Larger than life
For Jim Boyer, life was about truly living.
It meant stopping on the way to somewhere else to see the largest catsup bottle in the world, offering to show a family from Australia around Las Vegas and giving plumbing advice to someone at Fleet Farm.
“He just loved life, and if there was something out there to see, he was going to see it,” Joyce said of her husband. “What you saw is what he was.”
The former mayor of Waupaca and longtime public servant passed away on Dec. 5 at the age of 73 after being diagnosed several months ago with mesothelioma.
Born and raised in Illinois, he, Joyce and their children moved to Waupaca in 1967.
Boyer was a Waupaca police officer for five years and owned Boyer Plumbing for more than 35 years.
Eventually, he became involved in local politics.
He was Waupaca’s mayor from 1986 to 1994, served a total of 16 years on the Common Council and was elected three times to the Waupaca County Board.
During Boyer’s tenure as mayor, his daughter, Deb Fenske, was on the Common Council.
“They didn’t always see eye to eye,” Joyce said.
That included when Boyer supported building a new city hall and library instead of remodeling the 100-year-old courthouse on the city square.
“When the county decided to build a new courthouse, they decided to give the old one to the city,” Joyce said. “There was another faction that decided the city should tear it down. Jim and Deb were on the same side. He wanted to preserve it and save the taxpayers money.”
But, when Boyer received a call one day, and engineers showed him there were structural defects in the old courthouse, he realized the building could not be preserved.
“He gave a statement to the radio station that day that he was going to be in favor a new building,” Joyce said.
After Deb heard her father on the radio, she called her mother and said, “I can’t believe he did this.”
Joyce soon switched the conservation to a different subject – Jim needed a haircut and wondered if Deb could give him one that night.
Deb paused and replied, “You tell him I’m not mad at my dad. I’m made at the mayor.”
She said that was definitely their biggest disagreement.
Deb served on the council four years while her father was mayor.
He left local politics for awhile.
When he returned to the Common Council several years ago, he ended up sitting right next to his daughter.
“It was interesting sitting next to him. My biggest problem was what to call him,” she said.
Deb and her brothers, Robert and Tom, were all brought up to express their opinions. And, with one a Republican, one a Democrat and one an independent, they did.
But they were never allowed to talk politics at the dinner table.
Deb said like her father, she is blunt.
The lessons she learned from him included to not mess with other people’s money and to always think of others and safety first.
He taught Deb how to throw and kick a football, how to throw a baseball and how to golf.
“He would tell me I could do whatever I wanted to do,” she said.
Robert said, “My dad showed me by his actions what it meant to be a father. Every fall afternoon during my high school days, Dad would be out in the field, in his plumbing truck, watching my football practice. He never interfered. He was there to show he would always be there for me and wanted to be part of my life. I can only hope I can be as good a husband,a dad and a friend as Jim Boyer was.”
Tom said, “My father, through his actions, showed me how to be compassionate. He was not content to sit back and wait for opportunities to help others. He would consistently look for ways to help others that were either less fortunate, couldn’t help themselves or were too proud to ask for help.
“Whether he was involved in a large community construction project funded by federal, state and local tax dollars or simply sitting with someone who was alone in the world and just wanted someone to talk with, if it improved the lives of others, even by the smallest actions, he was always there. He became someone people could trust and someone they could rely on.”
Joyce said he adored their grandchildren, Brett, Chris, Alyssa, Allison and Daniel.
Boyer loved traveling and going to rummage sales. He was a fan of the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs.
Those who served in local government with Boyer also shared stories about him.
Mayor Brian Smith was on the council with Boyer in the late 1990s.
“I remember when we used to sit together on council. We had wagers on when people would show up or how long the meeting would go,” Smith said.
Smith said Boyer was a reasonable person to work with.
“It’s probably an old used cliche, but he always had the best interest of the taxpayers in mind,” he said. “I really liked hearing stories from him and Joyce about going to Las Vegas every year. They were very funny. They were experts on having a great time on a low budget.”
Smith said Boyer helped him realize being in politics can be rewarding.
“I only remember very fond memories of him. And, when he gave me advice, I didn’t realize he was giving me advice. You didn’t feel like he was your father or your boss. It was just his way of doing things,” he said.
City Administrator Henry Veleker got to know Boyer in 2005 when planning began for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration, which took place in 2007.
“He was very animated. He had a knowledge of our history even though he was not a Waupaca native,” Veleker said.
He said as a council member, Boyer was always the one who would question things.
Joyce said he did his research.
In addition to the new city hall and library, she believes the major accomplishments which took place during his tenure as mayor were the development of West Fulton Street and the expansion of U.S. Highway 10 to four lanes.
In 1999, he was named “Waupaca’s Mayor of the Century” by the Appleton Post Crescent.
When he was mayor, Joyce wrote his speeches. He often strayed from what she wrote.
They were high school sweethearts and were married 52 years.
When they traveled, he drove and she looked at the map.
During a trip to Yosemite National Park, Joyce noticed a small town named Darrah on the map.
Since that is her maiden name, they decided to go out of their way to visit it and snap a few pictures.
When they came upon Darrah Road, they learned the road was under construction.
They took a picture of the road sign and decided to turn around.
As they headed back out on their journey, Joyce’s eyes returned to the map.
Suddenly, he told her to look ahead.
Before them was a sign for Boyer Road.
“I knew we were meant to see these roads together,” she said. “We were best buds. We were inseparable. I felt so blessed to be married to him. I felt adored every day of my life. It was true. We were a team.”