David Adam

Sunday Conversation with Cladine Douglas

Cladine Douglas was photographed for the Sunday Conversation Friday, May 12, 2017, in her Quincy home. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 13, 2017 10:20 pm Updated: May. 13, 2017 11:54 pm

Call her the "first mom" of the Quincy High School boys basketball program.

Cladine Douglas and her husband, Melvin, had 10 children -- Jani (McBride), Jerry, Melva (Hamilton), Carl, Diana (Parks), Darrell, Ken, Keith, Bruce and Dennis. Six of her sons played for the Blue Devils, but her daughters never got a chance because QHS didn't offer sports for girls when they were in school. She's also had seven grandchildren play for QHS, and her grandson, Andy, now coaches the Blue Devils.

Cladine is recovering at home from recent shoulder surgery, which means her children are taking their turns keeping an eye on her. She promises she will attend Mother's Day services at her church on Sunday.

So how many grandchildren do you have now?

You don't want to ask me that. Everybody asks me. I've got five generations. I have no idea. I've got three more coming in the next few months. My mother passed. She was 105, and she was at Good Samaritan. There was a big celebration. We counted them up. There's been more since Mom died. I know I've got more than 100.

When did you and Melvin get married?

In 1952. He's been dead 38 years. He died at the Knapheide picnic. July 28, 1979. He had a massive heart attack. It was the company picnic, and he was in charge of it that year on July 4. It was one of the hottest days of the year. They called the ambulance. We were sitting at the bingo table. He had been throwing horseshoes. Knappy (Harold Knapheide) always had one of his employees in charge of the picnic, and it was Melvin's day.

How did you meet Melvin?

We met at my twin sister's wedding in Canton, Mo. He knew my twin sister's husband. He was his guest. That's how I met him. Canton was my hometown. I had to ride 42 miles every day to go to high school. We couldn't go to high school in Canton. My best friends lived next door in Canton, and the high school and grade school was a half a block away, but at that time, Missouri was one of the last states to integrate, so we went to Douglass School. The only way to go to high school was to take that school bus. We got up a 5:30 in the morning to get on that bus. We rode to Hannibal, and we picked up all those little towns. That's the way it was then. All the students went first grade to eighth. I always helped with the younger children. You had one teacher. Every one of us helped. Otherwise, you had to wear the dunce cap and sit in the corner. Thank God I never had to wear that. There were a couple who were always there.

You seemed to enjoy your days at Douglass School.

I always loved learning. It was part of my life. They brought our lunch down from the white school at noon time. Mothers served us our lunch. (Segregation) was a state rule. It wasn't Canton. The principal felt badly about it, but he had no choice. There were just a few black families in Canton, so when we would come home from school, my neighbors, they were our best friends. They wanted to know why I couldn't go to the school. That's just the way it was, and we accepted it. By the time my younger brothers came along, they went to school in Canton. Shirley was a cheerleader, and my brothers played basketball. They were good ballplayers. So many people don't know about the history that it happened right around here.

Were you an athlete when you were living in Canton?

I loved baseball. I hit those home runs. That's all we could play. Even when my girls went to high school, they didn't get to play sports. We only got to play softball. They had sports for boys. The ball diamond is still there (in Canton). My brothers played. My husband played baseball for a team called the Dodgers. He never played basketball. I wasn't allowed to play basketball. Back then, you didn't even think about girls playing basketball. My boys grew up playing in the house. You'd have one of those hoops on a hangar on the bedroom door, and that's when they played. Having that many boys, the older ones helped the young ones. They finally put a hoop up on the tree outside, and that's where they played. It was what they enjoyed themselves.

What was it like raising 10 children?

I never thought that much about it. I loved children. What ever God wanted me to have. I just loved children. I worked with children later at Head Start. I just really feel that was what God intended for me. There were families that had 16, 17 children. I knew of a lot of them. It was just a gift God gave me. I grew up in a family of seven. I was just used to it.

What was a typical day like at the Douglas house?

It was joyful. What I remember most of all, I always had a problem sleeping at night. That was my time. Melvin would go to bed. I'd give the kids a bath. The older ones were great. At night time, you always sat at the table. I remember Darrell, when he went away to college, he and another boy from here were the only ones who would bless their food. The others would just look at then. Around here, that's how you were brought up. We always ate meals together, and then they would do their homework. We'd give them baths and put them to bed. We had two sets of bunk beds and a single bed in one room. You were close. That's the way it was with all those boys. After they would get in bed, that was my time. I loved to read. At one time, I'd read every book in the library in Canton. Even going to the games, I always had a book in the car with me. At night time, Melvin would always ask, "Why don't you turn off the light and go to bed?" That was my time. I would lay out the kids' clothes on the couch for school. I had to do it at night. The kids would get up and eat breakfast. When they were older, on Saturday mornings, Melvin cooked breakfast. We always went to church. They always went to Sunday School. Those were just such wonderful moments. My body got used to not getting much sleep. I never felt tired. I just remember enjoying it.

How did life change for you after Melvin's death?

I was often asked, "You never married again? You were only 45." At the time, I thought of myself as being old. I had these children. All I wanted was the best for them, and the best for my children was the best for me. I've always felt like I've been one of the luckiest people in the world. But it was only through God's grace. Bruce and Dennis were just starting their teens. Thank God my older children were still involved in helping each other. The basketball kept us busy. We went through all kinds of weather to get to the games, but it was such a wonderful time. They'd ask me at work on Fridays, "What time are you leaving?" They'd let me off early. It was wonderful. All the family met at the games, even the ones who didn't live here. For me, it was a way of life. That took up a lot of my life. I got to go to Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico to watch Bruce play (when at the University of Illinois).

