MANATEE -- As a coach and director of several youth centers in Manatee County, Willie J. "Bro" Clemons Jr. played a major role in many lives.
Nearly 12 years after his death, Clemons' legacy lives on as he is still being talked about in the community and recognized for the work he did in Manatee County, said his son, Willie Clemons III.
"He was a pillar in the community for a long time," Willie Clemons III said of his father, who died in 2004 at 62. "He made it his business to try and make a change. He dealt with the youth in a positive way until the day that he died."
In that work, the senior Clemons spent a lot of time and effort in keeping the East Bradenton pool up and running. The pool, which was a gathering place for many in the black community, soon may be named after the elder Clemons.
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"It is definitely an honor to be his son and see that happen," Dwight Cooper, Clemons' son, said. "How many kids
get to see something named after their father?"
On Tuesday, the East Bradenton Pool could be renamed after Clemons and a memorial plaque with Clemons' engraved portrait and brief facts about his life history will be installed at the pool, 1119 13th St. E., Bradenton. The commission is set to take action on the item at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"East Bradenton Pool needs to be branded after someone we know and the legacy he left," Commissioner Charles Smith said during a December meeting, where commissioners unanimously voted to set Tuesday's public hearing to rename the pool.
Smith, who represents East Bradenton, brought the request to honor Clemons.
"Even through the years of what he accomplished and what he did until the end of his life, people respected him and still talk about him," Smith said. "If it wasn't for people like him, I would not be here."
Led youth agencies
Clemons, who coached and mentored many young athletes at the former Lincoln High School -- now Lincoln Middle -- and Southeast High School, was also the director of several youth agencies, including the Palmetto Youth Center, 13th Avenue Community Center and Police Athletic League. Clemons graduated from Lincoln High School in 1960 and Florida A&M University in 1964.
For Kathy Watkins, Clemons' sister, renaming the pool is long overdue.
"I would love if the pool was of course named in his honor," she said. "It would make me feel good to know that my brother's legacy still lives now because he has been a very strong force in the community. ...I think it is something that is very well deserved and means a great deal to not only me but his whole family."
In addition to being a father figure for many Manatee County youth, Clemons gave them an opportunity to learn how to swim, Pastor Charles Williams said.
"A lot of people would have not learned to swim if it hadn't been for him," Williams said. "Willie Clemons was a real difference maker in many lives. It would mean a lot because he is a legend in the eyes of many. That would be legendary. It would just speak of who he was."
Fay Bundrage, who was married to Clemons for 18 years, said their house was always the "community house."
"Everybody knew him and knew what he was and what he stood for," she said. "He is truly, truly missed in the community. I just thank God for having him in my life for the time that I did."
Bundrage's favorite memory of Clemons was seeing the smile that would come on his face "when things were going well for children if they had a victory."
"He gave his all to it," she said. "It would mean that his legacy and his hard work he did while he was alive would not be forgotten."
If the pool is named after Clemons, Smith said it would get families more involved in East Bradenton.
"East Bradenton needs a victory," Smith said. "The legacy of Willie Bro Clemons has touched so many lives."
With Clemons' name attached to the pool, it will be an opportunity to start to revitalize the area, Smith said, adding that he hopes corporations will then make an investment in that area.
"The community could start coming back out there as when I was a child," Smith said. "I think that is very important for the community. His name will draw people back to that park that haven't been in there for years. History was made at that pool. ...This is the first step in revitalizing East Bradenton. The legacy that he has left is still in my heart."
Willie Clemons III said with his father's name living on and being on display at the pool, it could be a spark in making the pool a community gathering place again.
"We need to continue to help each other," he said. "It takes a village to raise a child. We shouldn't throw any to the side."
The Rev. Lawrence Livingston, who was baptized in the East Bradenton Pool in 1961, said the community needs the pool to be named after Clemons.
"That would be perfect." he said. "It would help the legacy and help young people hopefully do some research on Bro Clemons because he had such an impact on young people."
Much like Clemons opened doors, the renaming of the pool will rebrand it and open doors, Smith said.
"This is someone that even in death he continued to be in the lives of many," he said. "It takes a name like him to get this done."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.