Naval Academy historian to retire
Worked for 50 years at museum
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.