Clara Mathilde Elizabeth Wendel was born on June 1, 1904 in Harvey, Cook County, Illinois. Her family moved from Chicago, Illinois to Gotha, Florida in or around 1916.
Their home was a typical Florida home from that era, with wrap around porches to help with the heat. Clara and her sisters Wilhelmina (Minnie) and Edna are seen in front of the family home – Lake Olivia Grove in Gotha, Florida, in an undated photo, below.
According to a friend of the family, the Wendel’s returned to Chicago several times a year to visit relatives. The photo below is from one of those visits. The three Wendel sisters Edna (2nd from left), Wilhelmina “Minnie” (3rd from left), and Clara (4th from left) are captured in this photo from August 1918.
Education and Early Career
After attending schools in Winter Garden and Orlando, Clara Wendel went on to Rollins College, then to Florida State College for Women (now FSU), where she received her A.B. degree, and to the University of Michigan for a bachelor’s degree in library science.
She is listed in the 1938 Orlando City Directory as a resident of Gotha, living in her parent’s home, and teaching at Winter Garden Elementary School.
She served as librarian at Orlando Senior High School for three years and taught library science for two years at FSU before becoming director of the Albertson library.
Director of the Albertson Public Library
On February 1, 1943, Miss Clara Elizabeth Wendel, a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Michigan, formerly instructor of Library Science at Florida State University, succeeded Miss Olive Brumbaugh, becoming the second librarian/director of the Albertson Public Library.
She took a year’s leave in September 1945 to earn a Master of Arts in Library Science at the University of Chicago. During her absence Miss Miriam E. Bass was Acting Librarian.
ABOVE: Clara Wendel assisting patrons at the charging desk in the Albertson Public Library circa 1946.
Correspondence on a variety of topics during Clara Wendel’s time as director of the library contain a few gems. One is a letter from author Lois Lenski, dated February 5, 1944, granting permission for a portion of her book Ocean Born Mary to be dramatized on the weekly “Let’s Listen” radio program on WDBO. Articles about the series can be found in the 1945-1948 Scrapbook.
ABOVE: Clara Wendel accepting a ceiling book projector from the Pilot Club for the library’s invalid patrons in 1948.
1948 Staff Christmas Gathering
On December 21, 1948, Clara, her sister Minnie Thoren and her mother hosted a Christmas party for the staff of the Albertson Public Library at the family home Lake Olivia Grove in Gotha. The staff created the above program for the event. The festivities were reported in the Orlando Sentinel on December 27, 1948.
Both Clara and her sister Minnie Thoren were members of the Sorosis club civic organization and, apparently, were invited to an event to honor Margaret and Warrene Piper. A close family friend found the invitation with the recipe for Butterscotch Squares on the back in Minnie’s cookbook. The event was likely on Saturday, April 14, 1951.
Recipe for Butterscotch Squares
Sift 1 cup sifted cake flour, 1 teas baking powder, 1/4 teas salt
Stir in 1 cup brown sugar – packed, 1/2 cup (2 oz.) walnuts, 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter, 1 egg, and 1/2 teas vanilla
Beat until completely blended.
Bake moderate oven 350 degrees, 25 minutes or until firm on top
Set on rack to cool completely
Pan 8x8x2 – I use 7×11
Staff at the current Orlando Public Library in April of 2022 made the Butterscotch Squares and they are delicious!
Other Activities and Associations
At various times, Clara Wendel was also a member of the Zonta Club, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, and on the board of the Mental Health Association of Orange County. She was also a member of the Council of 101 for Loch Haven, the Orlando Art Association, the American Association of University Women, the Rosalind Club, the League of Women Voters, the Council for Continuing Education for Women and the Orlando County Club.
She was secretary of the Florida Library Association from 1940-1944 and president in 1950. She also belonged to the Southeastern and American Library Associations.
It is unclear if “The Book Shelf: notes from the Albertson Public Library” was a weekly feature of the Corner Cupboard newspaper, but based on the title and the graphic, it seems that it might have been. The February 3, 1950, edition was a full-page article about the benefits and needs of the local library. Penned by library director Clara Wendel, it emphasizes the need for better library facilities to meet the needs of the community.
Dedication of the Orlando Public Library 1966
The above photo is of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the dedication of the new Orlando Public Library on August 7, 1966. From the left: library board president C. Dewitt Miller, Mayor Bob Carr, library director Clara Wendel, Orlando City Commissioner John B. Newsom.
In February 1968, a wonderful celebration of Clara Wendel’s 25th anniversary with the library was attended by those who had worked with her at the library for many years, including the library board, the County Library Advisory Committee, the Orlando City Council, city department heads, the County Commission, the County Budget Commission, library staff and former staff members, and Friends of the Library. The staff newsletter included the history of her time at the library and reported that there were many presentations and accolades during the celebration.
Miss Wendel served for 27 years and saw the staff grow from ten, all of whom could be listed in annual reports, to a troop of 150, all dedicated to giving the most personalized service possible. Miss Wendel retired on November 1, 1970, and Glenn F. Miller became only the third director of the library in its first five decades.
