Naval Academy his­to­rian to re­tire

Worked for 50 years at mu­seum

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MERED­ITH NEW­MAN

AN­NAPO­LIS | If you need to find Jim Cheev­ers, he’ll likely be sit­ting at his com­puter with his back fac­ing the door. Sur­rounded by his books and stacks of pa­per. Never too far from his phone.

He’ll al­ways re­spond with: “Naval Academy Mu­seum, Mr. Cheev­ers.”

On this day, a Fri­day, he is log­ging in­for­ma­tion about a do­nated pair of Army-Navy foot­ball game tick­ets from 1914. Both teams had win­ning sea­sons, Mr. Cheev­ers said, but nei­ther went to a bowl game that year. That’s be­cause bowl games weren’t created yet, of course.

He then ex­plains that col­lege foot­ball did have the East-West game, where Michi­gan and Stan­ford played in Pasadena. It was spon­sored by the Rose Bowl As­so­ci­a­tion. And did you know that the Naval Academy ac­tu­ally played in one of the first Rose Bowl games in 1924? They tied against Wash­ing­ton, the se­nior cu­ra­tor said.

He rat­tled off this in­for­ma­tion with no notes or books in front of him. Just from mem­ory.

In the 50 years Mr. Cheev­ers has worked at the mu­seum, he has been a re­li­able re­source to alumni who call him from a bar about a bet they’ve made, a mid­ship­man des­per­ately try­ing to get an A on a his­tory pa­per or a su­per­in­ten­dent ac­cli­mat­ing to his new role as head of the academy.

Mr. Cheev­ers, 75, jokes that he doesn’t re­mem­ber his age or birth­day, but knows that Ge­orge Blake, the fifth su­per­in­ten­dent of the academy, lived from 1802 to 1871.

“For some rea­son I have fun,” Mr. Cheev­ers said. “I may be crazy.”

The his­to­rian will be re­tir­ing in the com­ing months, mak­ing this past Com­mis­sion­ing Week his last. So how does the Naval Academy go about re­plac­ing him?

You sim­ply can’t, friends and co­work­ers said.

Mr. Cheev­ers was the kid that went to na­ture camp. A his­tory ma­jor at the Col­lege of Wil­liam and Mary, he took ev­ery his­tory class pos­si­ble. He fig­ured he’d join the mil­i­tary and then be­come a teacher.

He ap­plied to Of­fi­cer Can­di­date School af­ter grad­u­a­tion, but the Navy wouldn’t take him be­cause a bout with pneu­mo­nia left a pesky spot on his lung. So he vol­un­teered for the draft.

Af­ter ba­sic train­ing, he was as­signed to the Army’s 2nd In­fantry Di­vi­sion. The of­fi­cers found out he could type and had him work in head­quar­ters. One day, an of­fi­cer told him he needed Mr. Cheev­ers, just 22 at the time, to run the 2nd In­fantry Di­vi­sion His­tor­i­cal Cen­ter.

He’s worked in a mu­seum ever since. Mr. Cheev­ers cred­its the mil­i­tary for al­low­ing him to dis­cover a ca­reer where he’ll hap­pily work 12-hour days and never get bored.

“Peo­ple al­ways ask me how I re­mem­ber it all,” he said. “I think it’s be­cause I en­joy what I’m learn­ing.”

When Mr. Cheev­ers ap­plied to the academy’s mu­seum to be cu­ra­tor of col­lec­tions in 1967, it was orig­i­nally his backup plan. He thought he wanted to work at the U.S. Army Cen­ter of Mil­i­tary His­tory in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., but soon re­al­ized he couldn’t climb the ranks there.

He had never vis­ited An­napo­lis and knew noth­ing about the Naval Academy. He took the job any­way.

At Mr. Cheev­ers’ re­tire­ment lun­cheon, the Naval Academy su­per­in­ten­dent said he fig­ured the his­to­rian would stay on the Yard for­ever. For­mer col­leagues called him a re­nais­sance man. The mayor named May 17 “Jim Cheev­ers Day.”

“He knows more things than most of us have ever thought,” said for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent re­tired Rear Adm. Vir­gil Hill last week as 150 of Mr. Cheev­ers’ friends, family and for­mer co-work­ers cel­e­brated his ca­reer at the Naval Academy Club.

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