SAN ANGELO, TX — Byron E. “Sonny” Cleere passed away peacefully on Monday, October 4, in San Angelo. He was 89 years old.
Sonny Cleere is remembered by close friends and family as a business leader in San Angelo who brought laughter and cheer to all those around him and a man with an almost insurmountable work ethic who selflessly served others. More importantly, however, he set an example for all around him with his strong personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Cleere was the youngest of four children born to Buford and Myrtle Cleere in Alice where he excelled in football and track. He earned an athletic scholarship to attend Abilene Christian University where he was team captain. He was an All Conference and All American guard and played on the undefeated championship college football team in 1952.
He was drafted by the Chicago Bears to play football professionally. However, before he was to report to Chicago for training camp, his thigh was badly injured by a close-range shotgun blast during a duck hunting trip. Instead of NFL glory, Cleere shared his enthusiasm for sports and education with the young people of Ozona as both a coach and a social studies teacher for 10 years before moving to San Angelo.
Pierce Miller, who was a student of Cleere’s in the ‘50s, recalled him as a good man. The ladies said he was handsome and he was a dedicated weight lifter.
“I will miss his deep, baritone voice, but i know he is in a better place,” Miller said. Miller’s wife, Betty, said the senior girls called him “Chanticleer,” presumably referring to a proud and fierce rooster as portrayed in The Canterbury Tales.
“He was the epitome of a man going places. Good looking, great voice for talking and singing, plus qualities of a leader,” Miller added.
He wore his ACU football championship ring proudly, said lifelong friend Lee Pfluger. “We all had nicknames and his was the ‘Lord of the Ring,’” he said. Friends recall fondly frequent hunting trips with Cleere to Pfluger’s 700 Springs Ranch near Junction. There, Cleere held court with a tight-knit group of about 10 friends.
“On those hunting trips, he would wake us all up at 4 a.m. offering us orange juice and coffee,” recalled Pfluger. “We had some good times. He was like a brother to me,” added close friend David Hirschfeld.
Getting to his office at 4 a.m. was important to Cleere. Hirschfeld said he spent the first early morning hour studying the Bible. “He was deeply religious,” he said. Cleere’s father was a minister in the Church of Christ. “Throughout his life, Sonny never let loose of his faith,” Hirschfeld added.
Cleere built a sizable business as a highly regarded owner of Meadows, Fisher & Cleere Insurance. His salesmanship approach was based upon his gift to serve others. “Sonny never asked for your insurance business,” Hirschfeld said. “When I asked him why? He told me, ‘Everyone knows what I do. If they think I can help them, they’ll come see me.’”
Cleere was known as a respected community leader where he held leadership positions throughout his life in organizations such as the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, Leadership San Angelo, the Little Olympics, the Symphony Chorale, West Texas Rehab, the San Angelo Area Foundation, and the Symphony Orchestra.
“Sonny was an absolute patriot,” Pfluger said. Pfluger credited Cleere for founding the first Back the Badge organization in San Angelo. He was also instrumental in launching the annual San Angelo Support for Veterans Hunt where wounded military warriors were brought to San Angelo free of charge to hunt on area ranches. The traditional annual hunt was especially appreciated by participants and sponsors alike because of the brutality — and number of wounded survivors — of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the past two decades.
Cleere will be remembered for being instrumental in launching the annual July 4th Pops Concert and Fireworks show with the San Angelo Symphony to celebrate the birthday of the United States of America at the Bill Aylor Sr. Memorial River Stage. Coincidentally, July 4 was Cleere’s birthday. Close friends and associates fondly recall Cleere’s annual ice cream parties at his home immediately following the pops concert to celebrate his birthday.
Cleere was for 38 years “The Voice of San Angelo” where he announced every home game of the San Angelo Central High School Bobcats football games. He also gave generously of his time announcing at galas and banquets, and by doing so, made those events memorable and enjoyable.
In all aspects of his life, Cleere exemplified the highest standards of excellence, achievement, and service to others. To his closest friends, however, his most remarkable trait was his fierce loyalty to God, his family and his friends.
“We lost a good man,” Hirschfeld said. “He loved San Angelo.”
He is preceded in death by one grandchild, Byron Dixon Cleere.
Cleere enjoyed the love and support of his wife, the former Claudia Ketner, and his children; Kirk and wife Patsy, Ned Munoz and wife Patsy, Penny Cleere, and Courtney Paige Fajkus and husband Gregg, grandchildren; Jabyn Cleere, Ashtyn Cleere, Camille Fajkus Claire Fajkus, Caroline Fajkus, Sofia Munoz, and Victoria Munoz, one sister; Willodern Ellis.
The memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on Monday, October 11, 2021 at the First United Methodist Church, 37 E. Chadbourne St., San Angelo.
The family has asked that memorials be directed to West Texas Rehab, San Angelo Support for Veterans, or a charity of your choice.