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Chuck White: 90 years young and celebrating

Chuck White, River Falls resident who will soon celebrate his 90th birthday, is shown in his office before the wall with all of his military medals and commendations. Photo courtesy of Milt Helmer

There are two important events coming up in October to honor a River Falls man who is truly one of a kind.

You see, Charles E. White (Chuck to his friends) will be celebrating his 90th birthday in November and his son-in-law Fred Benson has organized two events to honor this River Falls

icon. One event is open to the public and will be held 2-5 p.m. Oct. 14 at the River Falls American Legion. Social hour at 5, complimentary dinner by Juniors at 6 with a program to follow dinner. If you plan to attend, RSVP to Fred Benson by Oct. 10 at 715-425-5083. The other is a special event at 7 p.m Oct. 30 at the American Legion, hosted by brothers from his beloved Masonic fraternity.

They both promise to be gala affairs, since many in River Falls have been touched by this man for nine decades.

In preparing this story, I was invited into his office at his home in River Falls. The office is lined

with scores of 3-ring binders, each a chapter in White's colorful life. When we first sat down I was presented with a baby book showing White's date of birth, weight, etc. The record shows White was a big guy, even at birth. But it also demonstrated his passion for being organized.

The history of the White family began with his great-grandfather, Jay Spenser White who,

records show, was a charter member of Northwestern Lodge in Prescott. In fact, he was the

only man in the White family line to become a Mason until Chuck decided to join.

The family tree continued with Jay's son, Ferris White. He was an attorney but surprisingly did not go to law school. Ferris learned on the job and was an outstanding lawyer, according to Chuck. Ferris married the daughter of Joel Foster in 1892. Foster was said to be the first settler

in River Falls. So the White lineage goes way back to the founding of River Falls.

Ferris' son was Kenneth, Chuck's father. Kenneth White went on to become a state senator and

judge.

Chuck was one of three children. Brother Jack, also a lawyer who died at age 74 and Roger, who died when he was 49.

The White family grew up on Dallas Street in River Falls.

"When other people had dogs, we had a Shetland pony that we kept in the lower pasture near the railroad tracks," White said. "We enjoyed many adventures with that pony."

It is in the area now known as the White Pathway.

Chuck was born in 1928 just before the Great Depression and attended River Falls High School, graduating in 1945. He attended the River Falls Teachers College for one year right out of high school. He wanted to study law and his family said, "Why go all the way to Madison when

you can get all you need right here in River Falls?

Chuck understood that was possible but since he signed onto the ROTC in Madison training as

an infantry commander, he chose the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He went on to earn his

Bachelor's degree in 1949 and his law degree in 1951.

Like most young men of his era, he joined the Army and was sent to Korea about the time the

truce came down. As Chuck said with tongue in cheek, "The North Koreans were so afraid of my coming, they called a truce."

While in Korea, the word came down to HQ that there was a soldier in a unit who was an attorney, so he was transferred to JAG headquarters where he served in the Judge Advocate

General trying Court Marshals and other military legal matters. His service in this capacity earned him the Bronze Star for service above and beyond the call of duty.

His wife Ruth Anne, commenting on his wall of medals and awards said, "Douglas MacArthur has more medals." She was helping keep her husband humble.

White spent 42 years practicing law in River Falls and retired in 1985.

Before going into the service Chuck had mentioned to Elmer Benson he was interested in joining the Masons. Dave Benson showed up at his door with a petition and he joined before

going into the military. He started in the chairs in 1955 right after coming home from Korea.

Elmer Benson's son Dave was his mentor and he learned the work letter perfect.

Chuck served in the East as master of the River Falls Lodge 109 in 1961 and was well known

for his degree work.

Since he was so proficient in the Masonic work Chuck was invited to grand line and rose to become Grand Master in 1970/71. He took a year off of his law practice to travel the state for the Grand Lodge. After his year as Grand Master, he went on to serve on the Jurisprudence

Committee, helping future Grand Masters with their technical responsibilities.

His lifetime work also earned him his 33 degree in Boston in 1972 and was awarded the Order

of the Purple Cross in the York Rite in 1988.

White's list of honors and accomplishments in the Masonic fraternity are too long to list.

He served as chancellor of the Episcopal diocese of Eau Claire for nine years and a member of the Board of Directors of the First National bank for 14 years.

These are all very impressive, however Chuck is most recognized for his quiet, low key support

in the community.

Chuck has been married three times. The first two wives died and the third, Ruth Anne, he married 14 years ago. Chuck said "We are still on our honeymoon."

The story of how they met was interesting. Dave Benson was dating Ruth Anne and Chuck and Dave were traveling in the southern part of the state. Dave wanted to pick up his girlfriend in Viroqua along the way. They became friends and when Dave Benson died Chuck married Ruth Anne.

The public is cordially invited to come celebrate Chuck White's remarkable life.

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