100-year-old Seymour woman recalls World War II, Girl Scouts and elopement


In 1919, Woodrow Wilson was president, zippers and pop-up toasters were new inventions, people drove their Model T cars to see Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin in silent movies and Mildred Eileen Kleffman Carter was born.

Mildred was born Sept. 24, 1919, in Jackson Township in Bartholomew County. She had two brothers, Herschel Kleffman (deceased) and Virgil Kleffman, who survives and lives in Seymour. They were raised on a farm in Cortland by their parents, August Frederick Kleffman and Malinda Hoene Kleffman.

“My earliest memory is of my childhood friend, Bertha Otte, who used to be a Stockcamp,” Mildred said. “We were playmates and became good friends.”

The Stockcamps and Kleffmans had adjoining farm ground back then, and so the two girls would walk to school together. Mildred went to elementary school in Waymansville and later graduated from Cortland High School in 1938.

“I was born and raised in the country, and life on our farm was about growing vegetables,” Mildred said. “We also had cows and cattle, and one of my chores was milking the cows.”

Moving to the city

Mildred said she did not want to work at the shirt factory after high school, so she took a secretarial job at the county agent’s office in Columbus.

“After that, I moved to Indianapolis and became a secretary at the Indiana Statehouse,” Mildred said. “Having been a secretary, I think the typewriter is one of the best inventions ever.”

Mildred met her future husband, Gail Rex Carter, at a church function in Indianapolis when they were in their early teens. Mildred had gone to visit her aunt and uncle in Indianapolis and went to church with them, and that’s how she first got acquainted with Rex.

It wasn’t until Mildred moved to Indianapolis for work that the relationship turned romantic. They hadn’t dated for very long before they decided they wanted to get married.

Marriage and family

“Rex’s mother and I had planned a trip to New York City to go see him, and he and I still wanted to get married,” Mildred said. “She backed out of the trip, but I went anyway, and so we eloped. We were married at Fordham Lutheran Church in the Bronx by Pastor Louis Meyer on April 9, 1942.”

“We didn’t really have a honeymoon because I had to come back to work at the Statehouse,” Mildred said. “We were both working people, and I worked in Indianapolis, and he worked in New York.”

Mildred and Rex have two children, Sharon Carter Matthews of Hamden, Connecticut, and Lance Marc Carter, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee; five grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

“My dad went to Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis,” Matthews said. “The school was designed to bring vocational and technical training to its students.”

Matthews said after high school, her father was a machinist before moving to New York City.

“He moved to New York to work, learning how to build Norden bombsights,” Matthews said. “A bombsight is a device that is used for dropping a bomb at exactly the right time needed to hit the target.”

According to nationalmuseum.af.mil, the Norden bombsight was crucial to the success of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ daylight bombing campaign during World War II.

Life with a military man

“After my husband enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, we had to move often,” Mildred said. “Every time the airplane got bigger, the job became bigger, and then the children came along with it, so everything kind of moved from there.”

Mildred and her family lived throughout the southern part of the United States as her husband served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, the Air Force during the Korean War and until he retired in 1966 as a pilot in the Strategic Air Command.

For the next 20 years, they lived in Columbus, Ohio, where Rex flew for Executive Jet Aviation. In 1986, they moved back to Indiana. Mildred and her husband enjoyed camping in RVs and belonged to several camping groups in Indiana.

Outside interests

“I really need to mention a very important time in my life. Savannah is the birthplace of Girl Scouting,” Mildred said. “I spent many hours as an adult with this organization both in the community and at the military base I lived on.”

Mildred was very active and received several awards for her service within the Girl Scout organization and for 10 years in the Savannah Council of the Girl Scouts of America as troop camping chairman and troop leader.

Mildred worked in staff positions at Capitol University and Mount Holyoke College and in the office of the Indiana adjutant general. She said being raised on a farm, she could relate to the Scouts.

Mildred said she could build a fire in a wood stove when she was 10 and had other skills that led her to be adept at Scout campouts and she really loved it.

Another activity Mildred still enjoys is sewing.

Friendship and faith

“Religion means a way of life to me, and I was brought up in the church,” Mildred said. “I was baptized, confirmed and I’m a lifelong member of St. Paul Lutheran Church Borchers in Seymour.”

Judy Wonning, a distant relative and caregiver, attends the same church as Mildred. A couple of years ago, they got connected through the breakfast club at church.

“She had a place on her leg that needed dressing, and since her niece and I are both registered nurses, we took care of her leg and got it healed up,” Wonning said. “As time evolved, since her kids live out of state, they talked to me about taking on more responsibility, and I agreed. Mildred is a dear friend.”

Another friend of Mildred’s is her ex-neighbor, Pamela Claycamp, who still lives in the neighborhood where Mildred’s old house still stands.

“When we were neighbors, I used to go over and check on Mildred every day,” Claycamp said. “We are close friends, and I call her my third grandma.”

Back home to Indiana

Mildred said moving was a way of life for her, and after her husband passed away in 2005, she moved into a house by herself for three or four years before going somewhere else for physical rehabilitation.

“I always felt God was looking out for us,” Mildred said. “We purchased our home in 1986 and have been very happy here until Rex’s health began to fail.”

Now, she is in assisted living.

“God has been so good to us in so many ways, and I am very grateful,” she said. “I thank him every day for blessings we have received. It’s a wonderful place to live — maybe a little longer.”

Now, a typical day for her includes visiting with friends, checking her garden and looking over treasured photographs, which tell the story of her life from over the past century.

“There’s no quitting this 100th birthday,” Mildred said. “I’ve been getting a lot of cards over this past year, and everybody has been making it a birthday thing.”

A 100th birthday celebration for Mildred was arranged by her children and on Saturday at Chateau de Pique in Seymour.

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