A hands-on historian
Wayne Clements, president of the Saline Area Historical Society, has mobilized the community to save Orange Risdon's livery barn, open the Depot Museum and acquire a caboose for it, and buy and restore the Rentschler farm. It's quite a series of accomplishments for a quiet, unassuming man who in his younger years did not even seem interested in history.
Recently, at Clements's fifty-year high school reunion, his old homeroom teacher pointed out that irony. But for Clements, history comes alive when it's about the community around him instead of the faraway and long ago. "I didn't know King George, but I know Alberta Rogers and the Brassows," he says.
Clements still lives in the Textile Road farmhouse where he grew up. He attended the Lodi Plains one-room school and graduated as salutatorian from Saline Union School. He went to Michigan State University, where he majored in agricultural engineering. Saline Township supervisor Bob Cook was his roommate.
"Even his family kept old things," Cook recalls. "Wayne had a little old twenty-two [rifle] that went back to his grandfather."
At MSU Clements met his wife, Jane, from Grosse Pointe Woods. (They have one grown daughter, Penny.) For nineteen years, he was away from Saline. He served a stint in the army, including a year in Korea; worked as a research engineer in Ford's agricultural division in Birmingham; and later moved to South Bend, Indiana, to work for Wheelabrator. He returned to Saline twenty-five years ago to be nearer his aging parents. He found work with an industrial cleaning franchise, Captain Clean, which he now owns.
In 1987 Alberta Rogers, then president of the historical society, recruited Clements to join. "He was involved from the word go," she recalls. He started out with mechanical work, putting a donated, Saline-made windmill back together. More hands-on jobs followed: two showcase homes that needed considerable work. He also found and mapped all the former one-room school sites in the Saline school district. He became the historical society's president in 1990.
When a livery barn that had been owned by Saline founder Orange Risdon was about to be torn down, Clements organized the society to save the structure. He launched an ongoing partnership between historic preservationists and the city government, getting permission to relocate the livery near the old railroad depot. That led to the project of turning the depot into a museum. The partnership with the city continues today with the purchase and historic restoration of the Rentschler farm.
Clements has worked to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved in the historical society's projects. He cut back on boring business meetings, replaced the traditional slate of officers with a team, and doesn't insist that volunteers join the society. He says he has no patience with groups that just sit around and talk. "It attracts people when we have things to do," he says.
Clements's leadership style impresses former mayor Rick Kuss.
"He listens," Kuss says. "He takes everybody's ideas and tries to bring his ideas and everyone else's together so we can move forward. And he doesn't get involved in politics.
"Saline is a mixture of new, been-here-awhile, and old-timers," says Kuss. "Wayne bridges that gap." •
That seems to be one of Clements's main goals. History is "a common thread that keeps us together," he says, adding that a hands-on project "gets people interested who do not have roots in Saline."
Clements is excited about his current project: he and Saline High history teacher Jim Cameron are developing a curriculum of local history classes that will be held at the Depot Museum and the Rentschler Farm Museum.
"I like to tell the kids, 'Someday you'll take my place, or be mayor or superintendent of schools, and you need to understand how we got there.'"