Victory in Jesus

H. Thomas “Sonny” Claus, 83, walked into the presence of the Lord surrounded by his family, on Friday, March 8, 2013, at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

He was born December 26, 1929, in Niagara Falls, New York, to Huron James and Theresa Caretha Thomas Claus. He was an enrolled member of the Mohawk of the Six Nations on the Grand River, Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada. He was from the Turtle Clan. He was also from the Tuscarora Indian Nation.

When sharing his personal testimony he would always state, “I’m proud to be an Indian by race, but I am more proud to be a Christian by grace.” One of his favorite verses was II Timothy 1:12 (TLB), “It is He who saved us and chose us for His holy work, not because we deserved it but because that was His plan long before the world began – to show His love and kindness to us through Christ.”

He always praised God for his rich heritage of being a fourth generation Christian. His great grandfather, Adam Elliot Thomas, whose Mohawk name was “Split the Sky,” was one of the first Christians in his family. He was followed by his son Freeman Thomas. Then Freeman’s daughter, Theresa, and her husband, Huron Claus and two daughters, Dorothy and Shirley, became Christians through a missionary radio ministry in Buffalo, New York. Later, “Sonny,” the youngest of the family, accepted Christ into his heart when he was 14 years old.

At the early age of 3, his mother trained him and his two sisters to sing, by memory, many gospel songs and choruses. They started singing in churches, Bible conferences and youth rallies all over the east coast. They were known as the Claus Indian Family. The Lord blessed their ministry as doors began to open to places where they never dreamed of going. In a few short years, they were singing in rallies with Jack Wyrtzen in Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York City; Percy Crawford in Convention Hall in Philadelphia; Torrey Johnson in Orchestra Hall in Chicago; and finally as staff musicians with Youth For Christ International with the Reverend Billy Graham.

“Sonny” would look back and see how God had led his family to work with some of the greatest Bible teachers and evangelists in a generation and time of tremendous spiritual harvest. These included: Dr. Harry Ironside, Dr. Oswald J. Smith, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Dr. John Rice, Dr. Andrew Telford, Dr. Harold Ockenga, Dr. Bob Pierce of World Vision, Dr. Cameron Townsend of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Dr. Robert Evans of Greater Europe Mission, Dr. Bob Cook, Dr. Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, Walter Smyth, George Beverly Shea and other members of the Billy Graham Team, and many other godly leaders and people who made a great impact on his life.

In January of 1945, “Sonny” made a life changing commitment to preach the Gospel of Christ to his own people when he saw the great spiritual need of the Seminole Indians in the Everglades of Florida. He didn’t know how he would answer God’s call, because he had stuttered and stammered all his life, except when he sang. But when he surrendered his life to preach, God took away the stuttering. Six months later, at an Indian camp on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in northern New York, Chuck Pamp, a Potawatomi Indian evangelist asked Tom to preach in a Sunday afternoon service. From that moment on, he faithfully began to preach the Word wherever he was called.

In October 1951, Tom was ordained at Midwest Bible Church in Chicago, IL, by Dr. Torrey Johnson, Pastor and Director of Youth for Christ International.

Over the 70 years of his ministry, since he committed himself to God to preach the Gospel to his own people, he faithfully fulfilled his calling:

• From 1952 until 1977, he founded and was the General Director of the American Indian Crusade, a mission organization that sent missionaries to serve in bringing the Gospel to American Indian reservations and communities.

• From 1961 – 1964, he was the pastor of the Lakota Bible Chapel on the Rosebud Reservation in White River, South Dakota.

• From 1966 – 1983, he was asked to serve as a representative of evangelistic ministries to American Indians at the International Congress on World Evangelism by Dr. Billy Graham, on three separate occasions in Berlin, German, Lausanne, Switzerland and Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

• From 1975 -1990, he served as the Outreach Coordinator to American Indian communities for the Billy Graham Crusades in Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Tampa, FL; Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Albuquerque, NM; and Toronto, Canada.

