tempestuous” temperament, warning readers not to “tangle with Lois on gender, or religious issues, for that matter.”
Mr. Weeks and Ms. NeSmith rang in her 85th birthday with a flight aboard a 1929 Travelaire biplane, a present from Ms. NeSmith’s son, Chuck, that harkened back to another flight that took place long ago. Back in the summer of 1924, Paul and Lois, then 3 and 5, boarded an old World War I “Jenny” with their mother and soared over the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation on the North Dakota prairie.
Ms. NeSmith was pre-deceased by her 3 brothers, Kenneth, Keith and Paul Weeks; by one grandson, Andrew NeSmith; and by her husband, Woodrow W. NeSmith.
She is survived by 5 children, Michael NeSmith of Monterey, Georgia NeSmith of Verona, Wisconsin, Jerry Dennard of Chino, Thomas NeSmith of Kenmore, Washington and Charles NeSmith of Sacramento; by 7 grandchildren; by 2 step-grandchildren; and by 7 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service for Ms. NeSmith was held April 16 at the Claremont Friends Meeting House. Anyone interested in honoring Lois NeSmith is encouraged by the family to donate to the Claremont Friends Meeting, the American Friends Service Committee, or the League of Women Voters.