A History of the Cleary Family in Ypsilanti

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Ypsilanti Gleanings
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Author: Patrick Roger Cleary II

Ypsilanti welcomed a new era on October 8, 1883 when an ambitious and talented twenty-five year old Irish immigrant opened a school of penmanship in Ypsilanti and created an institution that continues to thrive today, 133 years later.

Our story begins in 1858 in the town of Borrisokane, Tipperary County, Ireland. A fifth child was born to Roday and Julia Cleary who they named Patrick Roger. Patrick’s parents were poor. Roday was a stockman on a large farm owned by the Marquise Tuthill, an Englishman. Julia worked in the farmhouse and they lived in a two-room thatch roofed cottage on the farm property.

Patrick’s father and mother died about 6 or 7 years after he was born. The dates and causes of their deaths were never revealed to our family. His older siblings had migrated to the United States earlier and had settled in various places in Michigan. After their parents died, the Tuthills took in Patrick and his younger sister Annie. Since the Tuthills were English, the children were able to continue their education in the English School that was not open to Irish children at that time.

In 1869, when Patrick was eleven, their older siblings sent for him and his sister Annie. They brought them to the United States where they settled in Hubbardston, Michigan. Hubbardston, a hamlet of less than 400 people today, is located in Ionia County not far from Lansing.

Patrick was an astute and industrious young man. He continued his schooling until he was fourteen and then went to work in a shingle mill for two years. He saved the money he earned while working and later returned to school where he completed high school in two years at age nineteen. Patrick Roger preferred being called P.R. or P. Roger rather than his given name due to the anti-Irish sentiment of the times.

After graduating from the Sheridan school, he entered the Northern Indiana Normal College (now Valparaiso, University) where he studied for a year before enrolling in the Spencerian Institute in Cleveland where he received his diploma in penmanship. Although the first typewriters came on the market in 1874, Spencerian script remained the standard in business well into the new century.

From his attendance at these institutions he formed his basic principles of education; learn in the same environment where the individual will be working; provide a rounded education to includeEnglish, mathematics and civics; afford the student a social environment.

Early on he had discovered that he had a wonderful talent in not only penmanship but also in drawing. Possessed of an entrepreneurial spirit and equipped with this talent, he saw that he could make a living by teaching penmanship. Returning to Hubbardston in 1880, he began teaching classes in this valuable skill in many towns in southern Michigan. Towns such as Ovid, Albion, St Johns and Fowlerville saw advertising bills and notices in newspapers citing classes in penmanship to be given by P.R. Cleary. His efforts proved lucrative and he enjoyed teaching.

By 1883 he had decided that Ypsilanti was where he would start a school of penmanship. Ypsilanti at that time was a bustling and prosperous city with 15 factories manufacturing a variety of products and enjoying a cultural environment with an opera house and a conservatory of music.

He opened his school in the second story of the Warden block on the corner of Huron and Congress (soon to become Michigan Avenue) Street. His first students were the three Babbitt sisters, daughters of Judge and Mrs. Babbitt. The October 13, 1883 edition of the Ypsilanti Commercial observed, “such a school was much needed.”

He was precise and demanding of his students. But as he continued to advertise his enrollment increased quickly and he moved his classes to the Union Block on the north side of Michigan Avenue between Washington and Adams Streets. He commenced holding both day and evening classes as well as acquiring a position as professor of penmanship at the Normal College at a salary of $50.00 per month.

In 1887 P.R. realized that his school was growing so rapidly that he must have a new building and purchased land on the northwest corner of Adams and Michigan Avenue for $2,200.

The highlight of 1887 for P.R. was that he met Helen Clarke Jenks, a very pretty twenty-two year old from St. Clair, MI. She was a cousin of Mrs. Scherzer and was visiting in Ypsilanti. P.R. was smitten with this pretty young lady and began a correspondence with her. By 1889, he had proposed to her and she had accepted. They were married in St. Clair in June 1889. The wedding surprised the Ypsilanti residents since they had considered P.R. as a most eligible bachelor and he had given no indication that marriage was imminent. The newlyweds left immediately after the wedding for a month long honeymoon in Europe.

