The heart of Ron Clindaniel

 

Clindaniel (with ball) gets a rebound in the 1953 Sectional game in which Union Mills defeated La Porte. (Click to enlarge)

Ron (on bench toward right in plaid sportcoat), then coach of the Slicer girls basketball team, sits with his team in 1981. (Click to enlarge)

WNLP editor’s note: Upon hearing of former teacher and coach Ron Clindaniel’s passing on May 31, 2021, local sports historian Matt Werner offered to write this column for WNLP. The photos are courtesy of Matt. His website is matthewawerner.com. To view Mr. Clindaniel’s obituary on WNLP, click on this link: Ron Clindaniel, 1935-2021 | What’s New LaPorte?

By Matt Werner

Ron Clindaniel was a longtime teacher and school counselor at La Porte High School, where he was called Mr. C. But he was known in every corner of the county.

Ron (No. 44) with the Union Mills basketball team in 1953 when he was a junior. (Click to enlarge)

Ron grew up in Union Mills and attended Union Mills High School (he was one of 11 in his graduating class). He played varsity baseball and basketball, and ran track. His primary desire to participate in sports was to use the school showers, as his home didn’t have indoor plumbing.

Ron excelled athletically. He helped his teams win four county baseball championships and he was the La Porte County Conference basketball MVP his senior year.

Ron loved to talk and one of his favorite stories was the time Union Mills upset the Slicers in basketball in the 1953 Sectional tournament after being beaten by La Porte’s junior varsity team earlier in the season. “They didn’t even turn on all the lights when we played the JV!” Ron told me. “How embarrassing. But we showed them!” Then he smiled.

Ron Clindaniel

“Ron was a tremendous teammate,” said classmate and lifelong friend Glen Rosenbaum. Ron would get the guys in town together, head out to Rosenbaum’s farm, pull Glen from his chores, and play a game in the barnyard. “We all looked up to him on the basketball court and he looked up to me in baseball. When I got into minor league baseball, he was a big backer of mine.”

Ron joined the United States Army, then attended Ball State University. He taught at Rolling Prairie High School when Superintendent John Dunk asked him to be the first basketball coach at newly consolidated South Central High School in 1962. Ron knew his job was to get players from three different schools to gel as a basketball team. Dunk knew Ron was perfect for the job. Earl Cunningham was among his first players.

“Fabulous guy,” Cunningham said. “He was fiery — he loved to win — but he didn’t raise his voice.” Coach Clindaniel never yelled, not even the night Cunningham got a technical foul. Ron took him out of the game and the soft-spoken coach said, “Do you see me getting technical fouls? That tech reflects on me. Don’t get a technical foul.”

Over three seasons at South Central, his teams won 38 games, lost 27, and the three schools’ players melded into one on the basketball court.

Earl Cunningham (in letter jacket) accepts an award as Coach Clindaniel stands behind him during the 1965 County Tourney. (Click to enlarge)

Task completed, Ron moved on. He earned a master’s degree at Notre Dame. He became a guidance counselor. Thirteen years later at La Porte High School, he took over as girls varsity basketball coach in the program’s second year of existence. He built up the program from scratch — finding elementary and junior high coaches, talking to young girls about the game, and establishing basketball camps. 

Lyn Swanson was a talented junior high player. When she enrolled in driver’s ed, who was her instructor? Ron Clindaniel.

“He was a big part of my life,” Swanson said. “He taught me to drive, he made my basketball dreams come true, he got me through school as my guidance counselor, and he worked relentlessly to get me into the Hubner Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. He was a genuinely terrific guy.”

In the 1970s and ‘80s as coaches increasingly were high-handed hollerers, Ron remained true to his principles — composed, he never raised his voice. “It was just consistency,” Swanson said of his coaching. “No real highs or lows. The relationship was first talent, and everything else came later. He was very loyal to players and players were loyal to him.” 

Ron’s teams won two Duneland Conference championships and the 1981 Sectional. The girls who played for him won 91 games and lost 51. After seven seasons, Ron stepped down from varsity coaching and focused on his role as guidance counselor, a job he was meant to do. A kinder, more compassionate man you would not find.

Coach Clindaniel in action at the county tourney in 1965. (Click to enlarge)

Ron Clindaniel affected many lives. Thanks to him, the anxious kid who struggled to parallel park got his driver’s license. The troubled student was steered from trouble. He helped students find college scholarships and land jobs. A kind word from Mr. C made someone’s terrible day become better. He gave pep talks, he dropped encouraging words, and he had a sympathetic ear you could bend. He smiled, he shook hands, he patted you on the back. He always returned calls. If you asked for help, he dropped everything and pitched in. Ron knew when a friend was hurting and would call with a list of questions he’d made just to keep a person going. He coached, he taught, he was a guidance counselor, a county council member, and a friend. 

He meant it. All of it.

“How many people knew him in all those different walks of life?” Swanson asked. “He was a special guy to do all of that.” 

“To be 85 years old and do all the things he did and have nobody say a bad word about you? That says something,” Cunningham said.

“He was a very caring person,” said Rosenbaum. “When Ron asked about someone, it was sincere; he really wanted to know.”

Ron Clindaniel was the man who was always in your corner. He rooted for you to do well. He took joy in your success. He cherished stories about one person touching another person’s life. He loved connecting with people – that’s why he sat in the passenger seat of a driver’s ed car for 44 years. He grieved whenever someone was mistreated.

Ron was inducted into the La Porte High School Hubner Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. La Porte had more successful coaches, sure, and there are many great athletes in the Hall. But none had a bigger heart than Ron Clindaniel.

7 Responses to “The heart of Ron Clindaniel”

  1. Hugh Tonagel

    Jun 03. 2021

    A great tribute to an outstanding individual! His influence left a great impact on all those he touched. Thanks for the research and this article on his legacy to remind us!

    Reply to this comment
    • Mark S Clindaniel

      Jun 03. 2021

      Uncle Ron will be missed by all, a great man who had the ability to listen. He sincerely walked the walk and not the talk the talk. A legacy he will leave to many! MATT GREAT JOB AND THANK YOU!

      Reply to this comment
  2. Earl Cunningham

    Jun 03. 2021

    Coach was the most influential person in my life. Many thanks to Matt for getting these varied perspectives. Thousands in La Porte County have been positively influenced by Ron Clindaniel and his passing will be mourned by many. Love and prayers to his family.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Mike Kellems

    Jun 03. 2021

    Well written, Matt. Your tribute truly shared the good man Ron was throughout his storied life.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Corey Goers

    Jun 03. 2021

    Well done Matt. I taught drivers education at LaPorte when I taught at South Central and continued when I was teaching at LaPorte. Ron was an integral part of the total education process at LPHS including the drivers education program. A great individual. Condolences to his family.

    Reply to this comment
  5. AJ Serafin

    Jun 04. 2021

    Our first home was directly across the street from Ron and his family. What wonderful neighbors.
    Rest In Peace

    Reply to this comment
  6. Paul Snyder

    Jun 12. 2021

    Thanks Matt,
    Ron has been a longtime opponent, friend and colleague. We raised our kids and taught/coached together including driver training and continued our friendship when we moved to California. Ron was a kind and loving person and a perfect friend and professional colleague. My wife Sally and I will continue our monthly+ calls with Carole, his wife, after Ron’s death!
    Paul Snyder
    RIP our friend

    Reply to this comment

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