Celeste Clark Van Fleet

celesteCeleste Clark Van Fleet, 98, longtime resident of Middletown, NY passed in her sleep on Thursday, Sept. 1 in her apartment at Carlton Senior Living in Davis, CA, just hours after a family visit. The hospice team reported that the US Open was on the television earlier that day. A nearly life-size picture of Roger Federer was at her bedside.

Celeste (Lestie to her dear friends) lived a long and full life, remarkedly with only one artificial joint and little medication. She was active and athletic; she won the 1949 Orange County Golf Club’s women’s championship, while pregnant! In the early 50’s she steadfastly played the role of backyard pitcher and catcher to her ball-playing sons. Shortly thereafter she took up tennis, teaching the family (with mentor Thor Krogh) at the Highland Tennis Club, and culminating in her appointment as Head Pro at the Orange County Park’s Tennis Center in 1978.

Celeste was also the Director of Volunteer Services at Horton Memorial Hospital in Middletown until her retirement. Celeste was committed to the idea that healthy trees are important to a sustainable planet, and she actively lobbied the City of Middletown to improve its shade tree population, serving as Chair of the City’s Shade Tree Committee. She was also active in supporting efforts to eradicate AIDS, which claimed her youngest son, Rob. The AIDS Quilting Project was the recipient of her quilting talents.

Celeste loved to travel, whether with her family or independently. Her travelogs are an epic collection. She often recalled her trip across the Pacific on a freighter as the sole passenger, disembarking in New Zealand to stay with a Kiwanis exchange student’s family. One of her last bucket list trips was a family canal trip in England. She revered her frequent visits to Chebeague Island, Maine, where she enjoyed tennis, golf and sailing (and lobster) with her family. In her final months, when she wasn’t sinking the eight ball, or bidding small slam, she was seen traveling the streets of Davis on her motor scooter, either on her way to see her neighborhood great grandchildren, or often seeking her favorite almond croissant.

In recent years she was befriended by a wonderful group of Middletown knitting friends, with whom she met weekly to knit, quilt, chat, and enjoy chocolate! Celeste considered these women her extended family; she was ever so grateful for their companionship. She was also aided for years by friends Sony Pierre and Eileen Hogan. In her final days she was lovingly cared for by the Sutter at Home Hospice and Carlton Senior Living Center teams.

Celeste was born in Baltimore, Md. on Nov. 18, 1923, the middle child of Albert and Laura Clark of Roland Park. Her sister Dorothy Anne, and brother James predeceased her. She attended Baltimore public schools before enrolling at Notre Dame junior college, and then at the Maryland Institute College of Art. In 1944 she met, and subsequently married, Lt. Robert S. (Bob) Van Fleet of Middletown in 1945. After 54 years of marriage, Bob predeceased her in 1999. She raised three rambunctious boys, Jim (James C.), Chris (Christopher H.), and Rob (Robert S., Jr.), thereby instantly qualifying for St. Peter’s Gate. She leaves one son, Jim (wife Sarah Swann), two grandchildren, Becca (Webb) and Jeremy (wife Erica Herzog), and four great grandchildren, Zoe, 8, Graham, 6, Finn, 4, and Luca, 2.

There will be a celebration of life at the Orange County (Thomas Bull) Park Boathouse at noon on Friday, October 14, 2022 with a ceremonial visit to the adjoining tennis courts to view the maple planted in her honor. Celeste wanted her body donated to science, and she is now part of the UC Davis Medical Center family.

Contributions in her memory could be made to the Orange County Land Trust, PO Box 269, Mountainville, NY, 10953 or to Sutter at Home Hospice, 8334 Ferguson Ave., Sacramento, CA, 95828, or to the charity of your choice.