Through four decades Jeri and Bill Clendennen were inseparable — as a married couple; as beloved teachers and coaches; as humanitarians dedicated to animal and wildlife conservation; as mentors and role models for thousands of students and families. It is therefore fitting for Jeri and Bill Clendennen to be inducted into the Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame together, as a single unit of two selfless and generous contributors to our greater community.
The Clendennens were true educators who enjoyed helping students grow and reach their potential. They were extremely caring and often took kids under their wings by encouraging and helping them with academics, sports, college admissions, and personal issues as well. The Clendennens were all about rewarding the good in every student, often with a pat on the back or a simple phone call to inform a parent of their child’s accomplishment or good deed. Bill and Jeri always spoke to students about the importance of good character and doing the right thing, especially when no one is around to see it. Our community is filled with former students who benefited and became better people thanks to the Clendennens’ unwavering help and commitment.
Both were huge advocates for reinvigorating interscholastic sports programs for girls, which had gone dormant during and following World War II. It took until 1972-73 for the rebirth to take root, with four new girls’ teams. Jeri had already been coaching high school and junior cheerleaders for years. Now she and Bill were coaching girls and/or boys in bowling, tennis, cross-country and volleyball, winning several league championships as well as New York State girls’ championships in volleyball and bowling. For less competitive students, Jeri developed a Slimnastics program that was novel for its time. Each week she would mix a fresh cassette tape with top-of-the-charts dance music, making movement fun and beneficial to mind and body. Every class filled the gym. In 1976-77 Jeri was honored by the New State Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation for her contributions to education. For his part, Bill introduced many boys to sports that were new to them in the 1960s and ‘70s: wrestling, track-and-field, European handball, soccer, and cross-country. His many championship teams at Pat-Med earned him universal recognition as one of Suffolk County’s premier cross-country coaches, sending many athletes on their way to success at collegiate and international levels.
Along with their commitment to helping others in need, they were also dedicated advocates for animals in need, as licensed New York State Wildlife rehabilitators. Many wild creatures spent time living in their home: baby birds, squirrels, raccoons, seagulls, swans; even a mean old cormorant. Veterinarians in the area had their phone number on speed dial, and no animal was ever turned away. They also turned this care into teaching moments, bringing some of their patients to school so students could share in their care and feeding. The Clendennens’ greatest joy was in releasing these animals back into the wild.
Bill passed away in 1994 and Jeri in 1995, both upon reaching the age of 59. To anyone who might ask whether the Clendennens had children, both would give the same cheerful answer: “We have many, many children.” No doubt their count would include the feathered and four-legged ones.