Who was F. L. McClain of Orangefield Football Stadium
It’s been a long time since ‘Mac ‘ McClain was commonly seen on the Orangefield ISD campus with his bright, blue eyes and dark, slicked back hair. Many Orangefield residents remember McClain well, while newer residents may wonder why his name appears on the stadium score board. Forrest Lee McClain devoted the major part of his life to Orangefield ISD and was very influential in developing the school district into the thriving educational system it is today.
McClain was not the kind of Superintendent tucked away in a deep inner office. He was always available, with a handshake and a smile, for a chat with co-workers, teachers, parents and students. Some recall his talent for swinging a paddle. He was very instrumental in the growth of OFISD, always going above and beyond the call of duty. If the plumbing broke somewhere late at night, he went out and fixed it. If a school bus broke down, he was on hand with Ray Granger to repair it. He helped build the football stadium, along with other school board members and staff. While the new High School was being built, he would go out every night from 11 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. with his gun on his hip, making sure the grounds were safe. Once he had to confront the motorcycle group known as Hell’s Angels, when they decided to camp out on the Orangefield Elementary campus. He thoughtfully decided not to demand they leave immediately and told them they could spend the night if they would leave early the next morning, which they did.
McClain was highly respected by the community and treated folks fairly. People who worked at Orangefield and those who knew him still compliment him highly, often saying he was the best Superintendent they ever had. He was offered a big raise several years before he retired but turned it down so the school budget would not be affected. He also turned down an offer to have the Junior High named after him. He was modest and a man of few words. When he did speak his words were well chosen and everyone listened. He was a great listener and often his best advice after listening to someone sharing their troubles would be, “Only you can change that.”
McClain’s first teaching job was in Port Arthur; 7th McLewis, while he also taught math, coached athletics and drove a school bus. His wife, Mary Jo taught 3rd and 4th grade. They lived in a small house on campus. In 1957, with their third child on the way, they moved to Orangefield and McClain took the position of HS Principal and Business Manager. In 1963, McClain became long time Superintendent until he retired in 1988. Incredibly, he never missed one day of work. He rarely missed a sports event and went ten years without missing a single football game. He loved strong, bright colors and for several years before he retired he could easily be spotted at games wearing a bright, orange jacket given to him by Orangefield staff.
He was born in 1925 on Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, in Sulphur Springs. Happy Birthday, Mac. One of Lincoln’s most famous quotes is “You are only as happy as you make up your mind to be.” If you were feeling blue, McClain had a similar line for you, “Scratch your ass and get happy.”
His father, MacFarland McClain, was a small town politician and County School Superintendent. His mother, Gertrude, was a teacher. He had two younger brothers, Robert and Charles. All three boys were given names of Civil War Generals. He graduated from Sulphur Springs HS in 1942, and then began college at East Texas State Univ.
Drafted into the U. S. Navy, McClain served in the highly stressful position of Airforce Traffic Controller on the naval ships during WWII. While serving he saved the life of a top ranking General flying into Anchorage, Alaska. McClain directed the General’s airplane to gain altitude moments before it would have collided with another plane coming in unnoticed.
McClain returned to college and received his Master’s Degree in Math and Science. He was a man who knew what he wanted when he saw it. He met Mary Jo Wiler while they were both attending college. But before they ever met, he saw her walking along the opposite side of the street and said to a friend of his, “I’m going to marry that red-headed woman.” Married on March 5, 1948, he worked in a grocery store and as a gardener to support them until they both graduated. He loved her dearly and they were married 48 years before he passed away on Father’s Day in the summer of 1994.
McClain drove an old truck because he didn’t like to spend money. He collected guns, knives and books. Early Wednesday and Thursday mornings, before school he would go to garage sales. He loved to fix and refinish old furniture. He was a night owl and rarely in bed before midnight but always up by 6 a.m.
He was an avid reader of science fiction and westerns, usually finishing off one paperback book a night. One of his favorite authors was Zane Grey. He loved watching Star Trek, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Johnny Carson. His favorite football team, besides the Bobcats, was Dallas.
He was a wonderful joke teller and would have you on the edge of your seat waiting for the punch line. He was not a drinker, but smoking was a big part of his life and unfortunately, his death. He quit smoking a few years before he died. He was a man of strong willpower and discipline. When asked how he quit smoking, cold turkey, after three packs a day for 40 years he would say, “You don’t quit wanting one, you just quit.” It was one of the hardest things he ever did.
He liked to hunt but rarely found the time. He was a work-aholic but now and then enjoyed having friends over to play dominos, in a small kitchen filled with smoke and laughter. He was a Mason and attended church at First Baptist in Orangefield where he taught Sunday school for many years and Mary Jo played the organ. He had a deep voice and liked to sing bass. He loved country western music, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Janice Joplin. His favorite song was “Last Date.” He was often heard whistling as he strolled along the school sidewalks. “The F. L. McClain Football Stadium” was named after a man that devoted his life to OFISD and truly loved the little town of Orangefield, Texas.