Clarence Blakeslee (deceased) 1932 RHS graduate Clarence Blakeslee graduated from Rockford High School in 1932 after a distinguished high school career that included varsity letters in track, football and basketball. He was also a success in the classroom, as evidenced by his selection to the National Honor Society, an honor he prized his whole life. After high school, Clarence began a life of learning. He attended Kalamazoo College, but his life circumstances did not allow him to complete college in a traditional manner. He continued to enroll in college classes throughout his life, many for the simple joy of learning. Clarence survived the battles of the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and was decorated for bravery during his service to our country. His experiences provided him stories which he shared over the years with students and the community. He wrote and produced his own story of the war, which has been a best seller in Rockford ever since. He donated all proceeds of his book sales to the Rockford Area Historical Society and the Rockford Rotary Club. As a businessman, Clarence established his own business in Rockford which still thrives today. His business, first as Rockford Sheet Metal and later as Blakeslee & Son Inc., quickly earned a reputation for quality, service, fair pricing, and absolute honesty. Clarence was committed to the Rockford community. He served as president of the Rotary Club and was a charter member of the Rockford Community Foundation, now known as the Rockford Area Community Endowment. He was appointed by Gov. William Milliken to the State Plumbing Board. He was a founding member of the Rockford Area Historical Society, serving on its board for many years. He was inducted into the Rockford High School Sports Hall of Fame, and has been recognized for his community contributions by selection to the Pillars of Honor in Recognition Plaza at the Rockford Dam. His hobby of photography grew into a personal mission. He will be remembered by many with a camera or two hanging from his neck. He felt that photos captured our history while making subjects realize their importance in that history. His nickname of “Mr. Rockford” was well deserved.
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. 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. 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 […]
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU—All turning 94 this fall, these Rockford residents were honored at the Thursday, November 5 Rockford Historical Society meeting. Pictured are Norine Elkins, Hellen Hessler and Clarence Blakeslee. Blakeslee turned 94 the end of October while Hessler and Elkins have their birthdays coming up shortly. If you see these folks around town, be sure to wish them well. Clarence Blakeslee has long been known as Rockford’s most famous photographer. Always carrying a camera, he has literally taken thousands of pictures of Rockford people over the years. Blakeslee was also a political photographer and has taken hundreds of celebrity photographs. Many of his pictures are on display at the Rockford Squire, along with cameras from Blakeslee’s life-long hobby of collecting cameras. Stop by the Squire office at 331 Northland Drive during regular business hours to view the photos of such famous personalities as Gerald Ford, Ted Kennedy, Liz Taylor and Pearl Bailey.
by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL On a bluebird Friday afternoon, the first day of Rockford’s Annual Harvest Fest, the Bishop Hills Elder Care Community hosted its annual fall Petting Zoo. Present was guest of honor, Bishop Hills resident Clarence Blakeslee (Mr. Rockford). Clarence would never miss such a photo opportunity and he came, as always, equipped with a camera. Also present for the afternoon, in no particular order, were the critters from Rockford’s “Farm Animals on the Go”, the pre-schoolers and kindergarteners from Our Lady of Consolation School accompanied by classroom teachers, aides, and parents, and last but not least Jack Bolt, representing the Rockford Historical Society. Bolt was on hand to present Clarence with a copy of Images of America – Rockford, a pictorial book of Rockford’s history by author Roberta (Bobbi) Schirado. The author had personally inscribed the book and wrote on the title page, “To Clarence Blakeslee, a Dedicated Historian”. Clarence thanked Bolt and the Society for the book. He expressed great pleasure because the book was a pictorial history of Rockford. In a quote that couldn’t be more fitting Clarence said, “Pictures are the story of my life.” Indeed, for Clarence, they are. He was never seen about town without a camera, or two, or more hanging around his neck. Clarence spent decades of his life recording, in picture, the lives and times of his beloved Rockford. The presentation of the book was all the more appropriate because it was very likely that some of the pictures contained therein were taken by Clarence himself and donated at a later date to the Rockford Historical Society. Clarence Blakeslee will celebrate his 95th birthday on October 30 (the day before Halloween). He would love to hear from you. Birthday cards can be sent to Clarence, care of: Bishop Hills Elder Care Community, 4951 ll-Mile Road, Rockford, MI 49341.