Sara Jane Clouse: Setting a Record Pace at 95

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson June 15, 2017 14:24

Sara Jane Clouse

Sara Jane Clouse is a record-setting athlete.

At 95, she is the oldest of the 350-member Tuolumne County Aquatic Masters, and swimming in a local meet on her 94th birthday, she set age-group records in three different events.

The first and only woman TCAM member in the 90-94 age group, she claimed records in the 50-yard freestyle, 50-yard backstroke and 50-yard breaststroke, swimming two laps of the 25-yard pool in two minutes or less in each event.

And more team records are assured: She is now the only member in the 95-99 age group.

“Sara Jane is an inspiration to swimmers of all ages,” says TCAM coach Darci Scanlin. “She loves instruction and is very coachable. She’s never afraid to try something new and does every stroke, even butterfly.”

A World War II veteran and former elementary school teacher, Clouse had done no real swimming in nearly 60 years before taking a water aerobics class at Sonora Sport and Fitness Center three years ago.

What led her to the pool in her 90s? “Fitness has always been important to me,” the Sonora woman says.

“I ran-walked the Bay to Breakers a couple times in the late ’80s, and I did several 10Ks over the years. But I hadn’t really done any swimming since my children were very small.”

Following the water aerobics class, she took the Masters 101 class and then moved into regular TCAM workouts, swimming an hour workout three mornings a week with others ranging from 19 to 93.

“I just love it,” she says. “It’s an activity that makes me use my body. I always feel better for having gone to the pool.”

In addition to setting records, Clouse sets a great example, says head coach Patti Scott-Baier.

“Sara Jane inspires others to reach, to stretch, to do a little more than they think they can. We ask swimmers to remember workout sets, so they use both their brains and their bodies, which keeps them healthy in later years.”

The daughter of an electrical engineer and a homemaker, Clouse was born in 1922 and grew up in Santa Cruz with two younger sisters.

“Each summer my dad would take us to Pinecrest on the day school was out, and we’d camp there all summer,” she says. “He’d drive up and join us on weekends, and then take us home right before school began again. My sisters and I often went for a swim in the lake before breakfast.”

After graduating from high school, Clouse told her parents she wanted to be a hairdresser, but they said, “You’re going to college.”

“I also wanted to fly,” Clouse says. “San Jose State had a Civilian Pilot Training Program, so I went there.” When the program was moved to Nevada, Clouse stayed and graduated in 1943 with a degree in business administration.

Clouse’s Company E at Camp Lejeune, 1943

By that time, America was 18 months into World War II, and Sara Jane’s college roommate had decided to join the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. This new branch of service was established in early 1943, assigning women to shore jobs to release men for combat.

“I decided to join with her,” Clouse says. “Patriotism had a lot to do with it. I knew it was important. It seemed like the natural thing to do.”

At 21, Clouse was sent to boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, becoming one of nearly 350,000 American women to serve in uniform during the war. “I had hoped to become a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) and ferry planes from factories to bases, but I didn’t have a pilot’s license,” she says. “So I became a military air traffic controller.”

Clouse spent the rest of the war working an airfield tower at Parris Island, South Carolina, guiding B-24s in during the winter and F4U Corsairs in the summer. “It wasn’t too stressful because we weren’t that busy. We contributed to the war effort by just being on the job.”

There she also met Don Clouse, a sailor from Wyoming. Shortly before the end of the war, Sara Jane – a staff sergeant by then – and Don were married. Discharged in August 1945, the couple moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, so Don could attend Eastern Michigan University and Sara Jane could complete a master’s degree in education.

Daughter Donna Lee and son Kenneth were born in Ypsilanti before the family moved to San Jose, where their third child, Raymond, was born in 1948. Don finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Jose State.

“Our lives were characterized by the saying, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss,’ ” Clouse says. Never staying in one district for more than a few years, the couple taught in schools all over California and even worked two years in Liberia.

While living in Fresno in the ’60s, Sara Jane finally realized her dream of becoming a pilot, earning her private license at age 43. That served her well at the couple’s next assignment in Kern County, where she flew her own Cessna 172 each day from their home near Buttonwillow to her teaching post in Taft.

By 1991, the couple had retired to Bakersfield. Within the span of a month, son Raymond died in San Francisco of complications related to an infection and Don passed away in a Bakersfield hospital.

“My faith got me through it,” Clouse explains. “Although my parents weren’t religious, I always have been. As a young girl, I’d walk over to the church by myself and go to Sunday school.”

Encouraged by her sister Ann, who lived in Cedar Ridge, Clouse moved to Sonora.

Since she hadn’t been able to become a hairdresser after high school, she decided to do it after retirement. Clouse enrolled in Sonora High’s cosmetology program and, though she’s never used it, fulfilled a childhood goal by earning her license at age 71.

She found a spiritual home at the Sonora Seventh-day Adventist Church – “It has become a big part of my life” – and traveled much of the world with the church and on her own. She admits to slowing down a bit these days.

“For years I volunteered at the hospital, but I can’t drive anymore.” A friend who also swims now drives her to and from TCAM workouts.

Her secrets for healthy aging?

“I’ve always eaten a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables,” Clouse says, though she confesses to rarely skipping dessert. “I get that from my mother. She always served dessert, and the richer the better.”

“Getting exercise is important,” she adds, “and just living the best I can. I’d like to reach 100, but I realize now it’s up to God when I go. I’ll just do the best I can until that time.”

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson June 15, 2017 14:24
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