To those that know him, Roscoe Bolton embodies the Rotarian’s best-known motto, “Service above self.” At 98 years old, Bolton, a Rotary member since 1935, was recently honored as being the “oldest active Rotarian” in the world. He and Sue Bolton, his wife of 25 years and an honorary Rotarian, are active in the Alexandria Rotary Club, “where they never miss a meeting.” Roscoe has served in the Alexandria Rotary Club for more than 75 years.
Rotary Clubs are known for their business networking and humanitarian service. In the business realm, Bolton says, “Service means everything,” and that philosophy helped him become successful in his business endeavors. That philosophy was engrained in him and stressed throughout his life by his parents, Roscoe C. and Merle Bolton. Roscoe was born and raised in Alexandria. He attended Bolton High School, where he served as the baseball team manager. At that time, high school only went to the eleventh grade. After graduating at age 16 in 1929, Bolton attended Louisiana College in Pineville for one year. Then Bolton studied insurance and finance at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. He has fond memories of his college years. “I was the coxswain on the Wharton crew team, the rowing team. The coxswain is in charge of the navigation and steering. At the end of the rowing season, we would go to Poughkeepsie, New York for the International Rowing Association Competition on the Hudson River for a four-mile race. Those were some good times,” Bolton, recalls with a smile.
For four summers during his college years, Bolton attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana, where he experienced military training. Bolton says he realizes it was a privilege to be able to attend college during the 1930s depression. His father paid $1,800 for his college tuition and board. To attend, he traveled by train from Alexandria to Little Rock, Arkansas. There, he switched trains to journey on to Philadelphia. Bolton says he remembers being the only one in the Pullman sleeper car. “Roosevelt had been elected and was inaugurated. He declared a week-long bank holiday where all the banks in the nation had to close for a week to stop the runs on them. During my last year in college, my dad sent me a post office money order for $50.00 that I could cash at a post office. He said, ‘Son, make this last a long time because I don’t know when I’ll be able to send you more.’ And it did last me a good while,” Bolton remembers.
In 1933, Bolton earned his bachelor’s degree in economics. After graduation, he went to work with his father at the Alexander & Bolton insurance company in Alexandria. In 1911, his father had started in the insurance business with Richard Lewis. In 1912, their firm merged with the J. W. Alexander Insurance Agency, which was created in 1890. In 1926, Lewis resigned, and the firm became the Alexander & Bolton, Inc. Bolton handled claims, worked in the office and started learning the business of selling insurance. At first, his major clients were lumber companies. In 1935, Bolton married his high school sweetheart, Lurlene Blackwood. The couple eventually had two children, Suzanne and Thomas. At that time, Alexander & Bolton was located on the ground floor of the old Rapides Bank building in downtown Alexandria. In 1961, the firm built a new office on Jackson Street. “The insurance business and me were a perfect fit,” Bolton says.
His life took a dramatic turn in December 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States declared war on Japan. Bolton, who says he is “very patriotic,” volunteered in January 1942 to serve in the Navy. He was commissioned to serve as a lieutenant junior grade and ordered to report to duty in March 1942 to serve in New Orleans. Later, he was assigned as the commanding officer at the U.S. Navy section base, Burrwood, at the base of the Mississippi River. Eventually, he received orders to the West Coast for combat training, and later shipped out to the Philippines. As a captain, he was second in command at his post in the Philippines.
After serving four years in the Navy, Bolton returned to work at Alexander & Bolton. Through hard work, Bolton says he became the vice president of the insurance firm. In 1984, Lurlene, his wife of 49 years, passed away. In 1987, Bolton’s father passed away, and Bolton became the president and chief executive officer of Alexander & Bolton. In 2008, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Louisiana honored Bolton with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In December 2008, after more than 75 years in the insurance business, Bolton retired and sold his insurance firm to Brown and Brown, Inc. “It feels wonderful to retire,” Bolton admits, while flashing a grin to his wife, Sue, but adds that Brown & Brown executives have let him keep his CEO office at the building. “It was really hard for him to let loose of the company after so many years,” Sue notes.
Sue, a native of Winnfield, first met Bolton while working for his insurance firm. She started working as an underwriter for commercial accounts at Alexander & Bolton in 1967, and retired when her husband sold the business in 2008. The two have been married for 25 years. “Roc, that’s Roscoe’s nickname, has always been a rock to his family, dependable, level-headed, he makes you feel secure,” Sue adds.
Besides spending time with their nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, Roscoe and Sue through the years have enjoyed waltzing and doing the fox-trot at the dances sponsored by the Magnolia Dance Club. “Roc is a very good dancer. He was always first on the dance floor and the last off,” Sue remarks, adding that Roscoe danced up until he was 90 years old. She fondly recalls traveling and dining and dancing in Boston and in Honolulu, among other cities.
A hip replacement in 2003 and a broken femur bone in 2005 slowed Roscoe down a bit, but Roscoe says he recovered. And even though he is 98, Roscoe says he still works out at the gym. He has plans to stay active in the community, too. As a former president of the Alexandria-Pineville Chamber of Commerce, Bolton believes in “giving back” to the community and promoting Central Louisiana. He was also key in working on the Alexandria city charter. Both Roscoe and Sue are active in their church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria. Sue is a deacon and teaches Sunday School. In a true Rotarian “spirit,” both Sue and Roscoe say they plan to always be active in the Rotary Club, helping to serve any way they can. The Boltons are embracing life, and are looking forward to Roscoe celebrating 100 years.