Vet Student Fulfills Mother’s Dying Wish
If you have not met Cleatius Gouldman, it is likely you have at least caught sight of him strolling across campus. He has a few uniquely identifiable features that distinguish him from most students: his signature sprawling white beard; his black MIA/POW cap that is weathered, faded and frayed on the edges of the brim; and a laptop bag bearing a few small splatters of paint that offer a subtle clue to his academic major.
Gouldman will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree on his 66th birthday. A long time has passed between his first classes at NMU in 1971, when he was fresh out of the military, and tomorrow’s rewarding march across the commencement stage. His education was interrupted by work, travel, music and art. Gouldman is a native of downstate Niles. He returned to Michigan in 1993 to care for his ailing mother. His final promise before she died was that he would complete his degree.
“My mom loved artwork,” said Gouldman, who is soft-spoken and exceptionally polite (his interview responses are laced with “Yes, ma’am”). “She pretty much taught me how to draw. She also taught me how to play basketball. I could never beat her because she had a set shot that she let fly halfway across the court. I was a single child and our family went to church every night when I was young. That’s where I learned how to draw. It was a good way to babysit me and keep me quiet—give me something to doodle on.
“It feels wonderful to get my degree. I don’t believe I could have accomplished it without the assistance of the people at Northern. From professors to secretaries to custodians, they’re all just wonderful, helpful and respectful.”
Gouldman served in the U.S. Army from 1968-1971 during the Cold War. In an effort to develop advanced air-defense capability to neutralize a potential attack by Soviet bombers, the United States produced a series of Nike anti-aircraft missiles. Gouldman’s assignment revolved around the Nike-Hercules missile.
“I activated and deactivated nuclear warheads,” he said. “Life carries a lot of stress for veterans. I started having seizures. When I got back into art, I realized it was the stress causing those physical problems because the seizures diminished. Art is a healing process.”
The piece Gouldman has on display in the senior exhibition (pictured) is an abstract medley of torn scraps of poetry based on his military experience, red to reflect the blood of a Cold War memory, broken CDs to envision the energy of his personal chakra, and landscapes to reflect freedom from his past. He credits retiring Art and Design professor John Hubbard and former professor Wolfram Niessen for their support and inspiration. Gouldman said he was honored to work with Niessen on the concrete sculpture in front of Lee Hall in the ‘70s.
When he left NMU early the first time around, Gouldman went to Wisconsin and assisted Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellows with home restorations. He later spent 25 years on Vashon Island near Seattle, working in construction and immersing himself in the rock ‘n’ roll scene via different bands. After graduation, he plans to someday return to the Seattle area and get back into a former love: theater. He’s working on an original musical based on late author Carson McCullers’ novel, The Ballad of Sad Café. The Southern blues-flavored songs he’s written for the show include “Eagle Don’t Cluck Like a Chicken,” “Nobody Sings Face Down” and “Sharecropper’s Blues.” A sample lyric follows:
Bring back memories for my winter months
It’s spring time returning and butterflies’ rebirth
And your painted wing will be glowing
Just retracing time when our love was flowering…
Hanging heavy on the vine
Beneath the MIA/POW logo, on the right side of the brim of the well-worn cap, is stitched the phrase, “You Are Not Forgotten.” It is an appropriate sentiment—not only in deference to Gouldman’s military service, but because some at NMU will not soon forget his memorable personality, stories and visible presence on campus.