Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the 2023 inductees into the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.
Like his three brothers, Clyde Ledbetter excelled in sports, particularly football and basketball.
So, it was not a surprise that the 1937 graduate of Brookfield High School received a sports scholarship to West Virginia State University.
What was a surprise is the sport he received the scholarship in – swimming and diving.
“We don’t know when he started swimming,” said Ledbetter’s daughter, Carmen Ledbetter. “We went through all the yearbooks and never found swimming anywhere. We’re trying to figure out how he got the swimming and diving scholarship to go to West Virginia State.”
It’s one of several mysteries about her father that Carmen has not been able to resolve.
But, there are several things that are clear: Clyde loved sports, the military, his work as a nurse and his family.
“I look at my dad today as my hero, as my warrior,” said Carmen, who had never been to Brookfield prior to her father’s induction. “I am my father’s daughter.”
Clyde, who grew up on Davis Street in Masury, graduated from WVSU – one of only four nationally accredited black universities at the time – with a degree in premedicine. However, he entered the army – he possibly was drafted – and became a combat medic in a segregated unit. He was still in the army when President Truman desegregated the military in 1948, and attended Walter Reed Medical School, eventually serving in the Korean War as he had in World War II.
“He loved the military so much that he spent 22 years in service as a combat medic,” said Carmen, who was born at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash.
“He never talked about the hardships of segregation and the things that happened to him,” she said. “He always kept it positive. He was an outgoing man. He was organized. When he started something, he finished it.”
Clyde left the army as a master sergeant, then worked at a veteran’s hospital in San Francisco – where Carmen still lives – until it closed; as a paramedic (“He didn’t care for it”); at a city prison (“He didn’t like the way the convicts were being beat up, so he quit that job”); then at San Francisco General Hospital in the orthopedic department as a nurse.
“He worked two jobs but he always found time to take care of us,” Carmen said.
As a dad, Clyde was strict, preaching the gospel of education and often adding more school work to whatever his kids brought home, Carmen said. But, he also was a fun dad, playing basketball, rollerskating, bicycling, tennis and dancing with his kids.
Clyde tried to teach Carmen to swim, but that didn’t go over too well – he threw her in the water before giving her any instruction.
“I just went down, down, down down, down, down, and then I felt this giant hand pick me up and look at me and laugh at me,” she said. “I said, ‘No more swimming with you.’ I didn’t learn how to swim until I was an adult.”
Clyde belonged to civic and community groups and was instrumental in raising money to give scholarships to San Francisco youths.
Although Clyde wanted Carmen to follow a much different career path – he wanted her to be a stewardess or a San Francisco ’49er cheerleader; she became a dental assistant and is now a caretaker for dementia patients – he became proud of the person she became, and she never strayed from his teachings on physical fitness.
“I still take care of my body because of what he trained me to do,” said Carmen, 68.
Clyde died in 1990, the year after being named “Father of the Year” by the San Francisco Spiders Civic and Social Club.
Ledbetter’s brother, Eugene, and Eugene’s wife, Myrdis, were named Citizens of the Year in 2019 by the Brookfield Township trustees.