GREENSBORO — There was no bigger cheerleader for Page High School than Principal Robert Clendenin.
In fact, as Page’s star rose on the football field, Clendenin held so many pep rallies that the cheerleaders would be too tired to perform during games, joked the school’s longtime football coach, Marion Kirby.
And he spread his enthusiasm to others. The school’s colors are red and white, and Kirby said Clendenin got red jackets for the administrative staff to wear. The ladies could wear them with gray skirts; the men, gray pants.
“That’s the way they better show up on game day,” Kirby recalled Friday.
Clendenin, who was Page High School’s principal for more than 20 years, died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 84. A memorial service will be held later this month.
He remains a part of the school today. The sharp, red blazer he wore every day still hangs there, and Page gives the Red Jacket Spirit Award annually to a senior who exhibits the type of school spirit Clendenin did.
“He loved life, he loved the human spirit,” said Clendenin’s niece, Jenny Kiser. “He was a loyal person.”
Clendenin, a Guilford County native and Appalachian State graduate, presided over several local schools during integration. After earning a master’s degree in education from Appalachian, he returned home to teach at his alma mater, Bessemer High School. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, but came back to Bessemer to teach after his discharge from the service. He later became the school’s assistant principal, then principal.
In 1963, Clendenin became principal of Bessemer Junior High School. He stayed there until 1967 when the school closed, and most students were transferred to Aycock Junior High School, Clendendin recalled in an oral history interview he gave for UNC-Greensboro in November 1988. He said there were few problems integrating the junior high schools he led, minus the time some students at Bessemer Junior High formed a “junior” Ku Klux Klan. He said he suspended them for having an illegal club on campus — and promptly got a call from the Grand Dragon of the real KKK, who Clendenin recalled said to him, “ ‘Well, we’re going to send some people to see you.’ ” Clendenin called the police, but the KKK never showed up, he said.
He was transferred to Page in 1970, where he also oversaw the desegregation of that school.
That was where the students came to know him as simply “Mr. C.” He would position himself at what was known as the “AC intersection,” what Kiser said is the busiest intersection of hallways at Page High.
“He would make sure he was out there every class change, checking in, saying hello, being visible, being present,” said Kiser, who is a Page graduate.
“He’s very visible,” recalled another Page graduate, Annie B. Trent, who is now a teacher at Irving Park Elementary School. “That’s how he got to know his students and how he formed his relationships.”
Trent said those relationships lasted long after students left Page. Her most special memory of Clendenin came one day while she was at Moses Cone Hospital. She had just gotten some bad news about a family member and was trying to collect herself in the parking lot. Clendenin — who volunteered at the hospital as a golf cart driver who took people to their cars — immediately recognized Trent and came over to talk to and comfort her.
But what Trent said really summarizes the kind of man Clendenin was is the story a man told her one night while she was attending a Page football game. She noticed a man looking into the window of the cafeteria. He said he had attended Page and asked her if she knew how Mr. C was doing. The man told Trent that he had to live on his own and take a job during his senior year, and had planned to drop out of school. He told her Clendenin picked him up for school every day so he could earn his diploma.
Kirby, the retired football coach, remembered Clendenin as someone who always tried to help him any way he could. Clendenin hired Kirby in 1973. Page had never won a conference championship, and Clendenin wanted to change that, Kirby recalled. The program struggled in other ways, too. Kirby said the football team didn’t play a home game for the first five years he was there because the home side of the field was a “dirt bank.”
Clendenin told Kirby that it would take him awhile to grow his staff, but that he’d help him. Kirby said it took almost three years, but he did. The team gradually got better, winning its first state championship in 1980.
“I thought that he was a real leader,” Kirby said. “He determined what he was looking for, what he was going to go after, and he did that.”
At one point during his tenure, Kirby served as both football coach and athletic director. A prong on the team’s kicking tee had broken. But Clendenin had recently decreed that no one would purchase anything without first checking with him, so when Kirby told him about the tee and an inexpensive solution to fix it, he said Clendenin — who had been a football player in college — suggested the players kick off the ball the old fashioned way: put it atop their toe and hold it with their finger.
”He was hard-nosed. He was tough. He was straightforward,” Kirby said.
Kirby said he took to roaming the locker room to keep an eye on his players the way Clendenin roamed the hallways. Kirby described Clendenin as one of the most central figures in his life, ranking up there with his father and coaches who groomed him.
“I learned an awful lot from that man,” he said.
Clendenin’s survivors include his son, Carter, and four grandchildren. A memorial service for Clendenin will be held at 2 p.m. May 22 at First Presbyterian Church. The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, people send donations to the Page High PTSA for the Mr. C Memorial Fund. The school hopes to build a walkway in his honor.