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Youth find refuge, math skills, hugs at the Monma house | HOMETOWN HERO

Marcia and Clyde Monma, the Hometown Hero, are known for helping young people several ways, from tutoring to housing.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Marcia and Clyde Monma, the Hometown Hero, are known for helping young people several ways, from tutoring to housing.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

I want to be as dedicated in helping people as Clyde is,” writes 2012 South Whidbey High School graduate Lela Pigot.

“This community is so beyond lucky to have someone as committed as Clyde. He is easily the most giving, caring adult I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He spends about 99 percent of his time helping others (youth specifically) and never asks for a thing in return.

“He dedicated six years in tutoring me in math and other subjects for free. Now think about this one man, dedicating essentially all this time to this one student, and then multiply that by all of his other students. His compassion and encouragement was really the only reason I was able to graduate on time, or at all. Clyde stuck with me in my rough phases and said nothing but encouraging words the entire time. And let me tell you, I was a handful! I wish I knew exactly what makes Clyde so devoted to helping others.”

What caused Clyde Monma’s dedication to helping young people?

He replied, “When I was 11 my dad who was an Army cook transferred to Nuremburg, Germany, to be with my mom’s extended family. I dreaded this move, because I was attending a tiny Christian school in Hawaii and would be going to a huge public military school in a foreign country. We moved to a densely populated apartment complex. The neighborhood was filled with unsavory characters, where I was introduced to stealing, vandalism and worse.

“I got caught stealing early on, and learned the importance of a ‘second chance’ of redemption.”

Monma said the police officer that caught him simply sat him in a jail cell and called his parents, and then as he and his parents were leaving the officer smiled at him and suggested he stay out of trouble.

Monma said his parents also viewed this as a learning experience. “These compassionate forgiving acts taught me the importance of kindness, and what it means to offer someone redemption,” he recalled.

He got involved in the local teen center where there were fun activities in a safe place: “The adults there showed me what a positive role model can do for a young person.”

Driving up to the Monma home at night, Clyde, his wife Marcia and their dog Galina meet the visitor with flashlight in hand to walk them up the steep driveway. Entering their home one notices many computers which they use for volunteer work with students. Marcia said it’s mostly her husband’s vision to volunteer with youth. Monma gives the credit to Marcia for being the brains behind their college planning work they do to help students and their families.

“She’s also the fix-it person. I break things, she fixes them,” Clyde laughed.

Then Marcia added, “We have a lot of role reversals around here. Clyde has a pink iPod, I have a blue one.” Marcia also pointed out that it’s her husband who has always made the memory and photo albums, over 25 of them since their marriage.

Clyde explained, “After moving to Whidbey someone said ‘you can live your life through a camera lens or memory album, or you can live your life.’ I took that to heart, and while I keep collecting mementos I value the experience and not just the scrapbooks.”

Marcia remarked, “After being blessed with our son Jason, I know that Clyde wanted to have another child, in particular a girl, in fact I think he would have wanted six children. But I insisted we stop at one.”

Clyde Monma compensates, saying volunteering with young people is like having more kids of their own. “Even though Jason has married and moved away, we still get to have youth in our lives.”

Every Thursday is “Hangout Night” at their home high above Cultus Bay with dinner and games for young people. Young adults have visited regularly in their home and have stayed over one night and as long as three months. “They are always welcome here, anytime,” Clyde said. Young people need tutors, mentors and adults that care about them; the caring is probably the most important.” He said anyone can care for another, and all have a talent or skill to share. He said his just happens to be math.

Gena Kraha, 28, and former operations director of the South Whidbey Commons in Langley, has a long relationship with the Monmas. “Their home has become a special place to me, and I always find a listening ear, supportive advice, a smile, a hug and my favorite ice cream. I am a grateful benefactor of Clyde and Marcia’s advocacy, time, talents, generosity and friendship. They have become like second parents to me, sharing in the successes and challenges of my life and continually offering support through the times of deep joy, chaos and the hardships of life, and I will forever be the better because of them.”

The Monmas moved to Whidbey Island in 2003. “I would never consider moving again, people here are amazing,” Clyde said. “I am going to get an easement and have myself buried in our front yard,” he said, smiling.

Before retiring, he worked for Bell Labs. “It was the best job in the world. It was a collegial environment marked by collaboration and sharing of ideas. This produced research with much greater results than any one person could do by themselves. Most all had Ph.D.s and we all went by first names. I like using my first name, I don’t think students even know my last name.”

Laughing, he continued, “We used to say coffee goes in, and theorems come out.” He then turned serious.

“Later in my career Bell Labs changed hands, and people were no longer important, only the bottom line. Work went from ‘Why do they pay me to do this,’ to a place I dreaded going to each day. In time I became so depressed that I feel like I lost five years of my life. Fortunately Marcia was there for me the entire time. I could not have made it without her.”

He closed his eyes remembering back to that time. “Depression is the most difficult thing I have ever endured. People used to think being depressed was a weakness, but depression can come when one has tried to be strong for much too long. I tell people now that nothing is so important, worthwhile or vital to risk being ‘broken’ because once that happens, it takes a long, painful healing process to recover. Since that time whenever I pass someone, a familiar face or a homeless person, I try to look them in the eyes and smile. We never know what pain or dark lonely time someone might be going through. The human connection is something everyone wants and needs. Sadly some never get it.”

Monma is dedicated to establishing real relationships with people and aspires to live this way until the end of his life. “Some people say they want to die quickly in their sleep,” he said. However, he hopes to die slowly, even if uncomfortably, so he can say fare-thee-well to loved ones, and so others can be at peace at his passing.

“Clyde retired so he could go to work as a volunteer on South Whidbey. His only perk from his 40 to 50 hour volunteer schedule? Unpaid vacation!” said Scott Mauk, South Whidbey High School assistant principal.

“He doesn’t just talk about doing good and volunteerism — he spends his time working with individuals and groups of kids helping them better understand math. Clyde has done this challenging work for years and many, many of our students are successful and happy adults in part due to Clyde’s tireless dedicated efforts, but also his heartfelt connection to the kids with whom he works. We are a better place to raise children because of Clyde.”

Monma’s dedication pays off in helping others succeed in their lives.

Charlene Ray, Bayview School counselor for 12 years, said, “There are many students that would not have made it through math without Clyde. I know at least a few that say they wouldn’t have graduated without the help of Clyde. Not only does he help with math but he listens to the young people, genuinely cares about them and cheers them on through success and adversity. I personally don’t know anyone who volunteers as much as Clyde, and his work with the youth is just the beginning.”

“He also has a sense of humor that is fun and makes you smile just when you need it,” Ray continued.

“I do know one thing that motivates him is his desire and dedication to see young people succeed and feel good about themselves.”

Dedication pays off in dividends in the lives we touch.

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