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For Tom and Clara Stroud, being together meant everything

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By Chris Sardelli

A blue spiral notebook has become one of Myron Stroud’s most cherished possessions.

Crammed inside the notebook are pages of handwritten notes his mother, Clara Stroud, had written, recording the scores of her grandchildren’s baseball games or detailed lists of family hunting trips. Myron says, if anything, his mother was the most organized person he knew.

“She was always recording something,” he said, patting the cover with his hand. “She was organized, but I guess we didn’t look at her like that.”

As he leafs through the pages, he reminisces about his mother and father, Tom Stroud, who both died of heart attacks only hours apart on Dec. 8 and 9.

The couple, Tom, 75, and Clara, 74, were almost inseparable, known for following each other wherever they went.

Their family says it’s only appropriate that they left this world together.

“That’s the most amazing part of this story,” Myron said.

“They were always together,” said John, the only other remaining Stroud son.

Myron’s twin brother, Byron, had a heart attack and died in 2003.  

“It’s going to be different not having them here, not being able to see them and hear from them,” Myron said.

The two brothers said their parents lived for their family and loved spending time with their seven grandchildren.

Tom, a fairly serious man, loved to joke around with them and play games with the grandchildren, which includes John’s son, Jeremy, 26; Byron’s children, Adam, 21, and Jake, 18; and Myron’s children, Brad, 21, Sean, 18, Kalyn, 6, and Kaleb, 3.

John has a slightly crumpled piece of yellow paper on which the grandchildren wrote a statement about Tom and Clara.

“They were such a good example for all of us and we were proud of the way they lived their lives,” the note said. “Everyone should be able to experience love like that.”

The beginning of their love story

Tom and Clara’s love story began in 1952.

Both from the Lancaster area, Tom and Clara both came from large families.

Tom had 15 brothers and sisters, Clara had 12.

They immediately made a connection after meeting in 1952 and Clara waited for Tom while he served in the U.S. Navy.

After he returned, they married. Each started jobs at the old Grace Bleachery of Springs Industries and worked there for decades, saving their money.

“They grew up in the Depression and they didn’t throw away money,” said Kyndra, Myron’s wife. “It didn’t take millions to make them happy.”

“They were content with what they had,” Myron added.

And what they had were their hobbies and their family.

Tom was known as an “outside cook.” He loved cooking for large groups of people, holding barbecues and fish fries.

He also enjoyed gardening.

Both Tom and Clara loved the outdoors and went camping and they taught their children and grandchildren how to hunt and fish.

“We hunted with Daddy a lot,” John said. “But they both liked to fish.”

Later in their lives, Tom continued his love of cooking and started up a barbecue restaurant called Ole TJ’s.

Clara was never far away, and she ended up working there as well.

Clara was also very involved with her church, White Bluff Baptist, and often sang in the choir.

“Momma loved singing in the choir,” John said. “She would even record her choir songs.”

Throughout their marriage, Tom was never considered a religious man. But all that changed soon after Byron died, and after Tom underwent triple bypass surgery.

“That’s when he started turning his life around. He was a very good person, would’ve given you the shirt off his back, but he just wouldn’t go to church,” Myron said. “But then all of a sudden, he was going to church with Momma every Sunday.”

Their goodbyes

Over the last five years, Tom started going to Sunday school and joining Clara at various church events. He was baptized and in November 2008 became a deacon.

After suffering four heart attacks over the years, Tom had his fifth on Dec. 8.

He was chopping wood at his home around 3 p.m., but began feeling ill.

Clara called for an ambulance, but Tom died only 30 minutes later.

Around the time Tom was having his heart attack, Clara was leaving a frantic message on John’s cell phone.

John has listened to the recording several times since that day and is reluctant to remove his mother’s voice from his phone.

“She said it was an emergency and, ‘I hate to tell you this on the phone but I think he died,’” John said. “I’d hate to erase it.”

John later spoke to his mother who had begun feeling ill herself.

“She said, ‘John, what am I going to do? I can’t live without him,’” John said. “I tried to calm her down. If she hadn’t seen it happen, she probably wouldn’t have had a heart attack.”  

That’s when the paramedics began checking Clara out.

Unknown to Clara, she had begun exhibiting the same signs her husband had been having only minutes before.

John and Myron urged her to go to the hospital in Camden, and before they knew it, she was being flown by helicopter to a hospital in Columbia.

The doctors there realized she had a heart attack and decided to keep her under observation for at least a week to be followed by possible open heart surgery.

Her sons thought their mother’s condition was stable.

“Her blood pressure was good, we thought she was going to make it,” John said. “We were shocked she didn’t make it through the night.”

Looking back on the family’s visit to Clara’s hospital room, Myron is glad his mother had a chance to speak to the whole family one last time.

Clara’s two sons, their wives and most of their children gathered to check on the beloved matriarch that evening. But soon after,  she died.

“We said we loved her and she said she loved us and then she squeezed my hand,” Myron said. “Five minutes later, they told us she had gone to be with Daddy.”

Days later, friends and family gathered to celebrate Tom and Clara’s lives and mourn their passing.

Both the funerals were standing room only.

The two brothers, John and Myron, admit Christmas was especially difficult this year, but they believe their parents are in a better place.

“We’re kind of at peace,” John said.

“A lot of people would have called this like a Romeo and Juliet love story,” said Karen, John’s wife.

“It’s like a bittersweet love story,” Kyndra said. “They did everything together until the end.”

 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416