1996 SCV Woman of the Year, Charlotte Kleeman, dies

Charlotte Kleeman. Courtesy photo

The 1996 Santa Clarita Valley Woman of the Year and Newhall resident Charlotte Kleeman died Thursday morning at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Kleeman, 85, died at around 3 a.m. Thursday due to a brief illness she was battling, according to her daughter, Shari Kleeman, who added that she was by her mother’s side at the time. 

Residents and area dignitaries knew Kleeman for her tireless volunteer work, philanthropy and fundraising efforts. Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste told The Signal that she can’t imagine the community without her. 

“She was at everything and was a constant support for nonprofits,” Weste said. “She was a very giving person, and I certainly am going to miss her.” 

In a piece about Kleeman on the Man and Woman of the Year website, she’s said to have been born in Chicago. However, she grew up in North Hollywood, the mini-biography read, and she graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, after which she worked as a social worker, and then received two teaching credentials. In 1965, Kleeman and her husband, Frank, who was an attorney and eventually a judge, moved to the Santa Clarita Valley. 

Of her accomplishments over the years in the SCV, according to the Man and Woman of the Year website, Kleeman chaired the ambassadors committee of the SCV Chamber of Commerce and was on the boards of the Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre, the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health, the SCV Child and Family Center, the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center, the SCV American Association of University Women and the College of the Canyons Foundation. She also served on the board of directors and executive board of the SCV Boys & Girls Club. 

According to Jim Ventress, former chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club, Kleeman did more than help the community. She helped her fellow helpers, too, he said. 

“I remember one of my first board meetings,” Ventress recalled. “After the meeting, we just sat there and talked for a while, and she was welcoming me to the community, kind of saying the do’s and the don’ts. But she was very, very helpful, and gave me some insight — like the people you really want to meet in your first month on the job, and just kind of pointing me in the right direction and to the right people.” 

Ventress added that he still remembers an important piece of advice Kleeman once gave him: “Some of your ideas at the beginning may not fly. But if you last a year, you’re filled with great ideas next year.” 

Ventress also said there was one thing about Kleeman: If you got her to help with a project or cause, you also got her husband. Together, according to the Man and Woman of the Year website, Kleeman and her husband were voted “Philanthropists of the Year” by the Network of California Community Colleges in 2002, and together they received the College of the Canyons Silver Spur Community Service Award in 2005. Kleeman’s husband died in 2016. 

Perhaps one of Kleeman’s most cherished accolades, though, according to the Man and Woman of the Year website, was her SCV Woman of the Year Award in 1996, which she’s quoted as saying was “the most meaningful award I ever received.”  

Weste, who picked up the honor the previous year, told The Signal that she worked with Kleeman regularly as a result of their common experience. 

“This was a person that did hard work to maintain wonderful events and things in our community,” Weste said. “I knew her from Woman of the Year because, you know, we all cross over each other a lot.” 

In a quote on the Man and Woman of the Year website, Kleeman said that receiving the SCV Woman of the Year Award had made her even more focused on volunteer work. 

“In order to feel like I really deserved it,” the quote read, “I started volunteering more and began accepting more leadership roles.” 

Weste agreed that Kleeman never thought she’d done enough, which is why, after winning the award, she did even more. 

“What does it take to become a Woman of the Year?” Weste asked rhetorically. “A lifetime of dedicated service.” 

But there were other awards, too, Kleeman’s daughter said. 

“There’s, like, 80 awards around this house,” she told The Signal in a call Thursday afternoon from her mother’s residence. “And she has a bunch in the garage that we can’t fit.” 

Mitch Hacker, a friend of the family, said the generosity of Kleeman and her husband, and their desire to give has passed on to their children and grandchildren. He added that, to the benefit of Santa Clarita, their spirit was also passed on to numerous others in the community. 

Kleeman is survived by her four kids, three grandkids and two dogs. Those close with the family who are wondering what will happen to Oreo and Cookie, Kleeman’s daughter wants you to rest assured — “I’m taking the dogs,” she said. 

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