The Legendary Lanphears

The following story (editorial) appeared in the Madison Magazine online on April 9, 2018 featuring classmate “Charlie” Lanphear.  Read on…….



The Legendary Lanphears

Dan, 80, oldest of three brothers, died March 23

Photo courtesy of the Lanphear family

Dan Lanphear was recognized at Camp Randall upon his 2010 induction into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.

I met Dan Lanphear only once, in the Avenue Bar on East Washington Avenue in the summer of 2002, before the Avenue got gentrified into the Avenue Club.I knew about Dan, though. He was a Madison native and an All-American lineman for the football Badgers in 1959. The team went to the Rose Bowl that season, and Dan was drafted by the pros. He won a championship with the Houston Oilers of the old AFL before settling into a successful business career in the Chicago area.

Dan, who died March 23, at 80, was the most conventionally accomplished of the Lanphear clan. He was a family man, devoted to his wife, Alice, and two daughters from his first marriage. He was friendly, and I enjoyed meeting him very much. Yet I remember thinking that day at the Avenue 16 years ago that the entire family was basically unforgettable.The 2002 gathering at the Avenue was a memorial for Dan’s youngest brother, Philip Lanphear, dead at 57 of a cancer diagnosed in the mid 1980s, when doctors gave Phil maybe a year to live. There were some who thought Phil was just too tough to die. He was smart but not ambitious, wholly unbound by what Jim Harrison called the bondage of the appropriate.

Phil was a bouncer and bartender at The Dangle, the famous East Main Street strip joint in the shadow of the Capitol. He once put a bullet into The Dangle’s ceiling, when a gun he carried but never needed discharged accidentally.

“What happened?” owner Al Reichenberger asked.

“It went off,” Phil said.

Al once told me that over 17 years Phil never once was late or called in sick.

I may have been relating the ceiling shooting story to someone at Phil’s memorial when I looked across the Avenue’s main room and saw the middle Lanphear brother, Charles, grinning at me.

Charlie is the freest spirit of all. He’s also the one I know best.What I didn’t know until much later is that the Lanphears lived just half a block from me on Woodside Terrace when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s.

I’m sure they would have scared me then. The brothers’ dad, George Lanphear, was a Beloit native who lettered in baseball, basketball and football at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After coaching at Ripon College, he returned to Madison as freshman football coach for the Badgers. I wrote about George, decades later, in my book on the rise and fall of college boxing. George was the ring announcer for the bouts at the Field House that drew over 14,000 fans.

Now, about my friend Charlie.

When The Dangle closed, Phil began to captain a bar stool around the corner at the Fess on East Doty Street, now the Great Dane. It seemed everybody went to the Fess in those days. The Madison Magazine offices were upstairs.

The Fess was conducive to storytelling, and I kept hearing tales — not from Phil, but others at the bar — about the wildly adventurous life of a Madison guy who joined the Marines out of West High, and later circled the world on a sailboat until he was jailed in Singapore on a weapons charge. That was the talk surrounding Charlie Lanphear.

Of course I knew I needed to talk to him.

The Madison Magazine editor, Jim Selk, a rogue willing to play a hunch, sent me on assignment to the mountains outside Aspen to write a profile of Charlie Lanphear. It was the magazine’s December 1988 cover story. We titled it “The Last Pirate.”

The truth of Charlie’s life was a little less colorful than the stories, but still colorful enough. There were people with money in Aspen who liked to travel and appreciated having someone around who could handle himself in any situation. Charlie showed me a newspaper clipping from The Strait Times, an English-language daily in Singapore. He’d had guns on the sailboat for protection. It was illegal to have guns in Singapore: He faced two years in prison or an $8,000 fine. Friends wired the money from the U.S.

We stayed in touch after my story on him was published. Charlie spent time in Hawaii, working construction and living in a refurbished shack on a banana plantation. When I saw him at Phil’s memorial at the Avenue, he said he was going to put a kayak on the top of his van and drive to Alaska.

For the past decade Charlie has lived in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He bikes or hikes every morning.

I guess what strikes me about all three brothers is how different they were, yet each was determined to live on his own terms, and did.

Dan’s daughter, Andrea, sent Charlie a note the day her father died. “Couldn’t have asked for a better father.”

Charlie wrote back: “I was out on my mountain bike thinking about him when he left. Couldn’t have asked for a better big brother.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.

This entry was posted in Classmate News, Classmate Related, News Clips. Bookmark the permalink.

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