• In recent years, he worked with Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ International; Coach Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers; and Dr. John MacArthur, Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

In March 1975 he founded Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship, or CHIEF. He felt led of the Lord to bring together 100 Christian American Indian and Eskimo leaders to discuss the spiritual, physical and social needs of Native American people and develop a plan of action to minister to their needs. In 1987, the Chief Shepherd Discipleship Center was established on an eight acre campus and in Phoenix, Arizona. To date, Native pastors and individuals representing over 300 tribes have completed the discipleship training and teaching that has been provided through this ministry.

In 1948, “Sonny” met a beautiful Kiowa Indian girl, Alfreda Tsoodle, from the Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church during a church softball game when he was the pitcher and she was the catcher. They were married in 1954. They had three children: Huron Thomas, Cynthia Ann and Sharolyn Ruth. Along with his preaching ministry, he continued a singing ministry with his young family. God used them to take the Gospel to more than 300 tribes throughout the United States and Canada.

He had a love of the mountains and outdoors and took every opportunity to enjoy hunting, camping and fishing with his family. His family and friends all shared the joy and laughter that his great sense of humor brought. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. His life was one truly lived to the fulfillment and completion of God’s will and purposed call.

Survivors include his loving wife of 59 years, Alfreda Claus, Phoenix, AZ; one son, Huron Thomas and his wife, Lois Claus; his daughters: Cynthia Ann Claus and Sharolyn Ruth Claus, all of Phoenix, Arizona; four grandchildren: Sonny and wife, Pearl Claus; Melissa and husband, Daniel Stone; Adam and Spencer Piron; and five great-grandchildren; and one sister, Dorothy Hill, Oneida, NY.

He is preceded in death by his parents and sister, Shirley Antone.


Funeral Service:

 A viewing for family and friends will be held from 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM on Thursday, March 14, 2013, at Ray and Martha’s Funeral Home, 20 West Main Street, Carnegie, OK.

Funeral services to celebrate his life will be held at 10:00 AM on Friday, March 15, 2013, at Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church, Mountain View, OK, with Dr. Julian Gunn and Reverend Eddie Lindsey officiating.

Burial will be in the Rainy Mountain Tribal Cemetery


Memorial Gifts:

Memorial gifts can be sent to:

CHIEF, Inc., 1644 E Campo Bello Drive, Phoenix AZ  85022.



For those who want to send flowers to the funeral home suggested florists in the area are:

Scott’s House of Flowers

1353 NW 53rd St

         Lawton, OK

(580) 357-7636 

Flowers by Charlene

Mt. View, OK

(580)  347-2931



Memorial Service:

 A memorial service will be held at 2:00 PM on Saturday, March 23, 2013, at Grace Bible Church, 19280 N. 99th Ave., Sun City, Arizona.

  1. It was an honor to have met Bro. Clause and to have him come and teach several Bible Conferences at Chickee Baptist Church at the Hollywood Reservation in South Florida.

  2. My deepest blessings to you and your family. Tom was a mentor and teacher to MANY of us in Native American ministries. His teachings will still be a blessing to us long after his “graduation” and until we stand with Tom again in glory with our blessed Savior.
    Thank you Lord for putting Tom in Native America and our lives all these years!
    I will hope to be at the memorial the 23rd celebrating a blessed life if I can get back from the CHristian Indian Missions celebration in Ringold, OK. safely on time. God bless you!
    Roger Scarbro,
    American Indian Missions, Inc.

    • Dan Siemens says:

      I remember Sonny and the Claus family from their time spent at Byron Bible Camp just north of Huron, SD. In the 60s Sonny and the family ministered the Word in preaching and in song at the Native American camps at BBC. My dad, Walt Siemens, directed the camps. As a youngster I remember joining in the camping experience. I even gave my heart and life to Christ at the Native American Camp. I can’t remember who the speaker was that week, but it just might have been Sonny who preached. It was about that time in my life. I got to hang around Huron too, as we are about the same age. We had a great time.
      I believe the last time I saw Sonny was at a Promise Keepers function.
      I know Sonny will be missed. I also know that he has already heard from His Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” God bless you all.

