John Boulette

John Boulette

The first child of a bartender and a hospital switchboard operator, John Joseph Michael Boulette made his appearance in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 2, 1930. As an avid fan of Clark Gable, his mother's main concern at the time was whether her new son's ears stuck out as far as those of the popular movie stars'. Eventually, two more boys and two girls would join this family and continue to call Worcester home. John still considers the influence of his mother and father as his greatest inspirations and role models. They were, he stated, very good parents who were truthful and always fair.

John's first brush with formal schooling came via a two room, local school that housed Kindergarten through Grade 2. John quickly advanced to First Grade, after only a month in Kindergarten after biting his teacher during an episode involving back-talk and soap. His public education continued until his enrollment in St. Peter's Catholic School in Fourth Grade. His was the typical parochial experience with dress codes and nuns who exacted a fierce course of discipline. John recalls how he was required to wear a crepe paper tie when he'd forgotten his at home and sometimes having to endure bobby pins to keep the hair out of his eyes. The nuns lived by the adage of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and running in the halls or throwing snowballs on the playground was usually rewarded with a sharp rap on the back of the hands with the metal edge of a ruler. John is quick to defend them, saying he got an excellent education and always deserved any punishment he got. He was a talented artist, who one time was strongly motivated by the nuns to draw pictures of angels in the corners of the school classrooms to make up for the offensive sketches he'd produced on the sly in his notebook.

In his sophomore year, John applied for and passed the exams that would have allowed him entrance into the Boy's Trade School where he could receive training as an electrician in their apprentice program. When Father Bell and Sister Charles Barromeyo got wind of his plan, his parents were called in and informed that if St. Peter's wasn't good enough for John, it wasn't good enough for his four younger brothers and sisters, either. Ultimately, John, who was sixteen at the time, was shown the door, subsequently allowing his siblings to continue their education in that school. Without a diploma and with limited resources, John worked at various jobs until, with his father's permission, joined the Navy at age seventeen. He received instruction in many areas, completing engine-man’s school, damage control school, fire control school, small boat and shallow diving and finally, after three years as a military man, leaving with the final rating of Engineer/Fireman. He'd managed to change divisions five times during his three year enlistment! Although he was offered compelling reasons to continue his service career, the Korean War was in full swing and he was convinced this was a future offering limited opportunities, so he chose to leave. When I asked him why he'd switched fields so often, John's response was, “I had an intense dislike of supervision. Ask me, don't tell me.”

Following the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, John decided to go to Alaska. He remembers having seen a television show the previous year that featured Nome and its boardwalks. Intrigued, he filed this bit of information away for another time. As a stationary steam engineer, he believed there would be work for him in Anchorage. He invited Shirley, his girlfriend at the time, (who would later become his wife) to accompany him on this adventure. She wasn't as enthusiastic as he was, but since John was going, with or without her, she bundled up their daughter, Diane, gathered their worldly possessions together, stuck a trailer hitch on her car (they'd sold John's and hers was the better vehicle), purchased a fifteen foot trailer and left life as they knew it behind in Oxnard, California. John, who could honestly be described as “geographically challenged,” led his small family “up North.” At the time, he was unaware that a huge barrier stood between Seattle and success… Canada! Arriving at the Alaska Border in the dark, they blew through Canadian Customs, completely oblivious of the requirement to check in. When they discovered their terrible mistake, they stopped briefly to buy milk for Diane, and then proceeded on to Tok where John spoke with a Trooper. John's main apprehension (besides the disturbing sight of seeing milk in a can for the first time in his life!) stemmed from the fact that he'd declared the possession of firearms at the U.S. Border in Washington. Surely this would have resulted in some sort of written record! This fact, however, was of no interest to Alaska's Finest, who simply pointed them down the road and out of his town. At Delta, the big question arose about whether to go left or right. Fearing cold weather and Goodness Knows What Else on the right hand, which surely would lead further north, they opted to go left and wound up in Anchorage. They went from park to park until finally finding a place to set up their tiny little trailer. While John did work around the court for the owner and pounded the streets looking for employment, Shirley found a job in a doughnut shop. This didn't pay much, but she was allowed to bring Diane to work with her and her salary covered the $15 a week space rental.

