Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clarence Chicks at 91

An old photo of Clarence Chicks, taken while on vacation in Massachusetts.

Clarence Chicks will turn 92 years-old next month. Instead of being merely independent, he's closer to being self-sufficient than most people that I know. Not only does he still drive a car, but he still has quick enough reflexes to drive on the freeway when he visits family in Milwaukee. And his vision is practically perfect without glasses - really. I didn't ask Clarence if he still chops his own wood (I doubt it). But he loads up his wood-burning furnace twice a day throughout the winter. He also grows a lot of his own food.

Clarence used to ride his bicycle from Milwaukee all the way home to the town of Red Springs once a year. He's not indestructible though, he had to stop making his long ride about five years ago (I think it was due to a broken bone).

Anyway, Clarence is a World War II veteran, having served in the Navy. His wife was also a Stockbridge Indian and she served in the Army Nurse Corps. Clarence proudly told me that his wife made the rank of Captain, prompting me to ask if he was required to salute her. That was pretty funny to Clarence, who admitted that his wife's rank was higher than his, but the two of them wouldn't ever have had the chance to run into each other while in uniform.

Clarence's wife died in the 1950's. He had to finish raising three children. The youngest, Bob, was only five years-old at the time. As you may know, Robert Chicks has been President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Council for the last several years. Clarence told me that he himself never had much interest in tribal politics.

Clarence attended the old Lutheran Mission School in grades 7-8 before going on to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. He was fortunate to get a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Kansas City after graduating - he had steady work with the federal government when most people were going through really tough times.

Clarence is blessed with a mechanical mind. He worked for General Motors for quite a few years in Milwaukee and while there he was part of a team assigned to build the guidance system for NASA's 1969 Apollo project. He laughs at how primitive that system was compared to the GPS technology that we have now.

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