Unselfish Giving Has Made All the Difference
A native of North Haven, Leona Clapper, born March 11,1930, is one of the legendary Clapper family of Bucksport, perhaps the best-known running family in road racing from the late 1970s through the ‘90s. Leona and her husband, Charles, also an avid road-racer, raised twelve children, six of whom took up competitive running. The best-known was Gerry, who became one of the best college distance runners ever to run for the University of Maine.
Leona, a housewife and mother most of her life, started running when she was 48 in 1978, drawn into the sport from watching her children run. “We decided we wanted to do it too,” she said in 1994, a few months after she was inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame at its ceremony in Waterville. Leona was one of only a few women who competed in the 50-plus age bracket during the early 1980s, and she set many course records.
Her best career efforts include a 22:09 5k at age 54 in 1984; and a 1:18:52 10-miler at age 52 in 1982, when she also ran her fastest marathon, 3:50:33, in Orono. Among her best races were a 45:33 in the Great Pumpkin 10-K in 1981 at age 51; 22:39 in the Cranberry Island 5-K, 1982; 22:29 in the Terry Fox 5-K, 1984, age 54; and 72:14 15-K at Schoodic Point in 1984.
Through 1994 she had completed six marathons, her first at the Paul Bunyan Marathon in Orono in 1980, two years after she started running. A member of the Central Maine Striders, she was honored as Strider of the Year in 1986. Among her many great admirers over the years was Jerry Saint Amand, president of the Central Maine Striders from 1985 through 1990. Saint Amand wrote the following about one of his favorite people: “It’s easy to overlook this gentle, gray-haired lady, now in her late 60s, should you see her in a group,” said Saint Amand. “She has never been loud, always a simple person in dress and manner, and she would blush and poo-poo you should you recognize her as one of the leading lights of women’s running in Maine for many years.
“It was never her running times that made Bucksport’s Leona Clapper someone you’d notice at the top of state race results. It was instead her love of running, the surprise within herself at her love of age group competition, and her becoming the unofficial ‘mother’ of all women runners that made her a core person in Maine running. This is a woman who started late in life, for it was daughter Margaret and son Gerry who were usually listed among the leading male and female finishers in the early to mid-‘80s. Leona didn’t start showing up in results until her late 40s. At 49, she was finishing the Grand Willey 10-K in August of ’80 in 58:13. Not much to shout about you might think, until you find her at age 50 crossing the finish line in the well-known Benjamin’s 10-K in Bangor in November of 1981, in 45:48,” continued Saint Amand.
“It was her determination to improve that kept her busy, but it was her gracious manner and genuine smile that won the hearts of all Maine runners and officials who knew her. Leona and husband Charlie opened their hearts and their home to runners from all over the state after each summer’s Tour du Lac 10-Miler in Bucksport, a tradition that continues today. It has been Leona’s warm words of encouragement to countless younger female runners that inspired them to keep going as she herself set the example that older women can run distance from the popular 5-Ks to marathons! Voted by Maine’s second-largest running club, the Central Maine Striders, as their female Strider of the Year in 1986, Leona also shared the special Bruce Ellis Award with her husband Charlie in 1991 for their contributions to running over the years,” added Saint Amand. Saint Amand concluded: “I am only one of the people who Leona has quietly encouraged when things were not going well, and her acceptance of life and its ups and downs continues to inspire many of us. The Maine Running Hall of Fame has places for Maine’s fastest male and female runners, and for others who have had long, successful running careers. I truly believe there must also be a special place for those whose unselfish giving of their hearts and souls to running has made the difference for so many others, and Leona Clapper is the finest example I know of.”
Former Maine Running publisher Bob Booker feels much the same way. He wrote in one of his issues: “One day this spring, Tanya went to the mailbox and retrieved a brown shipping envelope addressed to Ethan. She opened it and found a beautiful, hand-knit sweater with the words, ‘Paul Bunyan Marathon’ across the back and the legendary lumberjack himself on the chest. A note was attached that simply said, ‘For the little fellow.’ Right out of the clear blue! No strings attached! That’s the kind of person Leona Clapper is. A woman who has dedicated her life to the concerns of others before her own needs and desires.”