  3. We send our condolence to the family. I Thank God for the work you all do for our Indian Nations! We will continue to keep in our prayers.

  4. From the hymn, Until Then,

    My heart can sing when I pause to remember
    A heartache here is but a stepping stone
    Along a trail that’s winding always upward,
    This troubled world is not my final home.

    But until then my heart will go on singing,
    Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
    Until the day my eyes behold the city,
    Until the day God calls me home.

    May God be glorified in a life that sang for God and pointed people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayers for the family.

    • Liz Hogan d'Armand says:

      These days ahead will bring up memories of “the Chief”. Mr. Claus was gracious enough to give a starving student a typing assignment for the CHIEF newsletter. I think Cynthia must have put a good word in for me! His gentle-giant presents, sense of humor, always willing to sit down for a long chat will be missed greatly. But the fact that I will see him again soon comforts me. I’m blessed to have known him while on this earth.

  5. Clyde Cowan says:

    A giant has passed, and I’m grateful that the Lord let him pass our way. I learned from his teaching, and still remember his words. I learned even more from observing the man. Tom Claus carried himself with the greatest grace and dignity of anyone I’ve ever met. May grace be abundant to Huron, to all of the Claus family, and all of the CHIEF family.
    Clyde Cowan

  6. Peter S. Frost says:

    Our Champion! My familys Champion! My Champion of the Gospel has moved on to his Crown! Glory be to God! I’ll never forget his friendship, his teaching, and best of all his testimony of his Lord & Saviour Jesus the Christ. The love he showed as an dad; the leadership of CHIEF I will never forget. When I think of Tom I think of commitment & dedication. He loved his girls, his son, his grandchildren, his wife he showed truly as the Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. The tears shed are for the sadness in my heart but for the joy too. I have story’s to tell and will be remembered alway. He was a firery preacher and an great singer. The power & authority & love he spoke with came from God above. A man of faith was clearly seen by many many who were fortunate to speak with and call him friend. A mighty oak in zion has fallen but is risen tall to be ever with the good Lord Jesus the Christ! Truly a victory in Jesus.

  7. One of the first to start a Ministry to our Host People – by a Native American has gone to dance with our Lord -Tom Claus

    Please join Warriors for Christ to pray for their family, and his son Huron Claus who now is providing the leadership for CHIEF –
    May the Lord give comfort to the family and friends, and wisdom and strength to Huron as he continues in providing leadership for the ministry that his dad started.

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
    2 Corinthians 1:3-4

  8. Basil Gaynor says:

    My contact with the Claus family came through Huron Claus in the 1990’s. However, my most memorable encounter was at a small church in Southern California; where Thomas, Alfreda and the Claus clan brought comfort as they honored their relationship with the Thomas Indian family mourning the loss of their beloved matriarch. It is my pray that the Claus family find some of the comfort that they so graciously provided to others; remembering as God’s children, we are part of God’s eternal Kingdom here on earth and in heaven.

  9. Gloria Dodge says:

    My first memories of the Claus Indian Family was in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was just a little girl and I was absolutely captivated by their presence. Their music ministry at that time included his mom and sisters along with the family. It was and still is powerful and just gets my tears flowing. Time had passed and I grew up with a lot of anger. This anger drove me and made me confused. Finally, I heard the word through Tom Claus about healing generational trauma through reconciliation through Christ Jesus!! I had never heard of this and was ecstatic that someone understood my pain. I experienced healing, pure joy and peace. I thank the good Lord everyday for the word that he shared with me. Another time in my life when our hearts were down, again Tom & Alfreda came to our rescue. We were living in Phoenix and life was beating us down in every way. A knock was at our door and in walked our Angels. They brought groceries, diapers etc. I wept and wept because we truly had no food, no hope and we all sang and read the word!! I love this family and we will miss Tom but I cant be too sad for he is in heaven with our Lord and Savior. Well done good and faithful servant. You served us well and continue to do so!! Glo and family

Leave a Reply