Let’s Talk Clovis – Duane Wamsley (1924-2018) and family

Duane Wamsley sitting on grandpa Foster’s plow horse in 1926. CONTRIBUTED BY CLOVIS MUSEUM

Duane Wamsley holds a part in the rich Clovis heritage. His roots trace all the way back to his grandparents, William and Jomia Keziah Ewing Wamsley, who arrived in Clovis around 1918. His grandmother was named after the two daughters of the biblical Job, and his grandfather was known for his speaking skills and prose writing. Specifically, in 1939, Clovis Independent and Tribune published William’s “You can’t see the town for the people.”

Wamsley’s mother, Nellie Foster Wamsley, was born in 1903. She comes from the Ambrosia family. The Ambrosias came to the area in 1880 where they farmed near Willow and Behymer. Nellie often rode her horse to Garfield School (on Minnewawa and Shepherd) by crossing Big Dry Creek. In the winter, she would cross the flooded creek by “swimming” her horse. And, in high school, she would “flag” the Southern Pacific train, traveling from Friant (and paid a 10-cent fare), to attend Clovis High.

Duane Wamsley was born on Aug. 24, 1924, and was raised by his parents Leslie and Nellie in a home on Sixth and DeWitt. Wamsley attended elementary school in Fresno and Fowler, the first two years being spent at the former and the remainder of his elementary education at the latter. Like elementary school, the Clovis man attended two different high schools. He spent three years at Kingsburg High School before making his way to Clovis High School in 1941.

He graduated from Clovis High in 1942, having been a part of the school’s championship football and basketball teams. The football team won the Shasta League, scoring 179 points against the opponent’s 27. It was the first Clovis High championship title in 16 years (Wamsley’s uncle Colin was on the 1926 championship team). Once out of high school, Wamsley joined the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Shelby.

While in high school, Wamsley met a certain Irma Pendergrass. Pendergrass’ Clovis roots were established by her grandfather, Dr. W.C. Pendergrass (1863-1916). He and his family arrived in 1912, and his sons James (Irma’s father) and Clayton went on to become iconic Clovis physicians. His third son Travis was a pharmacist at a store located on Fifth and Pollasky. James opened his medical practice and family residence on 1906 DeWitt, located on the east side of Pollasky between Fourth and Fifth. When Irma was born, the family was living in a house on Third Street; Irma’s niece now lives in this home.

Duane and Irma were set up on a blind date by Duane’s best friend, Lloyd Merriman. It turned out that Irma would be Wamsley’s wife. They married on June 1, 1945, while Wamsley had 10 days of leave. Following a Pendergrass tradition, the pair tied the knot at 5 a.m. in the Pendergrass backyard.

Wamsley became involved within the Clovis community later on in his life.  He opened an insurance and real estate business that was located adjacent to the former building of Clovis Independent. While working, he met editor May Case. She gifted one of her hats to Wamsley. He would later donate this hat to the Clovis Museum.

He also became a volunteer fireman and joined the Clovis Planning Commission in 1955. At the Planning Commission, Wamsley served as Chair, interim Clovis Planning Director, and Clovis Treasurer. In 1960, Wamsley was elected Grand Marshall by the Clovis Rodeo Association in 1960.

Duane Wamsley is a part of the rich Clovis heritage.