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Clayton Rautbord, 85, checked everything off his bucket list


Clayton Rautbord

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Updated: August 24, 2013 6:36AM

Clayton Rautbord was the kind of person who had checked everything off his bucket list.

He raced boats, flew planes, skied, scuba-dived, played golf, founded a hotel chain and other businesses; opened a Chinese restaurant on a whim because he wanted a good Asian eatery close to home; had a happy marriage with his fourth wife, Vicki Rautbord, and stayed on good terms with his exes.

Mr. Rautbord, 85, a longtime North Shore resident, died last month at his home in Atlantis, Fla., of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

He went to Nettelhorst School, 3252 N. Broadway, and St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wis. (Schoolmate Dan Rostenkowski, who became a U.S. congressman, was “Rosty” and Clayton was known as “Rowdy.”) He received a degree in industrial administration from the University of Illinois.

His father, Sam, owned APECO (American Photocopy Equipment Company), which started out strong until it was overtaken by competitors like Xerox. The family owned a summer home in McHenry and belonged to the Green Acres Country Club in Northbrook. Clayton caddied at the McHenry Country Club.

As a young man, he was hit with a triple loss. His first wife, Helene Rubin, his college sweetheart, lost her battle with cancer after giving birth to twins — one of whom died at the age of 9 months. He lost his mother, Evelyn, around the same time, said his wife, Vicki Rautbord.

Later, he wed Audrey Becker, and Chicago socialite Donna “Sugar” Kaplan. They all remained friendly. At the wedding of Lauren, his daughter with Audrey, all three women — Vicki Rautbord, Audrey Kaufman, and Sugar Rautbord — stood behind him.

Twenty-six years ago, Vicki Rautbord called Clayton, a longtime family friend, when she was getting a divorce. She recounted their conversation.

“He said, ‘You can’t get divorced. You guys make a great couple.’ ’’

“I said, ‘I’m getting divorced.’ ”

“He said, ‘You sure?’ ”

“ ‘I’m positive.’ ”

“He said, ‘Ok, you want to go out?’ ”

They wed 19 years ago and lived in Atlantis, where they boated, played golf and flew.

Mr. Rautbord learned to fly when he was about 17, his wife said. He piloted his own aircraft, a nine-passenger Jet Commander.

“He flew all the kids to Europe,” said Sugar Rautbord. “None of us could use the bathroom, because he usually kept his golf clubs in there.”

His younger brother, Bobby, a world-champion powerboat racer, owned a lime-green helicopter that was about the only thing Mr. Rautbord wouldn’t fly, according to his wife. It was just too different from planes.

In 1951, Mr. Rautbord founded Clayton Chemicals to produce the substances needed for APECO copy machines. The company merged with APECO in 1957, his wife said. He also started the Midwest-based Clayton House hotel chain, as well as a restaurant called Pizza Plus.

In 1968, Mr. Rautbord bought the boatmaker Magnum Marine and won a Miami-Nassau race with a Magnum outboard, Super Stat, named for an APECO copier, his wife said.

Later, he sold luxury condos in Chicago.

More than 50 years ago, he and a friend, Chuck Wenk, opened Charlie Wenk’s Chinese restaurant in Highland Park by recruiting a chef from Chicago’s old Shangri-La restaurant. Wenk wrote about their adventures in the Highland Park News, which included the challenge of being owners who didn’t speak any Chinese dialect—and having cooks who didn’t speak any English.

In Atlantis, Mr. Rautbord and his wife became partners with Wenk, operating Wenk Aviation and Marine Insurance.

Mr. Rautbord also was a member of Briarwood Country Club in Deerfield.He loved the music of Gloria Estefan, and Chuck Norris’ roundhouse-kick fest “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He also watched the soap operas and discussed them with his stepdaughter, Molly Diers.

Even late in life, he remained tall and erect. “I just thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world,” Vicki Rautbord said. He epitomized Palm Beach style in his pink cashmere sportcoat, neck scarf, white Gucci loafers with no socks, a drink in hand.

After a stroke 18 years ago, he thought gin martinis “made his brain a little soft,” she said, so he switched to J&B on the rocks.

In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, Mr. Rautbord is also survived by his children, Nancy Cranford; Scott Rautbord; Linda Jacobs; Lauren Rautbord, Suzanne Kreis and Michael Rautbord; 15 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

A celebration of his life was held.

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