Clarice Elaine Peteete (Kelly), a lifelong nurse and educator, was born April 29, 1924, as the fourth child of her beloved parents Herman Albertis “Bert” and Theodora (Pacak) Kelly.
Clarice grew up in the small Kansas community of Montrose alongside her five siblings: Faye, Mildred, Irvin, Molly, and Orris.
Growing up, Clarice had a knack for excelling in whatever she set her mind to. As a student, Clarice’s teachers remembered her as one of the brightest students they ever taught. Her classmates likely agreed as Clarice, getting her start as a teacher early, was known for tutoring struggling classmates in complex science subjects – subjects that would become a lifelong passion of hers. As an athlete, Clarice was the girls singles tennis state champion three years in a row and a softball pitcher feared by other schools. A lover of music and a talented pianist, Clarice rarely had a chance to dance at school dances or parties as her classmates relied on her to play the music.
In the midst of the Second World War, Clarice graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 1942, and like many other young women, did her part supporting the war effort. She moved to Wichita, where she worked in the Beech Aircraft Factory as a secretary and joined the Beech Guardettes.
Eventually, however, Clarice, a lover of science, learning, and helping others, found herself drawn to nursing. In 1944 she moved to Topeka and was inducted into the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, serving at St. Francis Hospital. Clarice's dream of becoming a flight nurse and serving on the frontlines was dashed when she found out she was half an inch too tall.
Whatever her backup plans may have been, it didn’t matter once she met James (or “Jimmy” as she called him at the time), an airman stationed at nearby Forbes Field. It was on a blind, double date set up by her roommate Lila she met James Peteete, her future husband. Lila’s date, Rob, had gone through basic training with Jim and, after both were shot down over Europe, were prisoners of war alongside each other. These two couples, Jim and Clarice and Lila and Rob would remain lifelong friends.
In 1946, a few months short of Clarice’s graduation, Jim received new orders to report to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Despite his insistence she should graduate, that he would wait for her, Clarice did a thoroughly modern thing – she proposed to him (and likely wouldn’t have taken no for an answer). They were married in Topeka, where Clarice, ever the trailblazer, forewent a traditional wedding dress for a beautiful golden suit. Thus began their marriage of 70 years.
They had their first child, James “Kelly,” a year later in 1947. The couple would have seven more children over the years: Pat, Terry, Mike, Linda, Becky, Matt, and Sean.
Clarice and Jim chose to raise their children in her hometown of Montrose. There, Clarice was highly involved in the community, teaching music, organizing musicals, and running the local Farmer’s Co-op office. She accomplished all of this while raising a growing young family.
In 1970 the family moved to Hays because Clarice made, for the time, a brave decision – she wanted to go back to school. Clarice and Jim would remain in Hays for the rest of their lives. All while working full-time as a nurse’s assistant at a local hospital and raising young children, Clarice completed her long-delayed Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Fort Hays State University in 1972. Clarice followed her BSN up with a Master in Secondary Education degree from FHSU in 1979 and a Master of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Kansas in 1983.
After graduation in 1972, Clarice worked as a charge nurse at a local hospital but, more importantly, began working as a nursing instructor at FHSU, reigniting her passion for teaching. Clarice eventually became an Associate Professor at FHSU. Asked on several occasions to consider becoming the Chair of the Nursing Department, Clarice would always say no. She wanted to keep doing what she loved – working side-by-side with students.
A beloved professor, Clarice was voted FHSU’s best faculty member by the graduating class of 1977, winning the prestigious Pilot Award in gratitude for her teaching, advice, and friendship. More than mere awards, a better example of the love Clarice’s students had for her was in how often former students would come up to her whenever and wherever they saw her, even decades later, to tell her how much she meant to them as a professor.
Clarice retired from FHSU in 1990 but not from teaching. She continued as an educator by helping to create a rural nursing education outreach program. She traveled the state, giving lectures and teaching health programs to people in small, rural Kansas communities. It wasn’t until 1995, at the age of 71, Clarice finally retired.
In her retirement, Clarice put the same effort, love, and attention into her family and grandchildren. She was always quick to drop everything to dote on her grandchildren, making sure her cookie jar was always full, her schedule was free to spend hours catching up and taking them on adventures to see dinosaurs at the Sternberg or FHSU’s bison herd. She was truly the matriarch of her family and was deeply important to every one of them.
Ultimately, Clarice, a vibrant, loving person, blazed a trail for young women after her. As a “mother to everyone,” her strengths were obvious to those lucky enough to meet her. It was obvious in her supreme kindness and love for others; it was obvious from her absolute joy in seeing others succeed; it was obvious from her desire to support others through their struggles. Most of all, however, it was obvious from her willingness through each stage of her life, whether as a young woman or as a grandmother, to give her all to help others. Clarice touched many lives in this community and will be dearly missed by all who had a chance to enjoy her friendship, mentorship, and love.
Clarice is survived by one brother, Orris Kelly, and one sister, Molly McCampbell. She is also survived by seven children, Kelly, Linda, Terry, Mike, Becky, Matt, and Sean, nine grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.
Funeral Services will be 10 AM Saturday, August 14, 2021, at the First United Methodist Church - Hays, 305 West 7th Street, Hays, KS 67601. Inurnment will follow the services at 3:00 PM in the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery in Republic County, KS.
Memorials are suggested to: FHSU Department of Nursing in memory of Clarice Peteete.
Services in care of Brock's-Keithley Funeral Chapel and Crematory, 2509 Vine Street Hays, KS 67601.
Condolences may be left by guest book at www.keithleyfuneralchapels.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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