OPINION: Honoring McCleary’s Ellsworth Curran

A monthly column about the history of McCleary

Historically Speaking

By Linda Thompson

It is often said that the world is a better place because of someone in particular. McCleary certainly is a better place because of Ellsworth Curran.

His accomplishments have been listed, measured, awed at over the years. His 100th birthday celebration, a year and a half ago, was one of his many achievements that most of us will never realize.

When I first met Ellsworth he was, in my opinion, a soft-spoken, unassuming personality. My opinion never changed. He had to be proud of what he did, but he carried that pride quietly, without superiority to anyone. He truly was the common man who did uncommon things.

Listing his positions, at least some of them, seems like a must. He was mayor of McCleary twice, served on McCleary City Council for two terms.

He was on the founding board of Mark Reed Hospital that helped get it going in 1956. That gave the community health care that it may not have had otherwise. He continued to serve as president of the Mark Reed Hospital Foundation for 20 years. While doing that he had a 6-year term as Mark Reed Hospital District Commissioner.

Ellsworth was co-founder and president of the McCleary Bear Festival. He served 4 years as president of the McCleary Historical Society.

Oh, there’s so much more, but space does not allow. Know that whatever Ellsworth was involved in was a success.

But Ellsworth was more than president of just about everything, or co-founder of so many McCleary based organizations. He was a man who loved his family and his country. Dancing with his wife, Annette, was one of the highlights of his life.

He always had a big garden and shared the huge bounty. His wife was kept busy in the fall with canning, which she loved.

He had a big campground, covered patio, electricity, all the amenities you could want, and he loved big gatherings of family and friends and strangers. Everyone was welcome. He hosted the Mormon Church’s annual Memorial Day breakfast. It always started with the Pledge of Allegiance and followed by patriotic speakers, music and food – and more food. He enjoyed watching people have a good time. He was a peaceful man who, for the most part, didn’t talk of his experiences during WWII.

Charles H. Fattig, McCleary Historical Society Curator, was one person that Ellsworth would talk to about the war. Here are some of Charles’ thoughts memories:

The year comes to an end and we have lost an old friend – Ellsworth Curran. It was sad to hear of his passing, but he was aged 101 and it had been expected for a time. We know that we can’t keep them forever.

I have always enjoyed having conversations with him. He was quite a talkative fellow. Ellsworth would come to the museum and reminisce about olden times back on the prairies of Utah where he was born in 1916. He spoke of the hard times during the depression of the 1930s. He came to McCleary in 1939 with his mother and that made a big difference in their lives. There was work here and life was good. He could go hunting in the woods and fishing in the streams, and raise a big productive garden.

But, like many others, he was soon caught up in WWII. In 1942 Ellsworth joined the army and went to China with General Chenault’s Flying Tigers. Of course, he had to endure many hardships. Food was hard to get and the weather often terrible. And then, too, they worried about the enemy, both night and day. He told me that at one of the airfields there was a river nearby. At night the Japanese would try to wade across, under the cover of darkness, to attack the parked aircraft. American riflemen, ever vigilant, would fight them off, night after night. Ellsworth Curran was there. A bad place and a bad time in his life, he assured me.

He recalled going up into the mountains on patrol a week after the area had been bombed by war planes. Dead bodies of Japanese soldiers and their pack horses littered that region. He said he never forgot the smell of death, the stench was revolting. Even in old age, it troubled him to think back to those times.

I showed him my copy of Tom Brokaw’s publication, “The Greatest Generation” printed in 1998. I told him that it was a very good tribute to those who had fought and suffered in WWII, but it really should have been published 40 years earlier when many of the old soldiers were still around. He agreed with me, said a lot of the fellows have gone in the last twenty years.

And now Ellsworth Curran also has crossed over. A good soldier – he knew what the words duty, honor, achievement, courage meant. He stood up and persevered through the good times and the bad times.

Mission accomplished, Ellsworth.