For the next fifty years Helen Cleary was to be P.R.’s confidant, enthusiast and co-worker in the expansion of Cleary College. Her participation would provide great enrichment in the lives of thousands of young men and women who attended the College.

P.R. begin construction of the new building in 1889. Although it was not completed until 1891, he began to hold classes in rooms that had been completed. The building cost $20,000. P.R. received much support from Ypsilanti businessmen and raised over $10,000 in donations. He took out a mortgage for the balance. Carved into the capstone at the entrance to the building were the words “Cleary Business College.”

The next year, P.R. incorporated the college under state law. Earlier he had begun delivering courses in penmanship in Toledo, OH. He found that the man he had hired to deliver these courses was dishonest and had taken money from him. Thus, he was concerned that a lawsuit would impact his family and the way to protect them was to incorporate.

Tragedy struck on Wednesday evening April 12, 1893. The atmosphere was very heavy and humid and there were thunderstorms in the area. P. R. and Helen were sitting in the living room of their home on Forest Avenue holding their two children on their laps when a man banged on the door and said “Mr. Cleary, the college is gone.” P.R. raced out of the house and ran to the college to find that a cyclone had struck and knocked the roof of the turret from the building besides knocking out the east wall.

The next day, after surveying the damage, he posted signs on the wrecked building saying “classes will resume in all branches of work on Monday, April 17th.” This was a demonstration of his courage and determination. The college was soon repaired at a cost of $7,000.

During this period he formed a close relationship with J.L. Hudson of the J.L Hudson Department store in Detroit. Hudson had shown him how to figure profit. Business textbooks at the time taught that profit should be figured on cost. For instance, if a merchant bought an item for $6.00 and wanted to sell it for a gross profit of 33 1/3 %, he was actually making only 25%. Hudson stressed that profit should be figured on sale, not on cost. P.R said, “I had to work to get my teachers to se that profit should be figured on sale, not on cost and also that expense should be figured on sale.”

He established a practice of visiting businesses to help them set up a bookkeeping system which allowed him to keep abreast of business practices, place students in jobs and kept him aware of salaries in the marketplace. With this experience, he published his first book, How to Figure Profit in 1900 which was published by the Huron Press that was owned by the Cleary’s.

P.R. continued to expand his course offerings including accounting, shorthand and typing. In the secretarial studies curriculum, P.R. required all students to take dictation from him before they could graduate.

By the end of the decade, P.R. and Helen had had four children born to them; Charles Brooks Cleary in 1890; Marjory Julia Cleary in 1892, Ruth Marie Cleary in 1894 and Owen Jenks Cleary in 1900. In 1905, P.R. moved his family from the house on Forest Avenue, where all the children had been born, to 7 N. Normal St., a house that had been built in 1848 by the Smith family. It was a large, four-bedroom, Georgian style, house which had an upper front porch with wooden scrollwork forming the railing giving it a “New Orleans” appearance.

In 1912, Cleary College and the Michigan State Normal College formed a joint program where high school business teachers would study education subjects at the Normal College and business subjects at Cleary. He did this in collaboration with Charles McKenny, President of the Normal College. All the Cleary children attended Ypsilanti High School with Charles, the oldest going on to Cleary College and then the University of Michigan. Marjory attended Cleary College, the Michigan State Normal College and the University of Michigan. Ruth followed suit, attending the same institutions. Owen attended the Michigan State Normal College for one year prior to entering the U.S. Army.

When the U.S. entered World War One, all the Cleary children took part in the war effort. In 1917 Charles was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Marjory and Ruth traveled to Washington, DC where they found work at the War Industries Board. In 1918 Owen was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. He was one of the youngest 2nd Lieutenants in the Army at that time.

Charles saw action in France in 1918, but Owen remained stateside and was stationed at Camp Perry, OH as a small arms instructor. The girls returned to Ypsilanti in early 1919.

Early in the decade of 1920’s Charles Cleary moved to Florida and became engaged in real estate activities. He married May Weaver of St. Petersburg, FL. The couple subsequently had three children, Patricia, Thomas and Anita Joyce. Charles left Florida and returned to Michigan in 1933 where he became Director of Admissions at Cleary College.

