Memories of Clyde

A superstar, especially in sports and entertainment, is someone whose first name is automatically known. In our community for several decades, it’s been one name: Clyde. As in Clyde Turner, who left us last Tuesday morning at age 70. 

Instead of leaving town after his Gopher star playing days in the early ’70s, the Champaign, Ill. native built a second and most lasting legacy as a social worker and youth sports mentor.   

He used basketball as a hook and successfully pulled in thousands of Twin Cities boys and girls to his Clyde Turner Educational Basketball Camps from the mid-1980s through two decades of the 21st century.  

Only a pandemic and soon thereafter his failing health halted the area’s longest continuous running summer basketball camps at nearly 35 years.

Clyde refused to price kids out, so he tirelessly solicited funds for his camps, keeping them either free or very low cost to the camper and their families, whether they lived in Minneapolis or St. Paul or out in the suburbs.  

His camps stretched from their South Minneapolis origins to several area high schools, to as far as Annadale, Minn, at a campsite owned by a local Lutheran Church where Clyde for over a decade took busloads of kids to the country for a week at a time during the late summers. 

Campers were required to attend morning classes after breakfast, then basketball activities after lunch and dinner. Lake Sylvia was the first time some had swam in a non-pool. For many others, it was their first experience living in cabins miles away from the city.

Clyde also was the first to hold holiday camps each winter that used the seven principles of Kwanzaa, teaching basketball and life skills.

He didn’t spend money on mass advertising but instead used word-of-mouth from former campers to sell his camps each summer. Clyde refused to turn anyone away, and it didn’t matter if you played sports or not, he wanted to develop the total child, and help to prepare them for life. 

Getting a T-shirt at the end of the camp was a treasured prize for each participant for their attendance.

His legendary motto adorned the back of each colored shirt: Play Hard. Work Hard. Study Hard. Excel in Life. Beat the Odds.

Clyde touched so many lives without fanfare. He didn’t use his Gopher days as a rep. Instead, he used his heart.

“He was running Big Brothers Big Sisters at the time,” recalled Robert Mestas, a youngster at the time. “I was 10 years old when he introduced me to his camp at Chi Rho [in Annadale].  My mom and I both thought I was going for a week, just a traditional overnight camp. It was at that camp where I realized it was a basketball/slash academic camp.”

Mestas went on to later win Mr. Basketball, played bigtime college ball, and briefly overseas, before embarking on a successful teaching and coaching career. 

He, like many campers, returned and worked at Clyde’s camp as well. “I think about how much he prepared me for life,” Mestas said. “I think about how much he prepared me to be a man, to be accountable.”

Clyde didn’t pretend to be perfect. “The only thing I will say about him was he was absolutely authentic,” noted Craig LeSuer, now a school principal in Kalamazoo, Mich. He was in Clyde’s original senior administration. “Even if he was telling you something that you did right or you didn’t want to hear, you have to respect the fact that you know he was talking to you from his heart,” said LeSuer, who told me last week that there are enough Clyde stories to fill a library.  “[He] cuss you out [and then] hug you,” he recalled.

In September, Clyde will be inducted into his alma mater’s “M” Club Hall of Fame, school officials told us last week.

Those of us who knew, worked with, attended his camps, or were otherwise acquainted with him will say our final goodbyes to Clyde on Saturday afternoon, August 20 at his homegoing services at Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel. There are not enough words to comfort us at this time, but our memories will forever.

His real legacy will be forever known in this community by a single word: Clyde.