They came, they taught and they stayed

Chuck and Klarich await 62nd wedding anniversary.

Photo by Ted Escobar
Chuck and Klarich await 62nd wedding anniversary.

The U.S. army introduced Klariches to the Jim Crow South

Chuck and Jo’s first child, Jeordy, who is a home economics teacher at Toppenish, was born between the Klariches’ junior and senior years. She was still less than a year old when the Klariches graduated.

Chuck had a 2nd Lt. Commission in the Army for having completed WSU’s ROTC program.

He owed Uncle Sam three years, and the two headed off for Ft. Sill, Oklahoma with Jeordy nearing 1. Not long after, the couple transferred to Ft. Hood, Tex.

Chuck was called to see the commanding general of the 1st Armored Division, and he complied. Looking up from Chuck’s record, the general said, “It says here you played freshman football (quarterback and halfback) at WSU.”

Several army camps around the U.S. in those days had football teams. Ft. Hood had the Tankers.

“How would you like to play football?” the general asked.

Chuck joined, but he did not play. He was given charge of the team. For a few months of his Army stint, Chuck’s job was football. His day started with practice and ended when practice ended.

“One day, kids in the neighborhood knocked on the door,” Jo said. “They said, ‘Can your daddy come out and play? He was the only man at home that time of day.”

The Klariches don’t recall a home game. Chuck traveled all over, and all was well until the team arrived at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on an Air Force plane.

The black players were told to stay on the plane and wait for box lunches while the white players went to the mess hall, Chuck said. It was an order Chuck had to follow, but he was shocked.

“I’d heard of discrimination, but I’d never been involved in it,” he said.

Jo ran into the same reality of the south on a couple of occasions. One happened when she took Jeordy and her two little black friends to a store where she planned to buy sewing thread. She was at the check-out stand, front of the line, and the checker kept moving customers behind her to the front

“It was terribly disturbing,” she said.

Chuck and Jo Klarich, who will be celebrating 62 years of marriage on August 17, came to Granger as new young teachers 56 years ago and became Grangerites. They knew within the first year they wanted to be a part of the community.

“We liked it here,” Jo said. “We had the school and the jobs we wanted.”

Chuck said the swimming pool, which no longer exists, was one of the reasons they stayed. Jo had done synchronized swimming at Washington State University, and she taught the aquatic drill dance form to girls and women in Granger.

When that pool was condemned in 2000, Granger did not have the funds to build a new pool. So, Jo spearheaded a campaign that produced a sizable splash pad in the community’s central park in June.

Another aspect of Granger that appealed to the Klariches was the ethnic mix in the schools. They’d grown up in Cle Elum or the area. It was dotted with small, coal mining communities.

Ethnic cemeteries were not unusual. Most people got along well, but there were ethnic clashes.

“Mostly arguments,” Jo said.

Chuck is Italian and Croatian. Jo is Italian and English, with a maiden name of Ritchey. Like many of the people they know in Cle Elum, they were glued to their television sets when Croatia beat England for the World Cup of soccer this summer, cheering the Croatian victory.

“As we watched the game, we started noticing names we went to school with,” Chuck said.

Chuck and Jo didn’t meet until they were sophomores in high school. He attended Ronald Grade school through eighth grade. She did the same at Cle Elum Grade School.

Chuck was on the Ronald eighth grade basketball team as a 5th-grader. Boys who could play were sparse. The school had only three teachers.

“I had to play,” Chuck said.

That experience helped Chuck develop as a hoopster. Years later, he scored 42 points for Cle Elum High in one game.

Chuck and Jo were freshmen the same year. They saw each other, but there was no significance to that. They started dating as sophomores. She was a clarinetist who played in Cle Slum’s community band in summer. Chuck played the radio, he said.

“He was really pretty shy then,” Jo said. “He didn’t hardly talk.”

Jo noted the Ronald kids, about 10, were their “own little group” as high school started. Chuck countered that Cle Elum kids stuck together, too.

There were two other groups, the Roslyn kids and the south Cle Elum kids. Each grade school had its sports program, and competitions were intense.

Chuck and Jo remained sweethearts through high school. He was 20, and she was turning 20, both attending WSU, when they married in 1957.

They don’t remember the name of the band that played at their wedding, but they said it involved the “very musical” Panerio family. Ray Owens of Owens Meat Market fame sang “Because of You” at the wedding.

“He had a great voice,” Chuck said.

Both Klariches applied for work in Granger. She got to work in the field of her major — home ec. He was assigned to math, his minor.

The Klariches encountered experiences in Granger they didn’t expect. Some they didn’t like, but most drew them closer to the community. They felt not only welcome but embraced. They stayed.


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