Music didn’t just fill her life. “It allowed me to share my voice with the world,” said Erna Clanton. She found her passion at an early age. “I remember being 18 years old, I heard a children’s choir and wondered why we didn’t have one at my church,” said Clanton. And that’s how it all began. “I had no budget, I had no salary. I started out with eight high school students and ended up teaching more than 200 children,” said Clanton. She loved working with children. That’s one of the reasons why she spent more than 14 years working with babies and infants. “I was known as the baby lady,” said Clanton. A career as a clinic care coordinator for University Hospital allowed her to work with young mothers who often suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. “It was such a challenge. I never talked down to the mothers. I took them as they were, not by their past actions,” said Clanton.
She dealt with some tough cases that gave her a greater perspective about life and the unfortunate circumstances some people faced. “I grew up poor but I never experienced the tragedies that many of these young mothers had,” said Clanton. But teaching music to children helped her understand and relate to some of the issues area youth often struggled with. “A music student of mine knocked on my door one morning and asked if he could stay with me because nothing he ever did could please his father. And after a long conversation, I convinced him to go back home. That boy ended up becoming an Opera singer in Holland,” said Clanton.
And that’s the part she loves. She enjoys hearing from many of her former music students and young mothers who have gone on to lead successful lives and careers. “Many former students have told me how much of an impact I’ve made in their lives and that means a lot to me,” said Clanton.
Erna spent about eight years as the vice president of the Medical Sales Company, a business she co-owned with her husband James, a pharmaceutical salesman at the time. “We sold a lot of medicine and a lot of board games,” said Clanton. She considers her husband a pioneer in that industry. “It was a lot of hard work but it was very successful. We made big calendars and puzzles, even made an exercise CD that helped people do chair exercises,” said Clanton. She married James at 21 years old. His family owned a local grocery store and ice cream parlor at the time. “I pulled up for ice cream on a hot summer day and there he was, my future husband serving up ice cream. The rest is history,” laughs Clanton. Sometimes the sweetest things in life are often the most life changing. Erna and James were married for 50 years and together they had two sons, Jim and Tom. Clanton also has three grandchildren and three great grandchildren. James passed away in 1991.
Music continues to be a huge part of Clanton’s life. She started the choir program here at Immanuel, serving as choir director for a number of years. It has since grown into a chorus of five choirs with more than 100 residents who are singers and chimes ringers. “I started my life working with children and I’m near the end of it working with seniors. It feels like I have come full circle,” said Clanton. She’s lived at Immanuel Village for 20 years, having moved to the community after her husband died. “I was in my 70’s and began to look for a place to live. I looked at apartments but they had a lot of young people. I found Immanuel Village to be a wonderful and special place,” said Clanton. Now at 96 years old, she is showing no signs of slowing down. “I love working with young people and our seniors. Even in my later years, I’m still not done. You can’t just sit back and say I’m done. That’s never an option,” said Clanton. She spends the weekends with her boyfriend Bill, something she’s been doing for the last 10 years. “He’s 92. I think I robbed the cradle.” – Hearts of Immanuel