John connected with the State of Alaska, Unemployment and Job Service Office in Anchorage where he was told time and again, he “wasn't qualified.” Arrangements were made for John to apply for work on Eielson AFB. He flew to Fairbanks, and not having the slightest idea where Eielson was located in conjunction to Fairbanks, planned to walk to this meeting. A cab driver set him straight about how long it might take to hike and how much cab fare would run to go the 26 miles. Since John didn't have two nickels to rub together, it was clear a taxi was way out of his budget. He wound up taking a shuttle bus from the USO Club to the base and back before catching his return flight to Anchorage on Christmas Eve, 1964. Touching bases again with his Anchorage Job Service representative several weeks later, he learned that he had, indeed, been hired and WAS qualified this time for employment! So, after a long spell of doors being slammed in his face, John finally got his toe in the door and was officially hired in February 1965 as a boiler maker at the Eielson Power Plant. About three months later, John left Eielson to purchase the Maclaren River Lodge on the Denali Highway with a partner. One night that October, three feet of unexpected snow fell and the State of Alaska closed the road. This turned out like so many business ventures do. Somebody gets stuck holding the bag which normally contains mountains and mountains of bills. This time, it was John and Shirley's turn. They lost everything. Thankfully, John was rehired back at the Eielson Power Plant on a temporary assignment. In January 1966, a position as an equipment repairman in the Clear Air Force Base Power Plant opened up and John got the job. Shirley and Diane were living in Fairbanks by that time, so as long as there was ice on the Nenana River, John could come home on the weekends. Lacking a viable route, in the form of a bridge over the Nenana River, played havoc with travel arrangements! As the weather warmed, he often flew to Fairbanks with a friend who owned a plane.

After a shake-up at Clear in the summer of 1966, John decided to work closer to town as an upholsterer for a time and then moved on to Golden Valley Electric as an operator in the Healy Power Plant. It was here that John was able to put all those hours and courses to work as he supervised many aspects of that organization.

By 1971, John and Shirley had purchased a log home in North Pole on 4th Street and moved in with their daughter. The couple soon established themselves in the community and became leaders in many local clubs and groups. They, along with several other North Pole “movers and shakers,” were instrumental in the development and formation of Santa's Seniors. Both Boulettes served on the Board of Directors and as Santa's Seniors President. John can be credited with helping obtain a $75,000 grant which helped renovate the inside of the building we currently occupy and rent from the City of North Pole.

Many have benefited from John's time, involvement and generosity. He holds Life Memberships in the Eagles Lodge, Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo #4 and the Lion's Club. Few have attained the accolades and awards he has received as a result of his affiliation with them. Aside from being a Life Member for 42 years, he is proud to report that 30 of these were with the North Pole Club. He is also a three-time Past President, Past District Governor and Past Council Chairman. As a 32nd Degree Master Mason, he is a Charter Member of the North Pole Masonic Lodge and celebrates 50 years of service with that fraternal club. John is also a Shriner and belongs to NRA, the Interior Train Association and the American Legion. Nobody can accuse John Boulette of non-participation!

With John's extensive background, the City of North Pole hired him as the City Manager shortly after his move to North Pole. Under his supervision, city water and sewer lines were installed in the city limits for the first time. John also acted as the systems and building inspector. He served on City Council for three years and acted as Mayor Pro-tem. John stayed with the City until he left to work on the pipeline. In 1984, when he was fifty-four, John retired from the Operating Engineers.

With all his different interests and community involvement, John is most proud of the years he played the part of Santa for a poor village in the Mexican Yucatan. With the support of seven Lion's Clubs, an annual Christmas Party was held for over 400 children (no parents allowed!) ranging from 6-10 years of age. The cost of renting the hall, providing the gifts, food and entertainment were freely given by these generous benefactors. The excitement on the faces of the children who experience joy so rarely in their lives was a priceless experience and everlasting gift to all involved.

In his “spare” time, John enjoys leather work, photography and fishing. He plans to return to his oil painting very soon and looks forward to hunting this fall.

Although John will celebrate his 84th birthday this year, he is far from finished! A trip to Australia needs to be planned and his search for a suitable companion has yet to be fulfilled. He says he will remedy this situation once he is able to begin dancing again. Knowing John as I do, I have every confidence that in due time, these things will indeed, be accomplished.

Interview by Francie Cork

Santa's Senior Photo by Sharon Geese

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