For as long as I can remember Clarence and Nita’s home on the corner of route 45, across from the gas station, was imprinted in my mind. The modest, one story house was the final landmark, a signal to turn left and begin winding around our beloved Summit Lake. Clarence not only watched over the lake cabins, he was caretaker of our childhood memories. With his passing, we are losing the link to Summit Lake’s history and the innocence of days gone by.
Clarence was a good man. He served his community and his country. In WWII as part of United States Army, he participated in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater from February 3, 1943 until March 9, 1946.
He was the unofficial local historian having witnessed so many changes during a lifetime spent beside Summit Lake. His old family homestead, a dark chocolate log cabin, once serving as a resort for wealthy city folks, still stands on the east side of the lake. The old ice house has long since been remodeled into another cabin.
I feel fortunate to have grown up listening to the stories of simpler time; days when the train whistle signaled the arrival of the “tourists” from Antigo (a mere 18 miles away). Campers, too, arrived by rail on the Chicago North Western line, back in the days when my grandparents owned Camp Ney-A-Ti on the point across from the island. My dad loved reminiscing about those days when he and Clarence played on the local summer baseball team; they could still remember specific games.
In addition to fixing any custodial crisis befalling the cabins, Clarence did a bit of, well, everything. As town treasurer, member of the American Legion, and fire squad commander for 65 years, he unofficially ran the village, even though, technically, Summit Lake is unincorporated.
During his stint as owner of Palace of Mirrors Tavern, he overheard it all when locals gathered to exchange stories. Never one to gossip, secrets were safe with him.
As an adult, he drove the Elcho School District bus, which ironically he never rode as a kid. As a child, Clarence trudged 4 miles home from school and football practice even during snowy weather.
Oh, he was cherished, not only by family, his late wife, Juanita ‘Nita’ Eaton, his sons, Joe and Randy, his grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but also by all the locals and summer folks, who appreciated his dependability, his honesty, his industriousness.
As a society we make a big fuss over the lives of movie stars, musicians, politicians, and pro athletes, when we should really be honoring the contribution of our everyday heroes. Like the down to earth, law-abiding, upstanding citizens, who spend their lifetimes serving others, doing the odd jobs with valor, just to make our world a better place.
Unfortunately, I live abroad, so I could not attend Clarence’s memorial service on Memorial Day weekend. How fitting is that – Clarence was always putting flags on veterans graves on Memorial Day and whenever a vet was buried he was part of the honor guard. This summer I will put flowers on his gravestone. With a hand on my heart, I’ll stand in front of the veterans flag waving in the summer breeze and pay my last respects. At the age of 89, Clarence King was laid to rest at the beautiful Lakeside Cemetery Summit Lake, Wisconsin. Always devoted to his community, I image he’ll continue to work overtime, keeping a benevolent eye on our beloved lake.
We should all be so blessed to have a “care taker” like Clarence as a part of our lives for so long.