OPINION: Mrs. McCleary’s history should be noted

Historically Speaking — a column by Linda Thompson

Behind every successful man…

Here in McCleary we celebrate Henry McCleary often. We must not lose sight of his wife, Ada, a force to be reckoned with.

One story that I like is she and he were getting ready to go out to an important dinner one night. She was stalling and he asked her to hurry and get ready. She said she wasn’t budging until he promised to give the guys at the mill a 5-cent raise. He reluctantly agreed. But before she would leave with him for the dinner, she had him sign the contract. Then when they drove by the mill she shouted to the men, “I got you your 5-cent raise.”

I, of course paraphrased the above scenario, but can’t you just picture it?

Ada L. Johnson was born Jan. 5, 1861, in Winchester, Ohio. She married Henry McCleary in October 1885 in Guernsey County, Ohio, and came west with him in the 1890s.

Once they settled in this area, Mrs. McCleary was active in her new community. She helped establish the first library and was appointed to the State Library Board by Governor Ernest Lister. Governor Lister was the eighth governor of Washington.

Mrs. McCleary started the Women’s Aid Society that fed and clothed the needy. She opened her home to the American Red Cross, where bandages were rolled, socks and sweaters were knitted, and Care Packages were built and sent to the men fighting in France during World War I. Ada McCleary also wrote a poem in 1918 and included it in each package sent to the men:

“This little token brings to you

“The greetings of your friends, not few,

“‘way back here in McCleary

“You’re fighting for the land we love

“And for the flag that floats above

“Our homes in old McCleary.

“And when the victory has been won

“When right has triumphed over Hun

“We’ll shout loud in McCleary

“And gladly welcome back to town

“The men who’ve earned praise and renown

“Our soldiers from McCleary.”

Henry Haskell had kept the copy he received as a keepsake and brought it back from France when he returned home.

The contents of the first care package sent to be distributed among the McCleary soldiers was:

27 suits of pajamas

19 pair operating leggings

50 bed shirts

Five pair lined foot socks

50 pairs bandage foot socks

17 bed jackets

54 pairs of pillow slips

In the second box:

66 ambulance pads

130 abdomen bandages

100 scultelus bandages

200 four tailed bandages

140 napkins

64 tray cloths

25 wash cloths

135 “T” bandages

In the third box:

27 sweaters

25 pairs of socks

Six pair wristlets

One muffler

One helmet

I tried to figure out what ‘scultelus’ was, and could not. Imagine having to send bandages to our war wounded in this day and age.

As I read through the articles about Mrs. Henry McCleary, the name almost always used, I am taken with the fact that so many women of that era did not have their own identity. She was fondly called “Mrs. Henry” and, according to a museum newsletter from 1992, John Anderson wrote that he had never heard a bad word said about the lady. He said she was one of those people blessed with common ordinary good sense. She was first a lady – and a lady with class. She was a high-ranking officer in the Daughters of the American Revolution at the national level.

Mrs. McCleary was involved with every detail in the building of the McCleary Hotel, right down to the silverware. She wanted a place where the company could entertain business leaders as well as hold social affairs.

John Anderson reported that Mrs. McCleary didn’t care what nationality anyone was, be they Greek, Italian, Irish or Swede. As far as she was concerned one could learn from every culture. Indeed, all these cultures made McCleary. Ada McCleary was not a snob, as could easily have happened with her husband’s success. Instead she treated everyone as a ‘dear neighbor’.

Mrs. Henry McCleary, nee Ada J. Johnson, passed away Sept. 25, 1923. Her funeral was so well attended it left the town of McCleary vacant save the nine men who stayed behind for safety sake. Ada McCleary had actually lived in this town for a short 13 years, but what an impact she had. She was survived by her husband and two sons, Charles and Frank McCleary.

Linda Thompson is the editor of the McCleary Museum Newsletter. She has been a volunteer at the museum since 1990. Research provided by Charles H. Fattig.