Marjory married Arthur McKenny, son of Charles McKenny who was the President of the Michigan State Normal College. Arthur had been awarded a degree in Mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1916 and subsequently entered the Army and saw action in France. He later was an engineer and manager for the Chevrolet Company and the couple lived in Detroit. They had two boys, Charles, born in 1920 and Owen in 1925. Both subsequently served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Ruth moved to Riverside, IL where she taught business and bookkeeping at Riverside High School where she was also head of the commercial department. In 1958 she retired after 40 years of teaching and returned to Ypsilanti to live out her life.

Owen Cleary was discharged from the Army in 1919 and returned to attend Cleary College until 1920 and then entered the Michigan State Normal College. He received his teachers certificate in 1922 and then attended the University of Michigan. He received his BA degree in 1925. He then entered the University of Detroit Law School and graduated in 1931 being conferred with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. Owen J. Cleary married Marie DeWaele in 1929. Catherine Ann Cleary was born in 1930 and Patrick Roger Cleary II was born in 1934.

Cleary College kept on growing and by 1925 the college had 325 students enrolled. It had reached some prominence when it was announced that other Michigan educational institutions were giving credit to their students for courses taken at Cleary. Among those institutions crediting Cleary courses were The University of Michigan and the Normal College.

With the depression in full swing in 1933, Ypsilanti was significantly affected. By now the college was 50 years old and P.R. wanted to ensure that it would continue in perpetuity. Thus all assets were turned over to a Board of Trustees. In late 1933 the Board met and P.R. Cleary was elected president, Helen Cleary was vice president, Irene Hines was secretary and Owen J. Cleary was treasurer.

As P. R. Cleary stated in the 1940’s, “we started with three charter members and the membership of the board has grown with current membership at 18. Prominent among board members were Daniel L. Quirk Sr., Donald M. Silkworth of Ypsilanti and Cecil Billington of Detroit.

In 1938, P. R. took a six-week trip to Ireland and England, the first time he had seen his homeland in 40 years. He had planned to take his wife Helen, but she was in ill health and instead took his daughter Ruth.

In 1938, Owen Cleary was admitted to the University of Michigan hospital with acute stomach ulcers and underwent a partial gastric resection. He incurred a serious infection and almost died, but recovered and was released after spending eleven months in the hospital.

A year later Helen Jenks Cleary passed away in December 1939. She had suffered from heart problems and had been in declining health for several years. P.R. decided to retire in 1940 and the Board of Trustees appointed Owen J. Cleary president of Cleary College.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Owen attempted to go on active duty with his National Guard unit but his medical condition prevented him from activating his commission. Governor Harry Kelley then appointed Owen Chief Air raid /Warden for the State and then Major in the newly organized Michigan State Troops, a militia to replace the National Guard. Since Owen was now on active duty, P.R. resumed the Presidency of Cleary College.

Owen was promoted to Colonel and assumed command of the 31st Infantry Regiment, Michigan State Troops at the Brush Street Armory in Detroit where he was stationed until the end of the war. In August 1945, Owen was promoted to Brigadier General and was charged by the governor to reorganize the Michigan National Guard. He officially retired from the Michigan State Troops in January 1947.

Charles Cleary worked at the Ford Willow Run Bomber Plant during the war and following the war moved to La Mesa, CA to re-enter the real estate business. Charles died in 1958. His children continued to live in St. Petersburg, Fl. Patty Cleary married Larry Baynard. Tommy Cleary served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and saw action on Guadalcanal in the south Pacific. His battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for heroism in battle. He died in 1963. Joyce Cleary lived in Atlanta and passed away shortly after Tommy.

Marjory Cleary McKenny’s son Charles graduated from Albion College in 1942 and served in the Army during WW II. In 1947 he married Mary Louise Whitney of Toledo, OH. She had served in the Navy during WW II as an officer. Both graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1948 and began practicing law in Toledo. They had three children, Thomas born in 1949, Arthur in 1951 and Anne Elizabeth in 1957. Later Anne and her mother would become very involved with Cleary College as substantial donors.

Marjory’s second son, Owen Cleary McKenny, graduated from Michigan State University in 1954 and went on to become an engineer and manager with General Motors. He married June Faber after graduating and the couple had four children; Gail, Gerald, Stephen and Mark. Owen served on the Cleary College Board of Trustees for a number of years and was on the search committee for former president of Cleary College, Tom Sullivan.

