I recently learned, belatedly, that my mentor during the 1950s, Clyde Boutelle, had passed away in Beloit on April 10, 2019. I was very saddened by the news of his passing. Clyde played a very important role in Lake Geneva during the 1940s and ‘50s. Accordingly, I am devoting this column to an account of his life.
Clyde was born in Lake Geneva in 1931, the son of Fuller and Mayme Boutelle. He was the youngest of Fuller’s and Mayme’s four children. The others were Everett Boutelle, who owned the Buick garage on the south side of the 800 block of Main Street; Maurice Boutelle, who was a career military officer; and Earl Boutelle, who was an insurance agent in Beloit.
Clyde’s grandfather, Daniel Boutelle, was a veteran of the Civil War who brought his family, including Clyde’s father, Fuller Boutelle, to Lake Geneva from Richmond, Illinois, as the 19th century became the 20th century. He lived on Franklin Avenue on top of what later became known as Stanford’s Hill.
Fuller Boutelle was a star player on the Lake Geneva High School football team during the seasons surrounding 1911. He later became a well known letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office in Lake Geneva, a lifelong member of the Lake Geneva Fire Department, and a longtime member of the Lake Geneva School Board. Fuller also operated the American Legion Canteen in Library Park during the late 1940s and early ‘50s. The Boutelles lived on the southeast corner of Wisconsin and Warren streets.
I first became aware of Clyde when he was a star football and basketball player for the Lake Geneva High School football and basketball teams during the late ‘40s. As I watched him play football at Dunn Field as an outstanding end, he quickly became one of my heroes, which was reinforced by seeing him play basketball for Lake Geneva High School in the LGHS auditorium/gym during those same years. I got to know him better when he worked for his father at the American Legion Canteen in Library Park during the summers in the early ‘50s. I had begun working at the canteen in 1950 at the age of 8, and saw how well Clyde related to all of the customers.
After graduating from LGHS, Clyde went on to be a star football, basketball, and tennis player for Beloit College. The highlight of his athletic career at Beloit College was when Beloit played in the post-season National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in Madison Square Garden. In those days, the NIT was far more important than the NCAA post-season tournament is today. It was very unusual for a small school like Beloit College to have been invited to participate.
Clyde graduated from Beloit College in 1955. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 1957, Clyde returned to Lake Geneva where he became a history teacher at Lake Geneva High School. During the next four years, Clyde became my mentor. Clyde taught world history at the high school. His class was supposed to be limited to seniors, but he made an exception and admitted me, a mere sophomore. He was a very good teacher, and the manner in which he taught world history inspired me to become an historian.
Clyde was also the assistant football coach and the coach of the tennis team at Lake Geneva High School. Due to his leadership and that of the head football coach, Doug Gerber, I became the starting middle linebacker as a sophomore member of the 1957 football team. I played on the Lake Geneva High School baseball team my first two years in high school, but switched to tennis my junior year because Clyde was the tennis team’s coach. I had never played tennis before. Clyde was the person who taught me how to play the game and helped develop me into a very good tennis player.
Clyde and the entire Boutelle family were members of the First Congregational Church in Lake Geneva, as was I. The Boutelles’ ancestors had been French Huguenots. Clyde served as the adult adviser to the church’s Pilgrim Fellowship youth group of which I was the vice president. The advice he provided to the group was invaluable.
In June of 1958, Clyde took five of us who were members of Pilgrim Fellowship up to his father-in-law’s cabin in northern Minnesota near Ely, Minnesota, and the Canadian border. In two canoes, we canoed through the Boundary Waters lakes in the Quetico National Forest all the way into Canada. It was the first time that I had ever been outside the United States.
In 1958, Clyde and his wife, Nancy, who lived in a house the Boutelles owned on Stanford’s Hill, which faced Jefferson Avenue, spent the summer in Madison where he worked on an M.A. degree at the University of Wisconsin. While they were in Madison, I took care of their Boxer dog, “Fang,” and used Clyde’s canoe to paddle all around Geneva Bay.
In 1961, Clyde resigned his teaching position at Badger High School, and he and his wife moved to Beloit, where he took a job working for his brother, Earl, selling insurance. In December of that year, I and three friends became involved in a bar brawl in a tavern in Beloit. We were arrested and spent the night in jail. It was Clyde who put up the money to bail us out of jail.
In Beloit, Clyde became an active member of the community, serving on the Beloit City Council, the Beloit Police and Fire Commission, and the Beloit Housing Commission. He was also a member of the boards of the United Church of Christ (Congregational) and the First Presbyterian Church. He also won the Beloit College Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award and was an active member of the Rotary Club and the Beloit YMCA.
Well into his 80s, he was an active bicyclist. He biked 80 miles across Georgia to celebrate his 80th birthday.
My wife, Mary, and I had breakfast with Clyde and Nancy in January. As they departed for Beloit, Clyde told us that he had lung cancer. I hoped that he would beat it, but it was not to be. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, their four children, and many grandchildren. I was very fortunate indeed to have had Clyde Boutelle as my mentor. I will miss him very much.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.