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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 8 years ago

Citizen of the Year played many roles on Key

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

“Overdone is lots of fun.”

That was Claudia Fuller’s motto.

She served on the Longboat Key Code Enforcement Board, as chairwoman of the Longboat Key Garden Club’s Butterfly Garden, secretary of the Public Interest Committee and president of the Republican Club of Longboat Key.

“Come to my house,” she would say when the work was finished. “We’ll have a party.”

She decorated her house with party lights and joked that she needed a “party patch,” because throwing parties was her addiction.

Fuller died Wednesday, Oct. 21. She was 79.

Born Dec. 30, 1929, in Chicago, Fuller met her first husband, Dick Vennell, at Northern Illinois State University, in DeKalb, Ill., and taught elementary school for about a year. She became a homemaker after the birth of her first daughter, Jeanette, the oldest of three girls.

Raising her family in Park Ridge, Ill., Fuller sewed her daughters’ matching outfits and built papier-mâché parade floats that usually won prizes. She led her daughters’ Campfire Girls troop when she had a broken arm and called her daughters’ friends her “adopted” daughters. She wrote plays and songs for special occasions. And, even then, in her Park Ridge neighborhood, she was known for her parties.

In 1970, Fuller’s mother moved to Longboat Key after driving across the state of Florida. In 1990, Fuller followed her to the island.

Fuller’s husband, Dick, died in 1993, and, the next year, she accepted an invitation to serve on the Public Interest Committee. Her community involvement expanded. When she married her second husband, Chuck, her neighbor at Buttonwood Harbour, in 1999, she couldn’t choose just one bridesmaid. So, she invited all of her friends, some of whom had been her friends since high school. When the minister asked,
“Who gives this woman away?” her 30 bridesmaids shouted, “We do!”

“Claudia was just different than everyone else,” said Susan Landau, who became friends with Fuller through the Garden Club. “She was a real-life hippie.”

In 2005, Fuller wrote a play, “We Love Longboat Key (Can’t We All Just Get Along?),” performed with a cast of 90 to celebrate the town’s 50th anniversary.

At the Garden Club’s annual holiday parties, Fuller changed the words of “The 12 Days of Christmas” to give it a Florida theme, making “a partridge in a pear tree” into “a flamingo in a palm tree.”

When Fuller wasn’t volunteering, she enjoyed sailing on her boat, “Kismet,” playing bridge and cheering for the Chicago Bears. Fuller also took up travel after the death of her first husband. She visited Turkey in 1994 and kept in touch with her tour guide for 15 years. She and Chuck traveled frequently, once spending an entire year in Europe with no set plans.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in January 2008, she said she didn’t have time for it. She did make time for weekly chemotherapy but also kept up her usual schedule of meetings — and parties.

“There wasn’t anything mom thought she could not do,” daughter Jeanette Caproon said.

“And she could,” Chuck Fuller added.

In February, Fuller was honored as the 2008 Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key Citizen of the Year. As she listened to the speeches about the other honorees, she whispered to Chuck that the Kiwanians weren’t getting any recognition. So, she pulled out a scrap of paper and penned a song in four minutes. At the end of Fuller’s acceptance speech, she asked a surprised Firefighter/Paramedic of the Year Lt. Michael Murphy and Police Officer of the Year Patrolman Willie Jackson to return to the podium.

Together, to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” the three sang: “We’ve Been Honored by Kiwanis.”

After her mother’s death, Caproon sent an e-mail out to friends saying that Fuller wouldn’t want anyone to mourn.

“But you might want to have a drink in her honor,” Caproon wrote. “Here’s to Claudia and her fantastic life.”

Fuller was preceded in death by her first husband, Dick Vennell. She is survived by her husband, Chuck; daughters, Jeanette Caproon, Pauline Johns and Margaret Carlson; sister, Janet Glienna; and brother, James Cady.

A “Celebration of Claudia” will be held Wednesday, Dec. 30. Details will be announced at a later date. Memorial contributions can be made to the Longboat Key Garden Club Butterfly Garden Fund, P.O. Box 83751, Longboat Key, Fla., 34228.

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