A Sad Goodbye to Uncle John

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

October 15, 2017


My pen name is Pat Dunlap Evans, but my official middle name is Kennedy, which was my mother's birth name. She's gone now, along with her older brother Yates Kennedy, and most recently her younger brother John, who died on September 28, 2017, at the age of 93. He and his wife Sally always kept in touch with me and my sister, although they lived in Michigan while we lived in Texas.

On my father's side of the family -- the Dunlap side -- only my father's youngest brother David kept in touch. Through these two uncles, I've learned that the small things, even cards and letters, are a thoughtful way to form a bond with the younger generation.

Uncle John led a long life, an eventful life, and he loved his family, fishing, football and good food. My sister and I last spoke to "UJ" in January. He was hard of hearing, so it was difficult to have a conversation, but I so enjoyed hearing his voice -- the energy of it, the Michigan accent, the electric wit. His voice helped keep alive fond memories of summers spent in Michigan, both in my grandmother's home in Ypsilanti and also at Indian Lake, near Vicksburg. This lake was the model for the lake that appears in To Leave a Memory, and it remains a golden recollection for the fun family times spent there.

I had to miss UJ's memorial service and felt terrible that I could not attend...long story about medical procedures and expensive plane rides. I regret not being there to salute the last of the Kennedy siblings. Three smart and dynamic people whose voices I can still hear.

If you care to read more, below is Uncle John's eulogy, written by his children, my cousins, Scott Kennedy and Kathy Kennedy Levinson, who live in Ann Arbor and Commerce Township, respectively:

EULOGY FOR JOHN KENNEDY

93 years is a long time.

John was born on January 3, 1924, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, to Guy and Edith Kennedy, the youngest of their three children. Father Guy was the owner and proprietor of the Kennedy Shoe Store in downtown Ypsilanti. Mother Edith was a housewife and well known in town for her baked goods, cakes and pies.

Although “Kennedy” is usually assumed to be an Irish name, John was always quick to point out that Kennedy is also a Scottish clan and his ancestors were Scots. John was only five years old when his family was hit by the ravages of the Great Depression, losing both the family home and the family business. This experience affected his attitude towards money for the rest of his life, although he would tell you that he was merely being a frugal Scotsman.

John lettered in three sports at Roosevelt High School, where he excelled in baseball, basketball and football. Well, maybe not football, since he was a 145 pound center on the offensive line. John also sang in the chorus for his high school’s production of the Gilbert & Sullivan musical “HMS Pinafore,” which triggered his lifelong love of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.

John was accepted to the School of Engineering at the University of Michigan, beginning his classes in 1941. For his first semester of college he lived at home in Ypsilanti and hitch-hiked to Ann Arbor each day for classes. Later in the year he joined Psi Upsilon fraternity and lived in the Ann Arbor chapter house on Hill Street.

During his sophomore year, one of his fraternity brothers set up a blind date with a freshman, Sara McFadden, better known as Sally. As their relationship deepened, the pace of their courtship was accelerated by World War II, and the looming prospect of John being drafted. They were engaged before John headed off to Army basic training, and were wed during John’s leave before he shipped off to Europe. He was 20, she was 19. Their honeymoon was spent at Sally’s family cottage in Harbor Beach, Michigan.

During the war John served in the Ordinance Company of the 78th Infantry Division, attaining the rank of Sergeant. His company repaired the trucks and Jeeps needed to keep troops supplied and mobile. He carried a carbine but, to our knowledge never had to use it in battle. His division was surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge, and on at least one occasion strafed by enemy planes. He was never injured, as far as we know. After Germany surrendered he spent time with the occupation forces in Berlin before he was shipped home.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s World War II was a popular subject for books, magazines, TV and movies. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, John never said much during this period about his military activities. He was proud of his service, but did not dwell on it. If asked, he would not hesitate to talk about it, but typically did not volunteer stories unprompted.

In later years he became a bit more outgoing, and about five years ago went with his son and grandson to the World War II memorial in Washington, DC. The memorial is awesome, and John, Scott and Michael all thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

With the war over, John returned to U of M to complete his degree in Mechanical Engineering, and he and Sally were the first couple to live at the University’s newly opened Married Housing. John remained a fan of the University throughout his life, and saw his son, daughter, and grandchildren graduate from it as well, with his granddaughter Sara a proud member of the Michigan Marching Band. His children’s spouses are also alumni of the University. The 1997 Rose Bowl represented the ultimate family trip, as we all sat in the stadium together when Michigan won the National Championship.

