Being Mr. and Mrs. Clemson — Ron Grant and Janet Bean bring the Clemson spirit to life
Founder’s Day marks a time when Clemson University commemorates the death of its founder, Thomas Green Clemson, while celebrating his determined spirit and vision for public education. He died on April 6, 1888, but on occasion, you can spot Thomas and his wife, Anna Maria Calhoun Clemson, around campus. But those aren’t ghosts that you are seeing.
Meet Ron Grant, director of college relations for the College of Engineering and Science, and Janet Bean, undergraduate student services coordinator for the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The two dress as Mr. and Mrs. Clemson for multiple campus events, including Founder’s Day.
“The first time I played Thomas Green Clemson was for a college event in 2004,” Grant said. “More regularly, it started in 2009. The Legacy Day committee was looking for somebody to play Thomas Green Clemson, and I was the only one with the beard to say that I would do it.”
Grant remained solo for some time, but in fall 2011, the Legacy Day committee decided that it was time to pay tribute to Anna. While Thomas had the plan to offer education as the solution to the economic downfall of the South after the Civil War, the land that would serve as the location for an institute of higher learning belonged to her, and she was a big advocate of her husband’s vision. Bean was working as a tour guide at Fort Hill on football Saturdays when she was asked to suit up in corset and crinolines.
“It was time to give props to Mrs. Clemson,” Bean said. “I’m the right age, and Ron and I are about 10 years apart in age like Thomas and Anna were.”
Grant and Bean make appearances at many campus events celebrating the history of the University. Most recently, they were in character for the celebration of Thomas and Anna’s wedding anniversary, as well a birthday celebration for Anna in February. But of the many appearances they make, Legacy Day — which takes place in November — is a true favorite of the two, as it is a time when many students are introduced to Fort Hill.
“That’s probably my favorite event,” Grant said. “A lot of them have not been to the house before, and a lot of people say that if you come in this house you won’t graduate. I tell students that if you don’t come in this house in your four years, then you won’t graduate.”
For Bean, it’s the fact that so many students come into the house.
“There were more than 500 in a little over two hours this past year. It was exciting to see that number of students come in and learn about the history, and we had fun taking pictures with them.”
Grant and Bean love interacting with students while in costume and posing for photographs. And while many students do recognize them as University employees, Grant and Bean aren’t exactly themselves when in costume.
“When you put the costume on, it’s very different than what one wears today,” Bean said. “I’m wearing a long dress, a corset and crinolines. There’s a limit to your range in motion. I have a greater respect for anything a woman is able to do in that type of clothing.”
“It’s much more formal,” Grant said. “When we first started doing this, we were trying to evoke the spirit of Thomas Green Clemson, and the feeling at that time was that we could better accomplish that if I never spoke. Since Anna has joined us, she speaks, and I still typically don’t.”
But beyond the spectacle of appearing in costume, Grant and Bean relish the opportunity to pay tribute to these figures.
“They are an excellent example of what two people can do with a vision and with a sense of community,” Grant said. “And it is an honor to play the founder of the University. It has given me the opportunity to meet students, staff, friends of the University and alumni that I would have never known.”
“It’s a great honor,” Bean said. “You gain a greater appreciation for the people and what they were able to do.”
Suffice it to say, Grant and Bean have become an integral part of Clemson University’s many tributes to its founding. And just like the time-honored tradition of Founder’s Day, we might think of the live appearance of the Clemsons as a tradition in itself.
Founder’s Day Event: http://calendar.clemson.edu/event/founders_day_event