The memories I will share in this document are written with a deep sense of gratitude for the role St. John’s has played throughout my life, beginning with my enrolment as a “New Boy” in 1953 and ending with the school’s closure in 2019. During those years I was a cadet (53-55), company commander (54-55), counselor (55-59), teacher/basketball coach/assistant commandant (59-63), board of trustees (1976-2019), interim president (2007-2010), headmaster (2010-2016) and presently serves as an honorary member of the SJMS museum. As a side note, I served as the nurse for two weeks when the nurse had a family emergency in 1962. Surprisingly, very few cadets needed medical attention during that time???
Like many cadets, St. John’s was an option for me given my family environment. My mother passed away when I was 3 years old, my father was a difficult man and the only family support that I had was my sister who was 6 years older. I did not resist attending St. John’s, but I had many uncertainties regarding the school. However, after only 6 weeks, I had several close cadet friends, I was a member of the football team, created a relationship with the faculty and staff, and I grew very fond of Rector (President) COL Clem, and CPT Duckers who eventually became COL Clem’s successor. Amazingly, these two gentlemen eventually became my “close lifetime” friends until their passing. Additionally, my football and basketball coaches (“Fat” Elmborg and “Lefty” Loy were simply outstanding and inspirational individuals. They constantly encouraged cadets to excel, take pride in their accomplishments, show compassion for others, and be humble. Lefty, his wife Helen, and their children Larry and Teeney treated me like family and as a result, our close friendship continued for over sixty years after I graduated from SJMS. Those mentioned in this paragraph set the standards of the person I wanted to be.
As a cadet, St. John’s gave me a sense of security, people who cared about my well-being, and a predictable schedule. I was punished when I violated the rules and rewarded when I succeeded. The environment of the school was compatible with my personality. It encouraged the development of a strong determination to do well in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. Most importantly, to live my life in a way that is moral and ethical, and to cherish my relationships with others. These traits have been instrumental to my success in my professional and personal endeavors throughout my life.
My sister and I were very close and from 2004 to 2007 she was in bad health with 24/7 care at her home. During that period, I lived at her home most of the time while I continued to serve on the board of three large companies. My sister passed away in 2007 and my professional life was ending. In 2007, while attempting to identify various candidates, the board decided to open the school without a president. As expected, the first few months indicated that we needed a president as soon as possible. I volunteered to serve until the position could be filled. At that time, the enrollment was less than one hundred cadets. Looking back, it was an opportunity that I believe was destined to happen both for the school and for me.
The cadet corps, faculty/staff, and the board of trustees were extremely cooperative and supportive during my tenure. The first year I had a suite at the Marriott Hotel which made the situation a little cumbersome but the second year, the new JVH barracks opened where an apartment was available and would make it possible for me to spend more time at the school. It was located near the rooms occupied by the battalion staff. It is still unclear to me if they welcomed my presence or not, but we didn’t take a vote.
Every morning I attended breakfast with the cadet corps which provided me with the opportunity to visit with the cadets and the cadet leadership. It was shocking to me that the cadets and the faculty were identical to the cadets and faculty when I was a cadet. (Same problems, the same personality, and the same issues.) I had the advantage of being an “Old Boy” and this factor alone gave me some degree of creditability and acceptance by the cadet corps. Additionally, I was well acquainted with the campus environment, diverse personalities, and needs of the cadets. I understood the complexities of cadet life at the school as well as the challenges in dealing with their family issues.
St. John’s was still the magnificent school that I remembered. By the end of the school year 2011, the enrollment was over 225 cadets. First-year cadets made up close to 50% of the total enrollment.
It was such an enjoyable experience to observe the daily growth and development of each cadet, their pranks, girlfriend issues, and their deep loyalty to each other and St. John’s. There were times when I knew they were breaking the rules, but if it did not hurt the school or others, I “sometimes” ignored the issue if they didn’t know that I knew. My rationale was simply that cadets were living in a very structured environment which occasionally earned them a reasonable degree of latitude. I had been blessed to have the opportunity to meet some of the finest young men possible during my tenure as Interim President/ Headmaster. I pray that their experience at St. John’s made it possible for them to enjoy a future that is rewarding as a husband and father.
The military staff and faculty that served the school over the years are an amazing group. Their honesty, intellect, commitment, and love for the cadets were expressed daily and in many ways. They had a significant impact on the morale of the cadets, and they served as role models for each student. They enforced the structure and guidelines of the school, required respect from each cadet, and “in turn” showed each cadet equal respect. In summary, they made the school what it was. All old boys are truly fortunate to have had them as mentors during a critical time of our lives.
My memories would not be complete unless I mentioned my close and continued friendship with my class members Roger Bigler “55”, Grant Torbit “55”, and Col. Al Ransom “56”. Our friendship started at St. John’s and continues to this very day. We have been blessed!
Finally, I am very thankful to God for allowing me to attend and serve at St. John’s Military School during my lifetime. It has been a truly rewarding experience, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. — Dale Browning 1955