Rockford loses a legend

He was a Kent County Commissioner, Rockford’s mayor and a long-term city council member and the father of two mayors, sons Neil and Rodd. For many who knew Clarence Blakeslee—“Mr. Rockford”—he was the kind man who was there with a camera or two and a smile and a hug for everyone.

 

Clarence Blakeslee as a child.

 

The community of Rockford is diminished by the loss of Clarence, who died Friday, July 16 at the age of 95. He leaves a legacy behind in the many kindnesses he regularly bestowed to those around him and in his photographic record of the town, especially sports.

He had a life-long love of cameras and had an extensive collection. After the estate sale of his home, he donated many of the cameras to The Rockford Squire newspaper. They are on display along with photographs of many well-known politicians and celebrities Clarence took over the years.

Clarence was very involved with politics and had opportunities to photograph many well-known politicians. He often picked them up at the Kent County Airport (now Gerald R. Ford International Airport) and spent time with them while in Grand Rapids.

He took many pictures of Jerry Ford, often here in Rockford. Included in his collection is Tip O’Neal, Henry Kissinger, the seniorGeorge H. Bush, and many others.

Celebrity photographs were also donated for display to The Squire. Visitors will see Pearl Bailey and Liz Taylor as well as local artist and philanthropist Paul Collins.

When talking to Clarence, friends could hear harrowing stories of World War II that could bring tears. Clarence used to share those stories in The Squire and Publisher Roger Allen had the works published in a book.

Clarence Blakeslee pictured with Jerry Ford. Clarence, known as "Mr Rockford," died Friday, July 16 at age 95.

 

A Personal Account of WWII by Draftee #36887149 was published in 1998. Clarence donated sales of the book to the Rockford Historical Society, of which he was a founding member, and Rockford Rotary, an organization to which he was dedicated his entire adult life.

Clarence was proud of the book and his contribution to remembering the men who died in World War II. He often spoke of the loss of boys he knew during the war. “They just wanted to know they wouldn’t be forgotten,” he would say with tears in his own eyes.

Inside one of the books Clarence wrote in a shaking script “350,000 U.S. men were killed. One million were wounded.” Below that he wrote, “War is hell. I was there. Clarence Blakeslee.”

Clarence left an impression on those he met and those he helped. Literally thousands of his photographs are at the Rockford Historical Society. As a member of the Rockford community where he did so much and gave so much, Clarence, like the men in World War II he wrote about, will not be forgotten.

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