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Not a Buick, not a float: It's a cause

Clyde Larsen checks out the '77 Buick. It's a LeSabre, nearly 17 feet long from fin to grill.

Yep, it'll do.Within two weeks and a little luck it will be transformed -- from boat to float.

This isn't Clyde's specialty. He usually builds bigger things, like gymnasiums and churches.

As a matter of fact, it will be the first large-scale parade float he's ever built.

But how hard can it be? Framing is framing, right? Board up the sides, attach the crepe paper, add the big papier-mache world, leave a hole for the driver to see through, and cross your fingers.

"Guess I'll get started," Clyde says to the Special Olympics officials looking on, staring at the Buick with the roof chopped off.

Someone mentions that the architect hasn't arrived.

Clyde grins. Guess he'll really get started.

The Special Olympics float will, heaven willing, be one of 60 floats entered in this year's Days of '47 Parade, scheduled, as always, for downtown Salt Lake City on July 24th.

The estimated 200,000 people lining the parade route and the vast regional television audience will watch it float by, unaware that's a Buick chassis underneath it all, or that Clyde Larsen built it.

Or that Ross Viehweg is the architect. Or that Verle Perry is the engineer. Or that Roger Hollingshead chopped the top off. Or that Dan White of Anderson Lumber donated the wood for the frame. Or that Doug Smith of Doug Smith Chrysler-Plymouth donated the Buick. Or that Vern Hillyard managed to drive the chassis from American Fork to South Salt Lake without a windshield and without getting a ticket.

Or that Chris Matthews and Matt Jensen donated the vacant 200,000 square foot warehouse to do all the work.

Or that Julia Reagan of Reagan Outdoor Advertising agreed to underwrite the venture.

Or -- and especially this -- that Phyllis Hillyard cracked the whip that inspired all of the above to become "volunteers."

Nothing ever flies without somebody on the ground wielding the whip.

It's not the float, it's the cause.

Without the official Days of '47 Special Olympics float it wouldn't be possible to set the stage for Utah's Special Olympians upon their triumphant return from the World Games.

As J.D. Donnelly, the executive director of Utah Special Olympics, said, "It's as close to a ticker-tape parade as we can get here in Utah."

This Thursday, 44 Utah Special Olympians will leave for North Carolina to compete because of and in spite of their handicaps at the World Games.

There, they will be welcomed by Michael Jordan and, along with some 7,000 of their special athletic peers from around the world, cheered on by thousands, including more than 35,000 volunteers.

When they return home, nine of them will ride on the float that Clyde built and show off their medals.

He's a builder, so he worries.

Specifically, Clyde Larsen worries about the weight.

They want at least a dozen people to ride on the float, counting the driver. That's a lot, if you ask him.

"Think if you crammed 12 people in this Buick," he said. "What would it look like going down the street?"

But of course nobody listens to the builder, as they all hover around the architect's drawings and dream of parade day, when the Special Olympians, every one a champion, will ride down Main Street and win the heart of all those watching.

"It's going to be really beautiful," says Phyllis Hillyard.

Clyde nods and starts to measure.

Send e-mail to, fax 801-237-2527. Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.