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Claire Dever Schmidt

"In the presence of a lady"

Claire Dever Schmidt was born in Dorchester Massachusetts, just outside of Boston on September 6, 1921. She was the second oldest of six. Due to the death of her four younger siblings, she is now the youngest.

Her parents were both of Irish descent and both were very progressive thinkers for their time. In her teens, her mother not only worked full time, but also was the New England Waltz Champion. Her father worked in a number of jobs, retiring from the Boston Navy Yard.

Like so many other Americans, Claire's life changed drastically when the War came. She had a wonderful job at the Massachusetts State Headquarters for Selective Service. She had a boyfriend waiting to be released to go. She had a sister in the Navy, a best friend (who had been a top model) in the Navy, another friend getting ready to join, not to mention a brother in the Air Force.

She really didn't want to give up her job, but she never really felt she had a choice. Claire remembers just how real the war was to everybody she knew. Everybody she went to school with was either in the service or part of the war effort.

Every day the paper would list people who were KIA (Killed In Action) WIA (Wounded In Action) and MIA (Missing In Action). There was no television then, but she read daily about horrible things happening and saw newsreels that made it all that much closer to home.

"It was a different time in the world. There was a feeling of Patriotism - a word that has almost gone by the wayside."

Although some of the more "distant" relatives warned Claire's mother of the perils of sending a young woman out of state, her family was supportive and not at all concerned about Claire's virtue. "My mother always said her daughters knew right from wrong and she wasn't worried a bit."

Her mother was very strict and Claire learned her lessons well. Many years later, Claire and her sister would be sitting in a bar with some gentlemen they knew. If one of the gentlemen where brazen enough to say "hell" or "damn" either Claire or her sister were quick to remind them "Pardon me, you're in the presence of a lady".

Her country needed her. It was wartime. She had to join the Navy. And so she did. At that time the Women's Navy was titled WAVES (Women Accepted as Volunteers for Emergency Survival). She went to Boot Camp in Hunter College (New York City) and then off to GSCW (Georgia State College for Women) in a tiny town in Georgia.

There were twelve weeks of intense, accelerated training in what was known as "Storekeeper's School". At the end of her training her and a good friend from Jersey City signed up to go together to Texas, one of the places listed needing WAVES. Second choice would have been The Banana River Air Base in Cape Canaveral, since that was where her sister was located.

Instead of her first two choices, Claire and about fifteen others were assigned to Cleveland, Ohio. Their assigned living quarters were at 40th and Prospect at the Sterling Hotel. She would take the streetcar to work every day.

Her first impression of Cleveland was not very positive. This was 1944 and the streetcar had a pot bellied stove right in the middle of it - something she had never seen back home in Boston! Claire worked in military personnel while in the Navy.

Cleveland proved to be a wonderful city to the military. There was never a charge to anyone in uniform. Whether it was for movies or food or anything else, if you were in uniform you didn't pay. And you were always in uniform. Even on leave you were required to wear your uniform at all times.

At that time the WAVES salary was $50.00 per month. Claire got a 63-hour pass every 2 months and often spent the $17.00 and 15 hours it would take on the train and went home to Boston to see her family.

Claire remembers curfew like it was yesterday. Until the war ended there was a 12:00 curfew and 1:00 on Saturday. There were Marine Guards posted at the door of the Sterling Hotel for their protection, and to be sure curfew was being enforced. At 12:01 you were considered AWOL (Absent With Out Leave).

Claire attended Mass at St. John's Cathedral every Sunday and was always proud to walk into the beautiful church in her uniform. It was that same feeling of patriotism she felt went she enlisted, and it has never really left her.

Claire remembers the beginning of the March of Dimes by President Roosevelt. It was formed in an effort to eradicate Polio. On one evening in January, every year, there was a huge parade in New York to kick off the March. Movie stars and celebrities of all types showed up for this parade. When the parade ended homes across the nation would put on their porch lights. If you had a light on the marchers would come and collect a dime from you, hence the title "March of Dimes".

Because the war was in full bloom the military was always involved with marching units. One year, when Claire was still in Boot Camp, it was decided that a WAVES unit should participate. They certainly couldn't include a whole regiment of over four thousand, so twelve were chosen, and Claire was one of them!

They were allowed to call home and tell their families they were going to be on a newsreel! They were allowed to wear real nylons, not the heavy cotton ones they usually wore. They had real makeup and pin-curls and of course their white gloves. The train took them into New York and they were all so excited, but the weather was bitter cold. Claire's chance to be on a newsreel was about to come to an end - the parade was cancelled because of weather. Claire and the other WAVES were treated to a nice lunch, a movie and a stage show, but they never did get to be in a newsreel!

