Obituary: Karel Clemens

June 24, 1939 – Dec. 15, 2017

Karel Lea Willhoite Clemens, 78, of Eagle Nest died of a recent illness on Dec. 15, 2017, after three weeks in intensive care and four weeks in hospice care in Albuquerque.

Born June 24, 1939, in Ada, Oklahoma, Karel was the daughter of Frederick Willhoite and Laura Odetta (Sherrill) Willhoite. Growing up, Karel lived in numerous locations, mainly in Oklahoma, as her father pursued careers as a Baptist minister and a U.S. Air Force chaplain.

Karel graduated high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1957 and graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1961. She received a teaching certificate in July 1962 from the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

From 1966 to 1972, she was employed by the U.S. Air Force in Frankfurt, Germany. There she met the love of her life, Bert Clemens, creator of and broadcaster on Rhein-Main, the world’s smallest TV station at the time. With monthly trips to Rome, the couple could have written an even more romantic version of the 1953 movie “Roman Holiday.”

Karel was married to Bert in 1971 by her father at Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma. The ceremony included the couple’s theme song, “Up, Up and Away,” as sung by the 5th Dimension.

In 1972, the couple moved to the Washington, D.C., area. They were both employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and enjoyed weekends on their boat at Occoquan Marina on the Potomac River.

Escaping the civil service to become business owners, Karel and Bert purchased Laguna Vista Lodge in Eagle Nest in 1979. They continuously expanded, remodeled and upgraded the hotel and historic restaurant and saloon. Their hard work paid off, for the resort is now a five-star boutique lodging destination, the saloon is ranked in the top 15 of the Southwest, and the resort is recognized as a New Mexico landmark.

Karel’s passions, in addition to her husband, included reading, woodworking, flowers, cooking and piano concerts in the resort’s Piano Bar. Renowned for her ready smile and kindness toward all, Karel was devoted to family, staff, and friends all over the world. She truly will be missed. 

In addition to her beloved husband of 47 years, Karel is survived by a stepdaughter, Yvonne Clemens Cullipher (Jeff), New Bern, North Carolina; a step-granddaughter, Jennifer Danielle Kolb (Matt) of Charleston, South Carolina; a step-grandson, Cameron Kolb of New Bern; three nephews—Michael Willhoite (Terri) of San Antonio, Steven Willhoite (Autumn) of San Antonio, and Donald Willhoite of Dallas; three nieces—Katherine Willhoite (Rodd Zolkos) of Chicago, Laura Stebbins (John) of Shoreline, Washington, and Ann McKinstry (Mark) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and six grandnieces and six grandnephews. 

Two brothers—Fred H. Willhoite, Jr., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Dr. David Willhoite of San Antonio, Texas—preceded Karel in death.

Unofficial adoptions by Karel include: Steve Sandoval (Kaycee) of Cimarron; Elayna Mitchell (Jared) of Dallas; Jacqueline Soares of Frederick, Maaryland; Marla Anderson of Eagle Nest; Sally Rucker (Dan) of Black Lake; Micki Wedel (Mickey) of Eagle Nest; Sue Bean (John) of Eagle Nest; and the deceased Rochelle Boyce and Melissa Farrell, both of Eagle Nest.

A potluck meal and celebration of the life of Karel Willhoite Clemens will start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 16, 2018, at Laguna Vista Resort Courtyard in Eagle Nest. The celebration will be as big as the wonderful time the couple had together all over Europe and with DEA in Washington, D.C., and the jubilations of 39 years in New Mexico.

Memorial gifts may be donated to the Eagle Nest Fire Department and Eagle Nest Library, address to Eagle Nest Village Hall, Attn: EN Fire Department or EN Library, PO Box 168, Eagle Nest, NM  87718. Online condolences may be left at the guest book at www.lagunavistalodge.com/Karel.