In Memory - Clara Jean Brunk Mayes

May 20th, 2020

Clara driving Montbelle Soveriegn

Clara Jean Brunk Mayes was born January 14, 1922 at Cotton Hill Farm, rural Rochester, Illinois. She was the elder daughter of Joseph Royal (Roy) and Emma Christina Blakley Brunk. She was the last living grandchild of Joseph Chase (J. C.) Brunk.

Growing up on the farm during the Depression Era, she learned the value of hard work and appreciation for all things, as taught by family, especially her parents and grandfather. One was the lasting love she had for livestock, especially the Morgan horse.

Clara and her sister Ruth were very talented musically and, encouraged by their parents, played and sang semi-professionally on a local radio show. Clara played the trumpet, trombone, mandolin and piano as well as singing the soprano lead and yodeling.

Clara spoke many times of experiences with her Grandfather, Joe (J. C.). She remained in awe of his uncanny ability to select and breed exceptional livestock, in particular, the Morgan horse. Her esteem for her father, Roy Brunk; her aunts Helen Brunk Greenwalt and Grace Brunk Woods; and uncles Thomas Talbott and John Husband Brunk, only grew as she drew from their knowledge and expertise in maintaining and extending J. C.’s breeding programs.

She had a particular connection with her cousin Doris Greenwalt Ryan. They grew up together being only a month apart in age and living only a quarter of a mile apart. They attended school together playing the same sports, competing in the same band concerts, and graduating in the same senior class. They grew apart, going their separate ways after high school but reconnected in the 1970s in a number of horse related and family venues (Jubilee Regional Morgan Horse Show, Midwest Charity, Youth Charity, and the Brunk Morgan Horse Museum). Clara was fortunate enough to have lived with her Grandpa “Joe” for a number of years as he resided with her parents in the stone house at Cotton Hill until his death in 1935.

Clara met Louis Thurston Mayes in high school and they married on April 4, 1941. After World War II began, Clara was an army wife who worked at accounting and secretarial positions when she was employed outside the home.
An army household moved approximately every 18 months, so home was wherever you were stationed! Clara and Louis lived that lifestyle for the next 25 years. During that time they saw many parts of the world, from Asia to Europe and nearly all of the current United States.

Clara and Louis had three daughters all born during their army service years, all of whom currently live close to or on Cotton Hill Farm. Clara was preceded in death by her husband, parents, sister and a grandchild. Survivors include: Lois Jean Mayes (Bob) McDermand, Ruth Ann Mayes Catlett, and Kathy Renee Mayes. She is survived additionally by three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Clara and Louis returned to Illinois in the mid 1960s to help care for Clara's aging father. She remained on the home place, Cotton Hill Farm from that time forward, working in the Springfield area, managing the farm, and promoting the Morgan horse breeding program at Cotton Hill.

Following the death of her husband and father, she continued the farm and horse projects. In the early 1980s daughter Kathy convinced her to open a public training facility. Kathy had been tutored by numerous well-known trainers and spent a lot of time with cousin, Doris Ryan. Kathy's career flourished as did Cotton Hill with numerous talented riders/drivers and exceptional horses.

During her later years, Clara (or CJ) enjoyed sitting on her porch overseeing the various barn activities involving horses.

Should anyone say “horse show”, she was ready to jump into the truck and go! She loved watching all the students show and was especially proud when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren entered the ring.

Clara held offices and was a member of many organizations.

Clara was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in June of 2014 and subsequently institutionalized in August of the same year. Her general condition deteriorated slowly and by December of 2019, she no longer appeared to recognize family members. She passed quietly on the morning of May 8, 2020. Following cremation, her remains will be interred next to her husband in the Joe Brunk Cemetery located on Cotton Hill Farm, Rochester, Illinois.

Memorial contributions may be made to Joe Brunk Cemetery c/o Terry Young, 4508 Venetian Dr., Springfield, Illinois 62703.

Submitted by Lois McDermand