Did you get the kids involved in sports, or did they get interested themselves?

They couldn't wait. They were playing in the backyard. Even when we'd get together with the cousins, that's what you did. They just loved it. You'd have to close it down at night. They'd play as late as they could, especially in the summertime. This is what the younger ones saw. They wanted to be a Blue Devil. Some of the parents asked me, "What do you feed them?" I'd say, "Regular food (laughs)." You can't make your children want to play. I had all kinds of kids come to the house. They were like a family. They enjoyed playing. That's what's missing a lot now. They were dedicated to it. They had a coach who taught them discipline. Thank God for that. If you broke the rules, you got kicked off the team. It was just that simple. That's how it's supposed to be. The main thing I told the boys was to enjoy playing.

Were your daughters just as athletically talented as their brothers?

They were so wonderful in everything. They were wonderful helpmates to their brothers. When they needed things, they would provide them. I just remember Bruce saying ... I hope I can get through this without crying ... he was interviewed once and said he never ever realized that we were poor because we were rich in so many other things. That's one of the greatest gifts you can provide your kids. It's not always about money. They had whatever they needed. It also was because the older kids helped with everything. They were just always there. That was special. It was the same with me growing up. I never thought we were poor, and my dad also died when I was young. My kids were raised with principles. That doesn't mean everything was perfect, but it means I've been the most blessed person.

Out of all the games you went to, do you have favorite moments?

There were so many. We would just sit there and laugh and hug each other and carry on. The trips were so wonderful. Being with the others. One of the special moments was when they had 64 wins (in a row). To be honored for that was wonderful. I also was happy to be there to see them graduate. That's such a wonderful thing to happen. I would sit in the stands with my kids. You talk about games ... when (Dennis and Bruce) threw that ball across there (in the 1982 third-place game against Chicago Marshall), that was one of the special games. I couldn't believe it went in.

What did you say to your kids after the loss to Mendel Catholic (in the 1982 Class AA semifinals)?

I always just tell them I'm proud of them and you did wonderful. It didn't make any difference if they had lost, but they played wonderfully and they're special. They won so many games, but they always knew I was there. You can't win them all. The main thing is they always felt a partnership with the other players. It wasn't about them. They always tried to cheer the others on. The main thing that meant so much to me was the kind of kids they were and their character. Playing sports can really build character. I can remember when Coach (Jerry) Leggett passed. His wife wanted Bruce to do the ceremony. They formed a relationship, and that's important too. He taught them principles. You could be a star or whatever, but if you didn't do the right thing, you couldn't be on his team.

Who was the most difficult child?

I'll be the first person to tell you. I would be the one, if they ever did anything, if they were out late, Melvin would come and get them, and it was with a switch. They laugh about it now. I stood in the background waiting to soothe them. They knew that. Dad was in charge. If I told them they did something wrong, they knew they were in trouble. They hated to hurt my feelings, so I played that role. I think I still do to a certain extent. I will tell you one thing. Dennis is the most spoiled one. They do everything for the baby. He's got a soft heart, but he's more dependent on his brothers and sisters. All he has to do is call them and they do everything for him. Bruce was right next to him, but even he always shared with Dennis.

You still didn't pick out who was the most difficult.

(Laughs) Probably Carl. He was the most daring. Interesting enough, he's the one who never played basketball. He was born with ulcerative colitis. The doctors were always concerned about him. They didn't do a lot for him. Surgery wasn't going to help at a young age. He couldn't play sports. He loved sports, and he had kids who played. He was the most difficult as far as not listening. But even now, he was given the gift of fixing things. When the kids need something fixed, they'll call on Carl. He can fix anything. Not saying all of the kids were perfect. They all had their ups and downs.

Is parenting children today easier or harder?

What I see now, with my grandchildren, is they are respectful. They say "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am." A lot of kids don't do that. You don't hear that any more. They're bringing their children up in the same way they were brought up. A lot of kids never had that. We never hang up a phone without saying, "I love you." Those are the words that don't cost anything. We've always done that, and we've passed that down. Even when the grandkids are going out the door, they say "I love you." It's difficult now, but it's not about what they have, because so many of them have more than they need. The most important thing they need is a parent to be there for them. So many kids go home, and there's not a parent there for them.

What was the one thing you wanted to make sure your kids knew?

Education was very important. Strive to see all your children graduate from high school. Years ago, my dad never got past the third grade. My mother didn't get past the eighth grade. The other thing is I wanted them to know peace and know they were special. Some kids feel like they're nothing. I wanted my children to know they were loved. The babies coming along know the same thing.

What's the most rewarding part of being a mom?

I've never really felt alone. I was asked why I never married again. God gave me everything I needed. I had my children. I didn't need another man. I had the Lord. I just feel so blessed. I haven't missed anything. Not to say I haven't had moments of pain and losing loved ones, but right now, I feel like I'm just so rich in everything in my life.

Knowing what you know now, would you liked to have done anything different raising your kids?

I've thought about that before, but I can't really say I would have done anything differently. I feel that in the end, even with some things that went on, I look at my children and I am just so thankful for them. I guess you can always do better, but at the time, they were the most important thing in my life. It was really never about me. When you have children, you owe it to them to be the best parent you can be. They didn't ask to come into this world. You brought them into this world. They're what my life has revolved around. I have no regrets at all.