Friday, July 22, 2016

Remembering Clarence Tuma: His First Visit to Mount Pleasant

by Frank Boles (adapted from Clarence Tuma's memoir, The One Pound Pork Chop)

Central Michigan University lost an alumnus and a good friend yesterday, when Clarence Tuma, long-time owner of Mt. Pleasant’s fondly remembered Embers Restaurant, died. CT (as he was often called) was not your traditional student. A veteran of World War II, he returned home from the War uncertain what to do with his life.

Clarence Tuma
CMCE Senior Portrait
To help find a direction, he visited his old high school football coach, Robert “Pop” Lewis. “Why don’t you go to Central Michigan College of Education?” Pop asked. “Pop, I’m not college material” replied CT quickly. “Hell, how do you know if you don’t try?” was the equally quick reply.

Clarence decided to try but he went back to Coach Lewis with another question, “Just where is this Central Michigan College of Education?” “Go to Lansing and turn right. It’s in Mt. Pleasant.”

With these detailed instructions, Tuma rounded up two old high school buddies, borrowed his brother’s car, and headed north to take a look at the place. He got as far as Alma when he heard “a bad noise” in the motor. He managed to reach a garage where the mechanic asked if he had put oil in the engine. After learning that he hadn’t, the mechanic explained that engines needed oil, the crank shaft was burned out, and CT was stuck in Alma for the next three days or so while they got parts and made repairs.

Luck didn’t seem to be smiling on CT that day, but Tuma and his buddies decided to hitch hike the rest of the way to Mt. Pleasant. They were lucky enough to be picked up by a man not only going to Mt. Pleasant but familiar with the campus, who promised to drop them off just where they needed to go. He left the young men in the office of head football coach Ron Finch. Finch knew Pop Lewis and his recommendation that CT visit Central to play football carried considerable weight with him. Finch called his line coach, Doc Sweeney, to come over and take a look at the fellows. Sweeney liked what he saw. Finch then called the Dean of Men, and said he had a couple of fellows he wanted to introduce. Again the talk went well, and the Dean said, “Let’s call President Anspach.”

1948 Central Michigan College of Education Football Team
Clarence Tuma in third row, near center, Number 32

Despite the day’s problems in Alma, things now were going pretty good. In 45 minutes the young men had met the head football coach, the line coach, the Dean of Students, and were on the way to meet the school’s president. Oh, and the helpful man who picked them up when they were hitchhiking turned out to be CMU Athletic Director Dan Rose! As Tuma wrote later, “not bad for a bunch of city boys on their first day in the country.” Anspach, instead of visiting with them in his office, invited them “Ma Grimley’s soda bar” in Keeler Union, his treat.

After a day like that, Clarence later reminisced “Hell, it was a no brainer.” Seventy years later he felt the same way. He wrote, “It was a great choice!”

It was a choice everyone who met Clarence Tuma also felt was great. He left his mark on the town and the campus. We will miss him.