By 1946, Owen had resumed the presidency of Cleary College and returned to his law practice. He ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket that fall but was unsuccessful. With Owen reassuming the presidency, P.R. Cleary retired again and began work on a history of Cleary College. He remained active until 1948 when just 3 months past his 90th birthday he suffered a stroke and passed away. He is buried next to his wife Helen in Highland cemetery.

Owen was named to the Michigan Liquor Commission in 1947 by then Governor Kim Sigler. One year later assumed the Chairmanship of the Republican Party of Michigan, a position he retained until 1952 when he was elected Secretary of State of Michigan. During this period Owen had named Walter Grieg Vice-President of Cleary College. Walter handled the day-to-day operations of the college.

Following his term as Secretary of State, he returned to his law practice and the College. By this time, Donald M. Silkworth, a long time Trustee and supporter of the College had commenced a fundraising program for a new campus to be located at the northeast corner of Washtenaw and Hewitt Roads.

Tragically In 1956, while in Florida, Owen fell and injured his neck. He endured but was in constant pain and his doctors did not recommend surgery. He continued his work as president of Cleary College as well as pursuing his law practice. His health was waning, but he continued to work toward erecting the new campus and the cornerstone was laid in early 1960. On September 10, 1960, Owen J. Cleary passed away from renal failure and Donald Silkworth was named president. Thus ended the seventy-seven year tradition of a Cleary as president of Cleary College.

With the new building holding classes in 1961, enrollment began increasing and by the mid-1960’s, it was over 1400 and Cleary College was offering 146 classes. But, in 1965, Washtenaw Community College opened and Cleary enrollment began to decline. Because it was a publicly funded institution, tuition at WCC was less than at Cleary and by 1978, enrollment stood at 459.

With college enrollment dropping steeply, in 1978 the Cleary Board of Trustees named Gilbert Bursley President. Bursley, a former state senator and U.S. Congressman increased fund raising, modernized college equipment and opened the Livingston campus in 1979. Under Bursley’s leadership, enrollment began to increase and by 1980, stood at 765.

Following Owen’s death, Marie Cleary, with her characteristic grit and courage, embarked on a mission to complete her teaching degree that she accomplished by 1964. She followed this up by completing her Masters degree the following year and commenced a second career as a guidance counselor at West Junior High School.

In 1973 Marie married Jess Mangas whom she had known since 1941, when he and his then wife Mildred rented an apartment at the house on 7 N. Normal. Jess had worked at the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn for many years. He and Mildred moved from 7 N. Normal in 1953 to a new home at 1310 W. Cross St. Jess retired from Ford in 1964, and following Mildred’s death, began courting Marie. Shortly thereafter, Marie and Jess moved to Sarasota, FL where Marie had a home that she and Owen has purchased in 1958.

Owen and Marie’s daughter Ann attended Roosevelt High School and the University of Michigan graduating in 1952. In 1953 Ann married Patrick Heck of Toledo and had four children, Teresa, Catherine Ann, Patrick and Maria. In March 1975 Ann divorced Patrick Heck.

On March 14, 1977 she married Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Kettles (a corporate merger with net assets of 10 children). Ann had known Chuck since her high school days when he was living next door. Chuck was drafted for the Korean War in October 1951 after completing two years at Michigan State Normal college. He completed Officer Candidate training at Fort Knox, KY and the Army flight Training program before being assigned to Korea. He achieved a distinguished record as an officer and Army aviator being awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in combat in Vietnam.

The Kettles family have truly been pillars of the Ypsilanti community, for Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Cleary University, Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw Technical Middle College (Charter School).

Ann Cleary Kettles began working at EMU in September 1972. Her excellent organizational and leadership abilities were recognized and she rapidly advanced from secretary in the Nursing Department to becoming Director of Records, Registration and Academic Advising in early 1990, a position she held until her retirement in January 1996. She also served on the Board of Trustees of the Washtenaw Community College for over 12 years and Chair of the Board for the last four years of her service. She served on the initial board for the Charter School created under the Washtenaw Community College and on the Board of the Red Cross of Washtenaw County.