Claire met her future husband, Larry Schmidt at 105th & Euclid at the Carin Club. Larry had been out of the Navy about a month. He had earned many medals during his time in the Pacific and now he was back home in Cleveland. Claire was still in the Navy when she and Larry were married in 1946.

Discharge from the WAVES was based on points. So many points for age, place of service, years in, etc. When her discharge was imminent Claire was asked to sign-over for an additional year Although she had agreed to the sign-over she only stayed in for about five months when she was discharged because she was pregnant.

Claire and Larry settled in Cleveland. She had no family here and a huge family back in Boston, but times were different then. "My husband wanted to live in Cleveland, so we lived in Cleveland". They continued to have children and Claire stayed home to raise them. (By the time they were through having children there were 5 in all - Ann, Janet, Larry, Paula and, Terry).

They moved to Cleveland Heights in early 1960. Claire worked off and on part time for Mays on the Heights and Higbees while the children were in school. She believed her most important job was to raise her children and to do that properly a mother should be at home.

As the children grew Claire started to venture out more. She worked as Deputy Registrar for Dept. of Motor Vehicles. She also became very involved in politics, working as a co-ward leader of her precinct in South Euclid. (At that time there was a male and female ward leader). After speaking with an ex-WAVE friend of hers she decided to take a civil service exam.

The Hatch Act forced her out of partisan politics as soon as she when to work for the government. But that was okay with Claire; she once again had a job she loved. She went to work for Navy Finance as an adjudicator. As the oldest in her training class she jokingly told the other students that what they thought was red hair was really "rust coming out of my brain!"

The laws changed again, this time allowing military pay to be garnisheed, and Claire went to work in that department, working closely with the legal department and getting to know virtually everyone in the City of Cleveland.

In 1985, at age 63, Claire had open-heart surgery. She came out of the surgery well but her doctors suggested she find something a little less stressful to do. By this time they had bought a house in Florida so they decided not to wait any longer. Larry retired too and now they go to Florida every year just after the November election and return in May.

For a while Claire worked part time at the Flamingo Groves Gift Shop, just to stay active. Once again she met a lot of interesting people and had a wonderful time getting to know everyone. She continued to work for about eight years and decided it was time to just enjoy herself.

Now when she's in Florida she loves to have her friends visit, and of course, just because she's not in Cleveland in March doesn't mean she doesn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day! It's a big holiday for Claire no matter where she is!

While in Cleveland Claire is very active in the Irish American Club, East Side, volunteering her special "people-skills" for many of the events. She loves to travel and recently went to Ireland for the wedding of her daughter, Janet. She tries to get back home to Boston at least once a year. And of course, there are six grandchildren and one great-grandchild to keep track of!

Last labor day the National WAVES Organization had their convention in Cleveland, and of course Claire proudly joined her friends of Western Reserve Unit #133 in attending. They were also joined by two women from Canada who had belonged to the WRENS (Women's Royal English Naval Service). They had asked to come to the reunion because they had none of their own and shared camaraderie with these ladies.

She also recently attended her 60th High School Reunion. She enjoyed reminiscing about her days as a cheerleader. She was a very good student and inherited her mother's love for dance. Claire was quite an athlete as well. She was on the tumbling team, played volleyball, basketball and competed in exhibitions with other schools.

Claire has been deeply affected by the death of her siblings, especially her sister Marion who was also her best friend. It was Marion that always got Claire in trouble; Marion that embarrassed conscientious Girl Scout Claire by being thrown out of the Scouts and Marion who snuck her first cigarette with Claire when Marion was in fourth grade and Claire in fifth.

Claire has lived her life by the same advice she always gave her children "Put some rubber in your rear. You've got to learn to bounce. You're going to fall - often. Bounce back, things will always get better."

She lives by a philosophy of a clock. The top of the world is 12:00. Things can't stay at the top forever and the start to move down. It doesn't get any worse than 6:30. But as soon as it starts looking really bleak, the hands start moving up again, and 12:00 is not far away.

When Claire walks into a room you know a number of things, just by her presence. You know the season and/or holiday because she has a delightful wardrobe of seasonal clothing (clothing representing the Cleveland Browns, Halloween pumpkins, Christmas decorations, Valentines Day, Fourth of July, St. Patrick's Day, etc.)

You also know you are about to have a good time, because Claire loves people and loves to enjoy her self and help others enjoy themselves. You know you're going to hear interesting stories with a touch of the ever-present Boston accent.

And most definitely you know, "You are in the presence of a lady!"

Profiled by Debbie Hanson


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