Cleo B. Sonnedecker

Cleo B. Sonnedecker

Cleo B. Sonnedecker, age 87, died Saturday November 3, 2012, at St. Mary’s Hospital. After successfully living with kidney dialysis for several years, hospitalization uncovered serious complications that took Cleo from this world, despite four days of medicine’s best efforts.
Cleo (La Vern) Bell was born November 20, 1924 to George Everett Bell and Martha Bell (nee Nickel), in the coastal village of Seaside, Oregon. She was preceded in death by her parents and three sisters. She is survived by her husband, Glenn Sonnedecker, and a son, Stuart Bruce, both of Madison, Wisconsin; a sister, Palma B. Fisher of Sparks, Nevada; and many nieces, nephews, and cousins in Texas, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest.

After Cleo graduated from Snohomish [Washington] High School, she left home in 1942 to take a secretarial position with the Federal Housing Administration in Washington DC. There she met and, on April 3, 1943, married Glenn Sonnedecker, who was then a pharmaceutical journalist. Although continuing her chosen work, Cleo became an enthusiastic homemaker, which launched a lifelong interest in the art of cookery.

After Stuart was born (August 16, 1945), the family moved across the Potomac to Arlington, Virginia. Although the household became the center of Cleo’s world, it included editorial assistance to her husband’s endeavors.

By 1948 the couple was ready for a career change and moved to Madison. Here Cleo returned to her work as a secretary and office manager, notably as Office Manager for the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (1959-67), then as Office Administrator for the First Unitarian Society of Madison. In 1988 the Society conferred a citation of appreciation “for service above and beyond her fair share,” reflecting in part Cleo’s volunteer work during a church year of “budget crunch.”
Cleo’s values and liberal outlook were shaped considerably by her upbringing on the Oregon coast and by the opportunity to live abroad for a year (1955-56) with Glenn and Stuart. Cleo loved the wilderness areas and seashores of America, and had many memories of family camping trips and later backpacking ventures, such as hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or up into alpine levels of the Grand Tetons.

At home Cleo cultivated her flower garden avidly, contributed toward the nature conservancy movement; served as Board Member and Treasurer of the Madison Association for Historic Preservation and as Assistant Editor of the early Historic Madison journal; chaired the Unitarian Society’s Library Committee; served on the Board of the Regent Neighborhood Association (jointly with Glenn); contributed support to the UW School of Pharmacy (earning special recognition); and lent a hand to humanitarian causes, such as her sponsorship and encouragement of a Papago child in Arizona.
In marriage Cleo and Glenn had a love affair that survived every turn of fate, but death intervened just five months short of their seventieth anniversary. Cleo’s low key, even self-effacing, personality is reflected in her advance directive for cremation without a memorial service. However any gift in memoriam could be directed appropriately to a humanitarian agency. Two of Cleo’s favorites were the Madison Community Foundation and Doctors Without Borders USA.