She began serving as a Trustee of Cleary College in March of 1985 and retired as a Trustee Emeritus in 2003. Ann suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in October of 2001 at the age of 71 that left her paralyzed on the right side. With the determination that has been her “hall mark,” she continued to serve on three of the boards for over two years before accepting the fact that it was no longer practical.

Chuck served on the Ypsilanti City council for four years. Further, he developed and implemented the Aviation Management Program in the College of Technology, Eastern Michigan University that continues to graduate students in Management and Flight. He was instrumental in establishing a scholarship in the name of Capt. Robert Arvin, USA which provided over $110,000 to deserving students over the ten year period of the Foundation. The program continues as an endowed Scholarship in honor of Bob Arvin, a graduate of Ypsilanti High School and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Arvin lost his life in Vietnam after having earned two Silver Star medals for heroism.

Patrick Cleary II attended Roosevelt High Schools and the University of Michigan and received his B.S degree in 1956. he entered the U.S. Navy Flight Training later that year. He married Wilma Louise Stiltner in 1957 and was designated a naval aviator in 1958.

Pat and Wilma had two sons, Patrick Roger Cleary III in 1962 and Michael Jenks Cleary in 1964. During Pat’s 24 years of service with the U.S. Navy, their family lived in the Far East including Guam, Japan and the Philippine Islands. They also were stationed in San Diego and San Jose, CA, Lexington Park, MD and Washington, DC. While living on Guam, Wilma taught school and in Japan she taught English to Japanese doctors.

Following his retirement from the Navy in 1980 as a Captain, Pat was employed by Litton Industries and retired as a Vice-President and General Manager of the Warfare systems Division. After Pat’s retirement, Wilma opened a boutique in Alexandria, VA, successfully operating it until she retired in 1991. After she retired, she and Pat traveled extensively in Europe, Canada and the U.S. Wilma passed away in September 2015.

Patrick Roger Cleary III graduated from The College of William and Mary in 1984 and also became a naval aviator. He retired in 2013 as a Captain. He married Annemarie Dinardo in 1989 and they have two daughters, Emma, 22 and Erin, 17.

Michael Cleary graduated from James Madison University in 1987 and went to work with the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). He married Ellen Grube in 1990 and they have three children; Bridget, 20, and twins, Owen J. Cleary II and Dana, 16. Michael eventually transferred from ONI to the Defense Intelligence Agency where he is currently a senior executive.

In the three decades from 1980 to 2010 Cleary College saw many milestones achieved including accreditation as a university, a high ranking among specialty colleges and being ranked as the second best value education in the state of Michigan just behind the University of Michigan’s extension campus in Dearborn.

Today, two of P.R’s. and Helen’s descendants continue to be involved with the Cleary institution. Anne McKenny, a software engineer and manager for General Motors, was named to the Cleary College Board of Trustees in 1990. She continues as the longest sitting member on the Board and one of the University’s most significant donors. Patrick Roger Cleary II is also deeply involved with Cleary University, having been on the Board of Trustees since 2003. He has now been named as the vice-Chairman of the Board.

(Patrick Roger Cleary II has served on the Board of Trustees of Cleary University since 2003 and was recently named Vice-Chairman of the Board.)


Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The original Cleary College building in 1893. This picture was taken in circa 1905.

Photo 2: The two-room thatch roofed cottage where Patrick Roger Cleary‘s parents lived in Ireland in 1858 when Patrick Roger was born. The picture was taken in 1938, 39 years after Patrick Roger left Ireland for the United States.

Photo 3: Patrick Roger Cleary at age 25.

Photo 4: Patrick Roger Cleary started teaching penmanship in many towns in southern Michigan in 1880.

Photo 5: Cleary included handwriting samples in this 1883 newspaper ad.

Photo 6: The cyclone that struck in Ypsilanti on April 12, 1893 did severe damage to the newly constructed Cleary College building.

Photo 7: By the end of the decade, Patrick Roger and Helen had had four children born to them; (L to R) Marjory Julia in 1892, Ruth Marie in 1894, Mother Helen, Owen Jenks in 1900, and Charles Brooks in 1890.

Photo 8: Donald Silkworth and Owen Cleary at the cornerstone laying ceremony in 1960.

Photo 9: The Cleary College building that was located on the Northwest corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hewitt Road in Ypsilanti.