|Birth: ||Sep. 24, 1920|
|Death: ||Jan. 23, 2006|
Before my own slender reminiscences are added to this virtual memorial, it would be more fitting to open with the memories of someone who knew Dr. Willard Clewell from William Allen High School far better than I did. That would be Gary A. Becker.
When I knew him, Mr. Becker was the much-beloved astronomy gent for our school district. Serving as assistant director and then director, he ran the Allentown School District Planetarium which we students got to visit once a year via field trips that were always cause for anticipation. Gary would set your imagination on fire with his exciting productions that combined his own enthusiasm and knowledge with the high-tech gadgetry on site, and put on these fabulous presentations. You'd sit there in the dark with your class, while his words mingled with projected images on the dome above you, giving you a real sense of the universe's infiniteness and and infusing you with wonder.
Now retired from public teaching (since June 2010) Gary is currently teaching astronomy at Moravian College. He wrote this piece about his first year as a teacher for his own website, Astronomy.org, and kindly granted permission for it to be used here.
I simply called him "Doc." As a first year teacher in the Allentown School District, I found his elegant style and his devotion to chemistry a true inspiration to me. He loved astronomy which made us instant buddies. After my first period class, I'd sometimes find myself irresistibly drawn to his classroom on the third floor of Allen's Main Building or later in the Linden Wing just to listen for a few moments. His lessons flowed like honey, often in the form of stories, laced with personal anecdotes experienced along the pathways of his life. Sometimes he was a prankster, testing my knowledge with obscure facts, but more often Doc was like the Pied Piper. I simply wanted to follow him around to hear what he had to say next.
One morning in the spring of 1973, I arrived at work in a somber mood. My friend, Stan Wilkes, and I had just received notice that our booking to Africa to see the total solar eclipse of June 30 had been cancelled. Doc was also taking Allen students to see the same eclipse aboard the ship Canberra departing from New York City. Doc looked at me with a concerned smile and simply said, "Let me see what I can do." Moments later, using something I had never seen before, a phone card, Doc was talking to a representative of P & O. In a deep, authoritative voice he announced that he was bringing the largest single contingency of passengers on board the Canberra. Doc then continued with, "I have two friends…" That evening upon returning home from school, a drawing of a ship under an eclipse was taped to the door of my room. Wings soared upward from cabin C252 with $827.50 inscribed between its feathers. With 2,000 people on a waitlist, the cabin was mine. My friend "Doc," Dr. Willard S. Clewell, Jr., passed away January 23 at the age of 85.
Dr. Clewell was not a teacher of mine, but plenty of my friends had him as instructor for science subjects. He was like the proverbial Slim Jim - you either loved him or you didn't. It was unanimous, however, that was he brilliant, and possessed of a dry wit. He retired as the chairman of the chemistry department, and had been also on the school board, once serving as president 1985 to 1987.
I knew him to see him, and you cannot imagine my surprise to spot him one day at the county home for the aged, Cedarbrook. I'd gone to visit my uncle who had developed a form of dementia, and Dr. Clewell was in his unit.
The good doctor was much thinner than in his teaching years, but still had his distinctive blue eyes. After visiting with my uncle, I went over to Dr. Clewell. I asked if it were he, and he replied yes, and asked if he should know me. I said no, that I had not been a student of his, but I knew who he was. I introduced myself, sat down and we had a lovely, very long chat. If not exacting, his mind was lively, and his blue eyes flashed. He had wit and humor. He may have had some problems, but he was certainly very able to hold a conversation, very sociable and charming. We talked about school, and about some of his patents. Inside I felt a little sick; what was this brilliant man doing here? He was in good enough shape that I wondered if Dr. Clewell had no family who might care for him.
The next time I visited my uncle, his wife, my aunt, was there visiting too. I asked her if she knew a man on the unit named Willard, and she did. "Oh yes, Willard," she chortled "Such a nice and funny man. Do you know him?" And she was surprised to hear me say he'd been a fine teacher and respected scientist. It occurred to me that she was probably not alone - probably no one working at Cedarbrook knew that Willard had been such a singular man.
That he had been so should have made no difference in his care, but it was who he was. Even when we age, our past should remain part of our identity. It was a sad lesson to realize that any of us can become another seemingly anonymous older person needful of care. ______________________________________
From a letter to the editor of the Allentown Morning Call, February 3, 2006:
Teacher's deeds will long be remembered
Allentown and the Lehigh Valley have been the beneficiaries of a man who dramatically impacted the lives of his students, colleagues and anyone in need of his help.
Dr. William [sic- his name was "Willard"] S. Clewell, who died on Jan. 23, performed lab experiments on the high school level that were unheard of even in the collegiate arena, as he employed xenon, a noble gas provided him by Air Products during his 80's, just prior to his retirement.
"Doc's" door was open to any student, colleague or anyone else in need of his help. This extraordinary scientist referred to the many pictures of his former students lining his living room as his "family" and he frequently interrupted his personal time to render counsel, no matter the time of day or night.
Dr. Clewell's career was launched inauspiciously enough as he commuted from his Allentown home to a former Merck chemical plant prior to assuming a position as mathematics professor at Moravian College, then as a teacher of chemistry and other sciences for the Allentown School District, where he became the Allen High School science chairperson.
No litany of words would suffice to catalog Dr. Clewell's contributions to our community. However, all whose lives he touched may best do honor to him by remembering his timeless deeds.
Barry P. Smoyer
From the Allentown Morning Call newspaper:
Dr. Willard S. Clewell Jr., 85, formerly of Allentown and Bethlehem, died Jan. 23, 2006 in Cedarbrook. He taught sciences at both William Allen High School, Allentown and Lehigh University. He was the son of the late Willard S. and Virginia L. Clewell. He was a member of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. He formerly served on the Allentown School Board and was very involved in the civic community in Allentown.
Services: Mass of Christian Burial, 10 a.m. Thursday in the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, 18th and Turner streets, Allentown. Call 2-4:30 p.m. today, Bachman, Kulik & Reinsmith Funeral Home, 17th and Hamilton streets, Allentown. Interment, Bethlehem Memorial Park.
Willard Stanley Clewell (1889 - 1978)
Virginia L. Hitner Clewell (1892 - 1963)
Memorial Park Cemetery
Created by: sr/ks
Record added: Jan 20, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 64448825