The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Joe McCuen, Rest in Peace

53 years ago, during my plebe (freshman) year at the United States Naval Academy, I decided to audition for the Catholic Choir and the Glee Club. Being a member of these groups was actually a pretty good deal for a plebe since it offered some time away from the rigors of plebe year. 

Membership in the Glee Club was especially desirable since, in those days, it was one of the few organizations that allowed plebes to leave the confines of the Naval Academy for more than a few hours. We gave concerts in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and other spots along the east coast, even had a few TV appearances. The Catholic Choir also made occasional trips, and even sang on the White House lawn at JFK's funeral. Most of these trips involved at least one night away from Bancroft Hall. "Mother B", as we affectionately called this huge, eight-winged building, is the Academy's only dormitory and houses all 4,100 midshipmen. And, believe me, any time away from Mother B was a real treat. This was especially true during the bleak winter months, or "dark ages" as midshipman call them.
Catholic Choir 1964 (I'm in there somewhere)

USNA Glee Club 1964 (That's me: 2nd row, far right)

Another benefit of these excursions was the opportunity to enjoy a little female companionship. (These were the days when the service academies were all-male institutions.) Plebes, you see, lived a rather monkish existence in those unenlightened times and were not permitted to date. We couldn't even talk with a young lady while we were in the "yard", as we called the academy grounds. 

The only exceptions to this rule were the occasional, infamous Tea Dances (or "tea fights") at which young ladies from nearby colleges and towns would meet and dance with the plebes. These gatherings were held in cavernous Dahlgren Hall, in those days a huge gymnasium which also served as a rifle storage site. 
A more recent photo of a renovated Dahlgren Hall

The tea fights were organized and run by the Academy's social director at the time, Mrs. Emma Marshall. As one classmate, Dave Church, said at the time of her passing in 1995, "She organized the tea fights, which were tea dances, and we all cursed her under our breath for ruining our Sunday afternoons, because we had to attend. She honed our social skills and in doing so became a much beloved figure. She was, after all, the only female figure we had in Bancroft Hall." I'll not discuss tea fights here except to say they were uniquely strange events. If you'd like to read what one alumnus thought of these Sunday afternoon gatherings, you can click here: Tea Fights.

But I digress...

Master Chief Joe McCuen 1965
While auditioning for the Glee Club and Catholic Choir, I met Joe McCuen, who directed both organizations. Joe, a Navy Master Chief Musician's Mate, was a remarkable man. He was the best choral director and organist I have ever known and was solely responsible for the outstanding quality of the Academy's Glee Club and Catholic Choir. He was also a very nice man, one who put up with our adolescent antics and still managed to get us to perform at a high level.

The last time I saw Joe McCuen was during the week of my graduation in June 1967. A few years later I heard that he had retired from the Navy and relocated to Florida. As is often the case, lives diverge and those who formed a part of our past are forgotten until something or someone brings them to mind once again. Over the years, whenever I heard a glee club or a large church choir perform, I inevitably thought of Joe McCuen. He also entered the conversation when I encountered classmates who had been with me in either choir or glee club. We all thought the world of this wonderful man.

Yesterday I received an email informing me that Joe had died as the age of 87. He lived in  Ponte Vedra Beach, only about two hours from us here in The Villages. I wish I had known he was so close by...but, sadly, I didn't. His funeral Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday afternoon at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church. Coincidentally, I attended Mass there maybe a dozen years ago when Diane and I visited a deacon friend who ministered in that parish. Small world.

Recent photo of Joe McCuen
I will be unable to attend the funeral because I'm taking another deacon and his wife to a trauma center for a follow-up appointment. They were both injured in an automobile accident late last week when a large truck rear-ended them as they sat at a red light. Their car was totaled, but thank God they survived. Joe will understand, and I will have a Mass celebrated for him at our parish.

To read about this talented man's remarkable life, visit his obituary here: Joe McCuen.

Rest in peace, Joe.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the memories, Dana. What a relief those trips were; no bracing up on those risers. I remember one to Wilkes-Barre, PA, to which we were flown by a reserve squadron in a "Flying Boxcar" and we all wore parachutes... Joe was a great guy with a lot of compassion for us. Rick Handy, member of USNA '67: 1963-1965, from Duxbury (South Shore).