The angel who took care of the boys with dirty faces

There are photographs of me and Clenece Roberts when we were little kids growing up. The one I’m thinking of is of both of us sitting on the front stoop of my house on the farm where I grew up outside Claflin, Kansas. We were probably 4 or 5 years old when the picture was taken. I think she is a year older than me. Clenece’s mom was my mother’s sorority sister and room mate at Kansas State in the 1930s, and her family lived in Great Bend, the Barton County seat, which was about 15 miles from Claflin as the crow flies. The sorority sisters kept in close touch and I got to know Clenece and her brothers pretty well before they moved from Great Bend, which I think occurred sometime in the 1950s.


After two years at Kansas State, I departed in July of 1959 to enter the U.S. Naval Academy. After surviving Plebe Year and returning to the academy after Youngster cruise for the start of the academic year in the fall of 1960, I received a letter from my mom telling me that Clenece had come to Annapolis and taken a job as a school teacher. Mom told me I should look her up. I hadn’t seen Clenece in several years, since we were both students at K-State, and promised mom that I would give her a call.

Since my classmates and I were no longer Plebes, but exalted Third Classmen, we had more freedom on weekends and were able to go into Annapolis pretty much as we pleased after Saturday classes, Saturday meal formations, and chapel on Sundays. I called the phone number that mom had given me and arranged to visit Clenece on the next Saturday afternoon. It turns out that she lived in an apartment just a block outside of Gate One. I made my obligatory visit, met her room mate Susan Joslin, a fellow teacher, and spent an hour or two. I was invited back any time. I told Clenece that I had two room mates from Kansas and asked if she minded if I brought them the next time. I thought it would be nice to have Dick Williams from Pratt, and Ron “Walt” Walters from Hays meet a Kansas girl who had come to Annapolis.

So Dick and Walt accompanied me the next weekend. Being fine hostesses, Clenece and Susan offered us a beer, not realizing that Midshipmen were not allowed to drink legally within a seven mile radius of the USNA chapel dome. Of course that seven mile radius defined the liberty limits as well. If you drank within the limits you were in violation, and if you left the limits to drink a legal beer you were also in violation for being out of bounds. They had us by the short hairs at the Naval Academy. I think Clenece finally found out that we weren’t supposed to drink in Annapolis, but she and Susan continued to be providers of beer as long as they were there.

Anyway, as time wore on during our Youngster year, at my invitation, and with Clenece’s and Susan’s approval, more and more members of the 6th Company of the Class of 1963 began showing up at their apartment. Finally it seemed that they were providing beer to the entire 6th Company. There is a liquor store across the historic harbor area of downtown Annapolis from Clenece’s place that got a lot of business in the early 1960s thanks to the 6th Company. The store is still there. We were partying like there was no tomorrow, and it wasn’t until about our 30th or 35th reunion that we really discovered just how close we were to the Naval Academy boundary while we were in serious violation of regulations. It finally occurred to me many years after graduation that the Naval Academy Executive Department would tolerate Midshipmen drinking in spite of it’s illegality as long as it wasn’t done in Bancroft Hall or in the yard, and as long as you didn’t make an ass of yourself in public.

But there was much more to Clenece and her relationship with me and my 6th Company classmates than having a source to buy us beer and giving us a place to drink it. She and Susan gave us a place to go for respite from the pressure of the Naval Academy. Life in Bancroft Hall could be like living in a pressure cooker, even after Plebe Year had long passed. The academic, athletic and military requirements of life as a Midshipmen were very exacting and time consuming. There was no chance to lessen your academic load by dropping a course like I was able to do and K-State. Either you did the work and achieved passing grades, or you were gone. You were required to participate in athletics…if not at the varsity level, than in intramurals. On top of all this the officers of the Executive Department were always on the prowl looking for Midshipmen in violation of Academy regulations…and the reg book was about three inches thick. Because of this you kept your military appearance squared away, and had your room ready for inspection at all times or risked getting put on report. If this happened you either arose at 0500 for physical training as punishment or you were restricted to Bancroft Hall on weekends.

Clenece was always there to give us a break from this routine, and we took advantage as much as we could. One or more of us was probably hanging out at her place every weekend, and sometimes we’d throw parties there on Saturday nights. I think we got prior permission from Clenece for these blasts; but maybe not. She was always there if any of us had problems. She gave us a shoulder to cry on. As I look back on it, I don’t think we reciprocated as well as we should have. She gave, we took. We didn’t have much to give, but could have behaved better than we did. We were the boys with dirty faces mentioned in the title to this story, and she was the angel who took care of us.

If memory serves me correctly, Clenece taught in Annapolis for two years before returning to Kansas. She was there during our Third Class (sophomore) and Second Class (junior) years, and she supported us well during that whole time. I think she was gone for First Class year. By that time Walt and I had driven a ’49 Chevy back from Hays, and hidden it illegally in a garage off of West Street. About six of us became part owners of that buggy and we now had mobility to move around Annapolis and its environs. This car deserves a TINS tale of its own so I won’t go into any more detail here. It was not that we didn’t need Clenece anymore; she wasn’t there and we were high and mighty Firsties and were discovering new horizons.

Clenece and her husband Jim live south of Lawrence, Kansas today, and we get together every time we visit my brother, who lives in Lawrence. We get out that way about every year. We reminisce about those years in Annapolis and have some good laughs. She once told me at one of these get togethers that we really had high opinions of ourselves when we were Midshipmen…thought we were hot stuff. She’s probably right. Back then our military was much more highly respected in this country than it is today. Things are better than during and after Vietnam…our war, with the support our troops get for their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But back then being a Naval Academy Midshipman or a West Point Cadet seemed to mean more than it does today, and we were proud to be members of those select groups.

So that was Clenece Roberts when she ventured to Annapolis do broaden her horizons. I doubt that she had any idea that she would become the mother hen to a bunch of ne’er-do-well members of the 6th Company, Class of 1963. But she did and she was there for us, and I don’t think we appreciated all that she meant to us during those two years of our lives as Midshipmen. One thing that I haven’t mentioned about our adventures with Clenece and Susan…one member of the 6th Company, Jary Lewis of Springdale, Arkansas, married Susan. They are still happily married and living in retirement in Florida. I just saw them last spring at our 45th reunion. Susan always provides a tie to that glorious past when we meet at reunions. We should invite Clenece to our next one…the 50th, coming up in 2013. Anyway, thanks Clenece, for being there for us. You didn’t have to do it, but you gladly did, and we love you for it.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends