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Remembering Claire Leishman Memorial Feature by Kathie Bangs for colliesonline.com

The lady responsible for bringing so many of us back through the gates of a long gone estate in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, named Sunnybank back in the 1860’s, by Terhune’s mother, Marion Harland, has passed.

Claire K. Leishman passed away on October 25, 2021, just six months shy of what would have been her 100th birthday. An icon, in her own right, with a passion for Sunnybank and the Terhunes. She combined an undeniable drive and dedication to take a property ravaged by time and vandals and left a legacy, a 9 plus acre state park paying homage to it’s long- gone inhabitants; human, canine and the “little people” of Sunnybank.

Claire Leishman at Sunnybank in 2011.

A lifetime of work spanning sixty plus years, began when Albert Payson Terhune’s beloved home Sunnybank was on the verge of destruction. Plans were in place to turn the property into a subdivision of homes. With the support of the Collie Club of America behind her, Claire forged ahead. She organized the Sunnybank Memorial Fund and in 1968 began the campaign to raise money for the restoration of Sunnybank. Many will remember Claire’s monthly columns in Collie Cues, providing up-dates, donations and always a story of interest, complete with photos from her extensive collection. In 1969, the State of New Jersey designated Sunnybank a Historical Site. In 1974, a proposal was submitted to the Township of Wayne, by Claire and the members of the Collie Club of America, to make Sunnybank, the National Headquarters for the Collie Club of America, which would include a building to house their memoirs. That proposal, due to having different groups involved with leadership changes over the years, was denied.

Albert Payson Terhune’s home at Sunnybank.
Albert Payson Terhune and his wife Anice Terhune on the porch of their home.

Today, we have this amazing piece of real estate, a living monument, and as Claire put it back in it’s dedication in 1974, “ Everyone has their dream place, their Mecca. To dog fanciers, especially Collie people, Sunnybank is that place.” Since that time, several projects have been completed, from Lad and Bruce’s gravesites to the Lily Pond, Root Cellar and Puppy Kennel, initiated by the unveiling back in 1974 of the shaft of granite with the bronze medallion relief head-study of Albert Payson Terhune.

Puppy Kennel

The Van Riper/Hopper Museum, houses an extensive collection of Sunnybank memorabilia and groups such as the Terhune-Sunnybank Collies with nearly 3,000 followers, the Annual Gathering, began back in 1997, held each August and hosted by The Collie Health Foundation, and the Terhune-Sunnybank Memorial. The Terhune-Sunnybank Memorial was initiated by Claire. Judy Leathers now chairs the organization.

Champion Rock

Both Claire and her husband, John, who predeceased her, were founding members of the Collie Club of Northern New Jersey, established back in 1948. John served as club President. Claire and John are survived by a daughter, Laurie, Claire’s pride and joy. A long time member and officer of the Kennel Club of Northern New Jersey, Claire could always be seen manning the information booth at the club’s annual point shows. Claire was awarded the “Right Stuff” award back in 2012, by the Collie Club of America’s Quarter Century Group, recognizing her contributions to the Collie. At that presentation, Dr. Bill Brokken, club President, announced a donation of $5,000.00 to the Terhune- Sunnybank Memorial to enable the continuation of their work.

Although Collies were her first love, Great Pyrenees, also held a special place in her heart. “Contributions of the Great Ones”, yes, she definitely fits the bill and will fondly never be forgotten by her many friends and supporters.

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Photos courtesy of Emanuel Einstein Memorial Library :: Pompton Lakes, New Jersey and Kathie Bangs, Collie Club of America District Director for Maine.