Claudia Zabel Johnston Diefenderfer died peacefully on August 19th, 2021 in her beautiful Florence, Montana home.
Always an adventurous and active person, Claudia started life in Dickinson, North Dakota where she played ice hockey with the boys, skated on the lake with her friends, took turns bumper-hitching, sledding down hills, and playing in the community pool until her Mother called her home.
As a young adult Claudia knew the best way to nurture her adventurous spirit would be to work for an airline company. She joined North Central Airlines and never looked back. During her airline years she developed a fondness for Europe, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of Africa. Claudia took advantage of every travel opportunity she could by first exploring alone and then with her parents, sister, and her first husband Jerry Johnson until his passing in 1996.
It was then that Claudia became determinedly independent. She kept the sailboat they had together on Flathead Lake and taught herself how to sail until she became an accomplished captain who loved to sail around Big Arm Bay, especially enjoying being under sail during whitecaps where she embraced the challenge of always getting back to her slip.
After 36 years of service to the airlines she happily retired in Montana from Northwest Airlines in 2003. In retirement Claudia’s adventurous spirit thrived even more as she was able to fully embrace her love of travel, skiing, hiking, canoeing, bird watching, pine needle basket weaving, and especially becoming an accomplished watercolor artist. It is impossible to describe her life in this short narration but with all that she was able to accomplish in life these events remained special to her.
In 1999 Claudia and her mother ventured to Antarctica with a science expedition sponsored by the granddaughters of James “Frank” Hurley to retrace Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition, to include landing on Elephant Island, South George, and climbing up a hill near the Stromness whaling station so she could slide down just like Shackleton and his mates did to reach the station.
In 2005 Claudia married her second husband James and moved to Utah. While there she bought a travel trailer so she could explore the beautiful landscapes of the High Uinta’s and the red rock canyons of southern Utah, to enjoy long road trips up and down the gorgeous Oregon coast, and to be at home among the splendid fresh pine-filled Montana Rocky Mountains.
In 2008 Claudia and James traveled on a small vessel to the Canadian High Arctic to explore the wonders of Nunavut and the ways of the Inuit people. Exploring around the icebergs and visiting the small islands full of friendly Inuit families she came to appreciate the harshness of the environment but also the resilience of those who lived there. It was there that she learned to appreciate the power and importance of the Inukshuk as directional markers for people on a journey. She brought her love and skill of building Inukshuks back with her and they can now be found wherever she has traveled or lived.
In 2013 Claudia was recognized as a “Resident on Display” for her beautiful watercolor skills with a solo premier art showing at the Gale Center Museum in South Jordan, Utah. The show featured dozens of her works of nature and her famous Red Truck in Grass. Since her showing she continued to draw, sketch, and paint from her home studios in Utah and Montana. Having sold paintings during a plein air painting evening in Mexico she earned the title “International Artist”.
In 2015 Claudia was finally able to return to the place she loved most and wanted to call home for good. She and her husband James purchased a beautiful home in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountain valley. From there Claudia was able to enjoy long walks and wildlife viewing in the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, canoeing on the Lake Como, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Bass Creek and Lolo Pass Recreation Areas.
Claudia is survived by her husband James Diefenderfer, her brother Brant Zabel, her sister Sandy Hruby, and all of her dear sweet friends around the world. In lieu of flowers and cards James ask that you honor Claudia by making a donation to one of her favorite charities. Missoula Food Bank (1720 Wyoming St., Missoula, MT. 59801), Pantry Partners (3614 ALC Way, Stevensville, MT 59870), or Raptors of the Rockies (P.O. Box 250, Florence, Montana 59833)