Jaime McClendon, New Trier groundbreaker

A photo I stole from the Chicago Tribune article of March 12, 2021. Jaime McClendon, groundbreaker.

I never knew Jaime McClendon. He died recently at the age of 96.

I knew his ex-wife well, she having worked at New Trier in the Athletic Department, called the Department of Kinetic Wellness long before the time I retired. She is a bright and bubbly personality and a very hard worker and quite involved in TARP, the retirement group (Trevian Association of Retired Personnel).

I always wondered about Jaime. I thought that he had left New Trier long before I started, but after reading a beautiful article about him in the Chicago Tribune today (March 12, 2021), I realize that he preceded me by very little. He departed ways with New Trier in 1976 and I arrived in 1977.

I knew that Mary Kay’s family knew him quite well and talked about him. I must say that I never did get a lot of details and I really never figured out why he left, I just thought it was one of those things. Mary Kay knew the McClendons as well, Nalani, in particular.

After reading the article today, it occurred to me that perhaps, a groundbreaker like Jaime, an African American man who had a tough time finding a job at his alma mater, Waukegan High School, and then having come to New Trier, might get lost in the educational shuffle. It surprises me, however, after reading the beautifully written article in the Trib, how his memory seemed to have been deleted in the oral history of the school. I may well be wrong about that, I know little of his time at New Trier, and I really don’t know many particulars, but reading the article of Susan Berger, his former student, it makes me wonder what happened. She wrote, « His magic was in the way he could instill critical thinking, boost his students’ confidence and present them with a different world view. A Renaissance man of sorts… »

He was also a groundbreaker in one of what we called at New Trier, a ‘sender community,’ a community whose students went to New Trier. He and his family moved to very white Glencoe and they all suffered from that event before things calmed down.

He was known for having started an original program in 1965 called Summer Seminar in Community Affairs. The idea was to bring together students from the affluent communities of New Trier (Kenilworth, Winnetka, Wilmette, Glencoe, Northfield, and a small part of Glenview) with students from Crane, DuSable, Harlan, Hirsch, and Hyde Park High Schools.

What surprises me here is that this is the matter of which we think when we think of New Trier High School. Upon my retirement, I had been involved in all sorts of things like Habitat for Humanity, and I knew well of exchanges that had been instituted to bring together students from areas of Chicago and the North Shore. I do not, however, remember anything from my early years at the Winnetka Campus, which directly followed Jaime’s departure. I just keep thinking that I don’t see New Trier as being particularly racist, that clearly, something was going on here that I was unaware of, because more often than not, programs like Jaime’s found a firm niche in the soil of this wonderful « lighthouse school. »

It is a clear reminder that even with the best of situations, locations, and times, that the efforts of good people somehow are quickly forgotten. It begs the question as to why, for example, New Trier never named the newer exchange program after Jaime, who seemed to have spearheaded it all. Again, excuse my naïveté, but perhaps things happened of which I am unaware, but if that is not the case…

I just have to thank the author of the article for the information. It does make me feel bad to not have known this history of a school where I spent some thirty years. In the article, Susan mentions more than one person who benefitted from the experiences offered by Jaime McClendon: Jackie Wolfe, Seminar Year 1968, now a professor of social medecine at my alma mater, Ohio University is one. Another is Sophia Polakowski Peron, Seminar Year 1967 and Edward Zwick of cinema fame.

It seems to me that this is a matter that perhaps should lead to some thought and introspection.

About Richard Koerner

Seventy something, father, papi, educator, organizer, Francophile, traveler, amateur photographer, gardener, cyclist, kayaker, calligrapher, cinephile, reader, and overall renaissance type human being.
This entry was posted in Activism, Confinement, Covid-19, Life in general, New Trier High School, Thoughts and philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

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