They buried Matt Boles today.
Matt was 18, a year older than Katherine, a year younger than Andrew, and someone whom the family has known for at least 10 years.
Even as an 8- or 9-year-old, this boy was “The Matt Boles.”
The connection comes through Scouting. Back in those days, I was a Scoutmaster, and I got drafted to join the staff of a series of Cub Scout weekend camps. Those are fun, and that’s where I met the Boles family, even before moving to Mt. Pleasant.
Val Boles, Matt’s mother, also was a staffer.For the next five years or so, I’d run the shooting range and Val would run the archery range about five times a summer at Camp Rotary and Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation. Our kids were part of what was called “Half Staff.”
The Half Staff did a lot of things – including being part of the Saturday night lakeshore campfires. These were amazing events, and a big reason was the way this charismatic kid could dominate the scene.
It seemed inborn. He had no fear of performance, and he was willing to do the most audacious things. Matt looked good in a dress – and that was guaranteed to bring down the house.
He loved it.
Matt didn’t appear to be afraid of anything. Fear usually is what holds people back, but that wasn’t part of his makeup. The stories at his wake Thursday night reminded me a lot of the way Tom Wolfe described test pilots in “The Right Stuff,” but applied to the arts and business.
I’ve been to larger funeral gatherings for young people, but only for soldiers and Marines killed in action. Many of the people who turn out for those events are there to honor their country more than honor the decedent. These people turned out for Matt Thursday night and Friday.
All three big rooms at Clark Funeral Chapel in Mt. Pleasant were filled to capacity. The Clarks ran out of chairs, and people sat on the floor. Friends that Matt had known at Mt. Pleasant High School, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and through Scouting told stories.
Matt could be arrogant, but it always was softened with humor. He could be persistent, but it was always gentle. Mostly, he was audacious and didn’t let himself get in his way.
The story was told about how he put together a group of kids who, late one night, knocked on a favorite teacher’s door unannounced and declared they would be camping in her back yard. She let them. Matt cooked pancakes in the morning.
Another story came out about how Matt had planned for weeks to surprise and “kidnap” a friend on her 17th birthday. He had it planned down to the last detail – except for the state trooper who wanted to know why he was carrying off a blindfolded teenage girl.
Matt often would call a girl and say “I’ll be there in 10 minutes. You have to come with me. Look cute.” Somehow, the girls said yes and their dads gave their blessing, at least most of the time.
People who are effective at getting things done often bend the rules, and Matt sometimes twisted them into knots. But he did it with such charm and effectiveness that few people were offended.
He was effective – that’s how he helped keep Mt. Pleasant High’s 2009 graduation in Rose Arena, despite a lack of school funding. That’s how he was named to the staff at the Scouts’ National Youth Leadership Training program. That’s how he convinced Mt. Pleasant High to present “Cannibal, the Musical” – “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh Eating!”
His goal had been to head to law school. After all, if you’re going to bend the rules, you need to know the rules.
But something freaky, bad and still unexplained stopped him in the middle of Hall’s Lake last weekend. He was following the rules – a boat was trailing him as he swam, the people got him out of the water when he got into trouble and got help fast.
It wasn’t enough.
So many people’s lives really start when they head to college, shed their childish fears, claim their dreams and remake themselves. Matt’s had already begun.
The tears flowed when the song “For Good” from “Wicked” was played:
“So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...
"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good."
“I’m sure Matt’s looking down at us,” one speaker said, “and laughing. Ha-ha! Made you cry!”