By David Stevens
Len Santi said he grew up “shy and quiet and very reserved and afraid of people.”
He got over it.
Seems he changed when the military brought him to Clovis in 1942.
“People would tip their hats and wave when they met you on the street,” he told reporter Tonjia Rolan in 2012. “It made me suspicious. I didn’t know what they wanted. I learned that’s the way people should live.”
The native New Yorker died Sunday at 97 after a short battle with congestive heart failure and pneumonia.
Don’t expect anyone at Friday’s memorial service to describe him as quiet or shy or afraid of anything.
“He was physically strong even when he died,” said Imagene House of Clovis, Santi’s sister-in-law for 70-plus years.
“He had a little trouble walking and had to use a cane, but he was strong to the end and even insistent on driving. He would scare the wits out of me driving.”
Now that’s the Santi Clovis knew — bold, determined, confident.
His frequent letters to the newspaper editor reflected his can-do attitude.
“The American people must learn to accept more responsibilities for their own needs rather than government providing,” he wrote in 2008.
But it wasn’t the politics or the larger-than-life personality that endeared Santi to the High Plains.
We loved to hear his stories.
“When I was 12 years old, I used to sell copies of the Brooklyn Daily Citizen newspaper outside of Dodgers’ baseball park for two cents a copy,” he said.
“If I sold 25 copies, they would let me into the park in the sixth inning to watch the game.”
As a ballplayer, he was good enough the New York Giants signed him as a catcher and invited him to spring training in 1941. But the military called in February that year and he never got a shot at the major leagues.
When he first arrived to help build Clovis Army Airfield — now Cannon Air Force Base — he said he was a little overwhelmed.
“We were standing at the gate, supposedly, but there was no gate,” he said in a 2004 interview. “There was just a shack in the middle of the road and a sheriff on horseback provided the only security there was. We 150 men had to protect the base as best we could.”
He described Clovis as “a hell hole,” in those days. “There was dust flying everywhere. … But I got used to it.”
He met Joyce Matlock at the base exchange.
“She was on the porch watching me and another player play catch with a baseball. She was a great looking blonde. I always accused her of flirting with me, but she denies it.”
They were married more than 70 years.
Santi said he became a born-again Christian in 1946 and devoted much of the rest of his life to passing out Bibles and sharing his faith.
“He’d talk to me about heaven and how much he looked forward to being there,” Pastor Bruce Kirby said on Tuesday.
“He could not wait — no more suffering, or heartache … just beauty that we don’t even know.”
A long way from afraid.
David Stevens is editor for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: email@example.com