After graduation, John began his 30-plus year career with Carboloy, a division of General Electric. The young family lived in Royal Oak, then St. Louis, Missouri, back to Royal Oak, and in 1960 built a house in Rochester where John lived until his death. John rose through the ranks of Carboloy, and eventually became General Manager of the division, his dream job.

Unfortunately, his dream job didn’t last forever, as changes in senior GE management led to a serious disagreement on business strategy. John left Carboloy on good terms (and kept all of his GE stock). He decided to try his hand at being his own boss and purchased Novi Tool & Die, which manufactures small valves. After a few years as an entrepreneur, John returned to corporate life at GTE-Valenite, from which he retired at age 70.

John was reluctant to retire because he was concerned about how he would keep himself busy. So he turned his attentions to the family’s old farmhouse/cottage in Harbor Beach, Michigan. John and Sally purchased their cottage in 1959, and over the years made various improvements.

Early baths required heating a tea kettle on the stove and adding it to the cold water in the old cast iron tub. The oil space heater was located in the dining room, and it only heated the downstairs rooms. Water came into the house from a lake well. Over the years, John and Sally added city water, a hot water tank, a bathroom (including a shower!), a furnace in the basement, and even air conditioning. But with retirement, John finally had the time to make the place shine. He would hire a local high school boy every summer, train him how to do things HIS way, and had a great time bossing him around. We’re sure his aides can relate to some of this.

Harbor Beach also provided the opportunity to enjoy two of his favorite pastimes, boating and fishing. His first boat, purchased in the early 1960s, was a 14-foot wood boat with a 12-horsepower motor. However, John soon succumbed to the “two-foot fever” that infects many boat owners. Every few years he needed a new boat about two feet longer than the last one, with a corresponding larger engine. Most of these boats were named “Kathy J” for his daughter, but after the Kathy J V he named his last boat, a 25-footer, “Blackjack” his nickname in college.

Most of his fishing in Lake Huron was trolling for salmon and lake trout. He loved all the electronic gadgets involved in going after these big lake fish, especially his fish finder, although it didn’t always live up to its name. But he really enjoyed all forms of fishing, from fly fishing to ocean deep sea fishing. During a week-long fishing trip in Northern Minnesota he taught his grandson Michael how to fish for large-mouth bass with surface lures. That is still one of Michael’s favorite ways to fish.

In addition to working on the cottage, John enjoyed playing cards with friends and family, usually cribbage or gin rummy, occasionally imbibing in a wee bit of Scotch. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed sharing silly jokes and improbable stories with everyone, particularly his grandchildren and later his great-grandchildren. He also loved to tinker with anything that could be disassembled.

John collected guns and shot trap and skeet, reloading his own shells. He was an excellent shot. He also occasionally hunted game birds, such as pheasant, which gave him the excuse to own Irish Setters. Irish setters are good hunters, and very beautiful, but also crazy and require a lot of care.

After Scott and Kathy moved on to their own homes, Sally put her foot down—no more dogs unless John took care of them. So the household turned to cats. Sally had always had a cat, but now John picked out one of his own. His first cat was Black Jack. Black Jack was followed by his beloved MacDuff. Two years ago, Archie and Angus arrived, providing great company for John and for everyone else who came to the house. He and his cats spent many hours watching the birds eating from the feeders outside the living room windows. We are glad to report that Archie and Angus are adjusting well to their new home with Michael and his family in Ypsilanti.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes an army of caregivers and friends to keep an older person in their own home, which is what John wanted. After Sally’s death six years ago, John decided he needed more help around the house, and his long-time house-cleaner Magdelena suggested he speak with her sister-in-law Angie. Angie soon became his right-hand woman and house manager. The patience, kindness and dedication of these two women has been extraordinary, and the family cannot thank them enough.

Magdelena and Angie were later joined by Rachel from the Caring Company, and earlier this year, John progressed to 24/7 care, with additional help from the Caring Company. Dave Berube (aka Dave the lawn cutter) and Allison Powers (aka the Go To Gal) have also been great helpers and friends over the years. Finally, we have to express our overwhelming gratitude to Dr. Khaira and his staff for their guidance, caring and compassion during John’s medical journey.

John died at the age of 93. We know we were lucky to have him so long. Even towards the end, we kept hoping he would bounce back like he had so many other times, but it was not to be. That’s what makes it so difficult to comprehend that he is truly gone. We know he is in a better place, freed from the frailties of his body, and reunited with Sally. May his soul rest in peace.

END.

If you've read this far, I thank you. I will miss my UJ and Aunt Sally. I know that my cousins feel the same way about their summers at Harbor Beach as my sister and I did about Indian Lake, the free and spirited joys of childhood play.

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© 2017 by Pat Dunlap Evans