The photo of Clara Wendell seated at her desk, a favorite reading spot in her home, is from Orlando Sentinel article, “Miss Wendel is retired but she’s not out of circulation,” published November 8, 1970 on the 47th anniversary of the opening of the Albertson Public Library in 1923.
Grand Opening of the Expanded Orlando Public Library
Even after Clara retired as library director, her connection and deep love of the library remained. She was a frequent visitor and was a guest at the Celebration Sunday grand opening of the expanded and renovated library on April 6, 1986. She was pleased with what she saw:
“Well, this really is a happy day,” said Clara Wendel, who was director of the library from 1943 to 1970. “I’m extremely pleased but the building has exceeded even my expectations.”
Life After the Library
After leaving the library, Clara became a member of the Third Friday Book Club – the longest existing club in Orlando, having been founded in 1942 and still active today. The membership rosters show that Clara became a member in 1970 and was last listed in 1992. The club members sent $130 to Orlando Public Library in memory of Clara when she died.
NOTE: There is an error in the above tribute to Clara Wendel. It states that “After receiving her Masters Degree in library Science… she was selected as head librarian.” This is not true. Clara was hired to be the director of the library in 1943 when Olive Brumbaugh left. She took a year’s leave in September 1945 to complete her Master’s Degree – the same month that Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
Clara Wendel’s obituary was published in the Orlando Sentinel on December 24, 1995, page B5, Local and State.
LONGTIME HEAD LIBRARIAN DEAD AT 94
By Beth Taylor of The Sentinel Staff
Clara Elizabeth Wendel, Orlando Public Library’s first head librarian in its current building [second over all], died last week in Harvey, Ill., at age 94.
Wendel served as head librarian in Orlando for 28 years. When she retired in 1970, Mayor Carl T. Langford proclaimed a Clara Wendel Day in her honor.
Wendel was born in Harvey and moved to Florida with her parents in 1916. She graduated from Rollins College, attended Florida State College for Women (now FSU) and received her master’s in library science at University of Chicago.
When Wendel started her career with the Orlando library, it was housed in a 20-year-old, cramped building with 10 employees. In 1966, Wendel oversaw the move to the current library building in downtown Orlando. By the time she left, Wendel had 120 full-time staff members, 10 library branches and two traveling bookmobiles.
Wendel is survived by three nephews. Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando.
Clara is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Oakland, Florida with sisters Edna Wendel Buckman, and Minnie – Wilhelmina Lau Wendel Thoren, her husband Rollo Thoren and her son John Thoren.
Peruse the DOCUMENTS and IMAGES pertaining to Clara Wendel and her family.
Search Orlando Memory using her last name – Wendel – for more photos and information about the library’s second director.
Letter from author Lois Lenski granting permission for a portion of her book "Miss Fish" to be dramatized on the weekly "Let's Listen" radio program on WDBO. Articles about the series can be found in the 1945 Scrapbook.
Albertson Public Library - Orlando Evening Star Article, David Flick, Mrs. Floyd H. Bruton, Clara Wendel
Albertson Public Library - Orlando Evening Star Article, Clara Wendel
Albertson Public Library, Orlando Evening Star Article, May 19, 1954, Mrs. Leter Harris, Mrs. Thompson Stevens, Mrs. Leland Giddens, Miss Clara Wendel, Mrs. Morton Bertin
Albertson Public Library, Orlando Evening Star Article, December 1953, Clara Wendel, Dorothy Glenn Lane, Dr. Norman Miller
Albertson Public Library, Orlando Sentinel, November 30, 1954, Library Held "Inadequate", Clara Wendel
Article written by Albertson Public Library director Clara E. Wendel.
Invitation to event honoring Margaret and Warrene Piper at the Sorosis Club likely sent to Minnie Thoren, Clara's sister who, like Clara, were members. Invitation to an event for Margaret and Warrene Piper at the Sorosis Club. The invitation, with the recipe on the back, was found with family possessions after Mr. and Mrs. Minnie (Wendel) Thoren passed away. It mentions "John" who was Minnie's son.
Recipe for Butterscotch Squares written on back of invitation to the Sorosis Club. The invitation, with the recipe on the back, was found with family possessions after Mr. and Mrs. Minnie (Wendel) Thoren passed away. It mentions "John" who was Minnie's son.
April 1948 Membership letter from Zonta
Transcription of 1948 Zonta Membership letter
1948 program for Staff Christmas Party at Wendel home in Gotha
February 3, 1950 Corner Cupboard - Book Shelf by Clara Wendel.
Portrait Profile from the Orlando Sentinel Star on Clara Wendel, August 7, 1966.
Friends of the Library, library staff and board members
Orlando Sentinel article published November 8, 1970, "Miss Wendel is retired but she is not out of circulation."
Library Timeline 1900-1991 gives important dates during Clara Wendel's time as director.
Clara Wendel tribute January 1996 Friends of the Library Newsletter