LAKE LINDEN - In recent years, Clarence Monette gave a consistent reply to his many friends when they asked him how he was doing.
"Crabby, ornery and hard to get along with," he would say with a customary wry smile.
In truth, Monette got along with many people, attested by his service to a lengthy list of organizations including 4-H, Boy Scouts, the Lake Linden-Hubbell Sportsmen's Association and numerous local and statewide historical groups.
Monette, 77, died Tuesday at GardenView Assisted Living and Memory Care in Calumet.
A Lake Linden native, Monette graduated from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School and served in the U.S. Army following graduation. After his service, he worked as a U.S. Army ROTC instructor at Michigan Technological University until his retirement in 1988. He lived most of his life in the same house on Ninth Street in which he was born.
In 1960, he became a Boy Scout Scoutmaster for the Hiawathaland Council of the Boy Scouts, and was honored in 1976 as Scoutmaster of the Year. From the 1970s through the '90s, he held several offices in the Houghton/Keweenaw 4-H Council and oversaw the maintenance of the youth exhibits building acquired by the Houghton County Fair Board in August 1990. By the time of the next county fair in August, 1991, Monette had spent the winter making brightly colored flags and drawing clowns and animals onto the interior walls to make the building more inviting for children and other fairgoers.
"I didn't know I could draw," Monette told The Daily Mining Gazette for an Aug. 17, 1991 article. "It's also amazing what you can do with no money."
That second statement summed up Monette's philosophy when it came to helping local nonprofit organizations on shoestring or non-existent budgets.
In managing the deconsecrated Church of the Assumption in Phoenix for the Keweenaw County Historical Society, an organization he helped found in 1980, Monette often looked for ways to decorate the interior without spending a fortune to do so.
One day he was making his way back to the church in Phoenix with a pair of mannequins he had purchased at a secondhand store in Houghton when his aging station wagon was pulled over by a Keweenaw County sheriff's deputy.
"He was concerned by the fact I had two people, naked no less, lying in the back of my car," Monette told friends. "He told me I should probably put a blanket over them."
Keweenaw County Sheriff Ron Lahti said he didn't recall the story, but "knowing Clarence, it sounded plausible." Lahti said this year for the first time he was taking over Monette's job of putting Christmas lights on the trees near the church.
The lights have become a symbol of Monette's love for the area, said friend Tony Bausano.
"You can't help but go by the church in Phoenix without thinking of Clarence," Bausano said. "Every person in Keweenaw County knew it was Clarence putting the lights on the Christmas tree."
Bausano, owner of Copper World in Calumet, said he began selling Monette's books in 1974, the year Monette published "Cor-Ago," his first book of 56 on the topic of Copper Country history. Since then, many customers return to buy every book in the series as soon as they are published, he said.
"Most people will tell you that they learned more about the little town they grew up in by reading Clarence's books than they did growing up there," Bausano said.
In book signings, people found Clarence knowledgeable and personable, he said. Bausano said Monette was a creature of habit when it came to visiting the store.
"He always had some big car, and he always had a dog that would ride in the front seat," Bausano said. "The dog ate better than he did, and they always stopped at the Burger King drive-through so the dog could have a burger when they came to Calumet."
When Monette retired as editor of the Keweenaw County Historical Society's Superior Signal newsletter, a post he held for 14 years, succeeding editor Paul Freshwater published a tribute to Monette's inspirational legacy of civic accomplishment.
"Clarence Monette, more than any other living person," Freshwater wrote, "seems to embody the history of Michigan's Copper Country."
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Linden. Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Pearce Funeral Home in Lake Linden.
Online condolences may be left at pearcefuneralhome.com.