Cortland man reflects on coincidences that led to peace movement

Tribune Chronicle / Burton Cole

Clyde, left, and Jean Bolinger leaf through photographs and news clips from their time as owners of The Book Nook in Warren and of the Trumbull County peace celebrations that Bolinger organized beginning in 2006.

Tribune Chronicle / Burton Cole Clyde, left, and Jean Bolinger leaf through photographs and news clips from their time as owners of The Book Nook in Warren and of the Trumbull County peace celebrations that Bolinger organized beginning in 2006.

CORTLAND — Why did Clyde Bolinger, at the age of 74, decide to start a peace movement in Cortland?

“The simplest explanation is that Cortland had been my home for over 20 years when God told me to start a peace initiative,” said Bolinger, now 84.

How Bolinger ended up in Cortland, and how he knew that God was calling him to start a peace initiative, involves what he describes as a series of “coincidences that are not coincidences.”

He said such coincidences explain how he and his wife, Jean, got together in the first place and how they ended up owning and running The Book Nook in Warren for 20 years.

Now he’s waiting for the next “coincidence” — someone to show up to take over organizing the annual peace celebration.

“In March, I ended up having a heart attack,” Clyde Bolinger said.

“That was his St. Patrick’s Day present,” Jean Bolinger said. “That’s why he’s looking for a younger person to take on the peace celebration.”

It will happen, Clyde said. It always does.

THREE CHANCE MEETINGS

“When I was a sophomore in college, I and some of my friends went to a high school football game,” Bolinger said. “We thought our alma mater was playing. As we went in, I saw this beautiful head majorette getting her band members into their seats before the game. I have to tell you, I was smitten by what I saw.”

That majorette was Jean, but Bolinger did not speak to her that night because he and his friends were at the wrong game.

“Our team wasn’t playing, so we left,” he said. “I would have loved to have had a chance to talk to her.”

One Saturday afternoon the following summer, Bolinger said he was at a beach at one of the Portage Lakes in south Akron. He and his friends often went there on Saturdays to throw a football to each other as they jumped off a floating dock near the beach. While resting between throws, Bolinger said, he spotted Jean on the beach with her father.

“That day was the only time my dad ever took me swimming,” Jean Bolinger said.

Clyde and his friends started their game again. After a while, Jean’s father joined the game. Jean finally tired of waiting for her dad and swam out to the dock. Clyde finally had his chance to talk to her. “We had a great conversation but at the end of it I learned that she was just about to turn 15,” Clyde said. “I was 20. She was too young.”

Clyde was crushed. A few days later, to get him out of his funk, his friends took him to an ice cream parlor. As they started to eat, Clyde looked toward the doorway to see three people entering — Jean and her parents. When Jean walked by his table, Clyde asked her to join him. The pair talked again, and Clyde decided, “You know, I don’t care how old she is. This is the one for me.”

He finally asked her out, and she agreed. They dated for four years and were married in 1956.

Sixty years later, Clyde said, “When I look back at it, I’m amazed at all we did, and Jean was in the middle of everything. I’d come up with the ideas and Jean made them work.”

A BOOKSTORE

NEAR CORTLAND

After Clyde’s two-year stint in the Air Force, the couple returned to Akron and started a family, welcoming four children in six years. They had every intention of living in the Akron area their entire lives, just as their parents had done. But that plan was foiled when Clyde’s company was bought and the acquiring company told him to move to Oakland, Calif.

Clyde wouldn’t go but he couldn’t find another job in the Akron area. In late 1966, the Bolingers moved to Oshkosh, Wis.

One summer day in 1968, Clyde came in from a swim in a channel behind the house to take a phone call. Dick Watts, the husband of Clyde’s sister Sandra, told Clyde that he and Sandra wanted to open a bookstore in Warren but their partner had backed out at the last minute. Dick and Sandra would lose their investment if they didn’t find a new partner.

Standing in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around him, Clyde had to make an on-the-spot decision. He explained the request to Jean. She didn’t say no and Clyde said something — or someone — told him to say yes.

Dick and Sandra got their money and the Bolingers bought a 30 percent interest in The Book Nook in Warren.

A year later, Clyde found a job in Wooster and the Bolinger family returned to Ohio. Two years later, they moved to Coshocton, and in 1981 they moved to Cortland. Their only connection to The Book Nook was the annual inventory process at the end of each July.

When a late 1982 layoff included Clyde, the Bolinger parents left their four adult children in northeast Ohio and moved to western Kentucky. Two years later, Clyde and Jean returned to the Warren area, eventually ending up a block from their previous home in Cortland.

The Book Nook was not doing well, and both Dick and Sandra wanted out of it. After a lot of discussion, Clyde and Jean decided to buy them out and run the store. Both fell in love with the business, and they enjoyed running The Book Nook for 20 years, during which time it became the leading bookstore in the area.

Eventually, big-box stores and discount chains ate deeply into the store’s margins and the Bolingers decided to close the doors on the book store in early 2005.

The next chapter in their lives began a few months later, when Clyde said he heard a call from God in an unusual way.

SONG THAT NEVER ENDS

Clyde said he attended church faithfully most of his adult life but for much of the time that he and Jean ran The Book Nook, he was not active in church. The first Sunday after the Bolingers closed the store, Clyde decided to return to church and rejoin the choir.

“It was almost as if I had never left,” he said.

One Sunday morning three months later, Clyde heard a melody in his head. It sounded familiar but he could not name it. When the organist entered the church sanctuary, Clyde hummed a few bars for her. She recognized the tune and went to get a copy of it from her files. The title of the song was “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me.”

The song played over and over in Clyde’s head the rest of that day. And the next day. And the next week. And the next month. The song plagued Clyde for nearly a year.

“I decided that the song was going to drive me nuts unless I did something to begin peace,” Clyde said. “But what could I do?”

After months of research, Clyde learned that every year the United Nations celebrates an International Day of Peace. This discovery caused a flood of ideas. He wrote them all down, and the concept of a peace celebration began to form. And the song finally stopped playing.

Clyde and Jean organized the first Trumbull County peace celebration in 2006 and have organized seven more since. The most recent celebration was at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Cortland, the place where Clyde first heard the song.

The Bolingers plan to continue promoting peace through peace rallies, through conversations, and online.

And Clyde will continue looking for coincidences to guide him.

Chris Bolinger of Hudson is the youngest of Clyde and Jean’s four children.

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