The Legendary Locals of BAY CITY Michigan

Posted In: News, Local,   From Issue 754   By: Robert 'Bo' White

31st August, 2012     0

Arcadia Publishing has developed a series of history books that gives voice to long ago ancestors who created the conditions for change, as well as more recent individuals who have served and shaped their local communities in distinct ways. These individuals have created an impact on their community that ripples like a pebble thrown into still water - it is felt for generations. It is a backwards Ponzi scheme that pays it forward and resonates for future generations.
 
Ron Bloomfield has authored a diverse and honest account of the shakers and movers that have inhabited the very fabric of community life in what we now call Bay City. Boomfield originally compiled a massive list of around five hundred names that was narrowed down to a more manageable cross section of the architects of Bay City's continued ascendance as a musical, commercial and cultural Mecca in mid-Michigan.
 
The Introduction is a good read and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Bloomfield's research is incredibly deep for such a modest volume of 125 pages. He begins with a modern description - “where the thumb meets the mitt of Michigan.” He characterizes Bay City as a small but vibrant city of 34,000 residents, in the middle of the top 100 cities in the state. He then steps back in time to paint a picture in sepia tones describing Lower Saginaw (as Bay City was known in the 1830's) as “swampy, mosquito infested and prone to harsh winters and hungry wolves.”
 
He writes about settlers like William R. McCormick who recorded much of the early history and folklore of the local Chippewa tribe. Bloomfield cited the rise of the lumber barns and the wealth of Henry Sage and John McGraw who reportedly owned the largest lumber mill in the world. Also during this time of explosive growth James Davison started the first wave of world-class shipbuilding.  He goes on to explain that during the lumbering heyday there were five distinct villages that eventually became the Bay City we know of today. The author segmented these brief historical sketches into seven chapters that included photos and narrative.
 
The first chapter provides an incredible body of old photographs, including a photo of a memorial dedication to honor the burial place of Chief Ogemaw, who was the Chief Speaker of the Chippewa at the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. Chief David Shoppenagons was an equally intriguing figure in Bay City's early history. He was a direct descendant of Ojibwe (Chippewa) chiefs. He was so respected that a Masonic based organization was named in his honor.
 
William McCormick was an early historian who chronicled the Native Americans oral traditions and created early written records and historical sketches of local pioneers. The visionary role of the Trombley family was given three full pages with period photographs. Other notables included Albert Miller who was a probate judge, justice of the peace, postmaster, and state legislator; James Shearer, a notable architect; and Bay City Mayor George H. Shearer.
 
Chapter Two: Community Leaders
The author begins the chapter with a quote by William R. McCormick dating back to 1874 that speaks to the “unselfish spirit” of the pioneers who settled in the area. Early leaders included the Hon. Sydney Campbell (settler, business man, probate justice), Oscar Baker (law), John Weadock (lawyer). Horace Tupper (MD). George Butterfield represented three generations of his family that became notable educators. Bob Traxler, James Barcia and Tom Hickner are noted for their contributions from the political arena
 
Chapter Three: Soldiers, Sailors, and Survivors
A quote sums up the tone of this chapter…
 
Hundreds sleep in our cities of the dead, whose achievements in war and peace equal and perhaps surpass these isolated service records, but these will suffice to preserve for the perusal of their surviving comrades, and as an indication to posterity of the character and service of the veterans we delight to honor     -Augustus Gansser, 1905
 
The author chronicles the heroism of our young men and women who served our country. It starts with a photo a Civil War Monument at Pine Ridge Cemetery and segues to series of old photographs of several of our early heroes including; Capt. Augustus Ganseer who served in the Spanish-American War at San Juan Hill 1898,the 128th Ambulance Company at Waco Texas in 1917, and Thelma Johnson, a tireless Red Cross volunteer from the Vietnam era in 1966.
 
Chapter Four: Business and Industry
In Chapter Four the author traces the decline and fall of the lumbering industry. The speculation about its decline began in the 1890's and the post-lumbering era of business and wealth went on unabated without a flinch or a blink of an eye.
 
Defoe Shipbuilding ascended to the top of the throne along with Aladdin Homes Company, Sugar Production (Henry Vallez) and Carl Gladen's toy and plastics company to name a few. Business was booming and many of the business leaders gave back to the community through their leadership and good deeds, much like it is today with business both small and large. Peg and Paul Rowley had special mention as integral to the clarion call of the arts. They supported Studio 23, the Bay Arts Council, the Riverwalk pier, the Bay Music Foundation and the glorious State Theatre. The Rowleys led an exemplary life of giving and commitment. Their sixty-year marriage defines love and commitment that transcends the ordinary.
 
Chapter Five: Musicians, Entertainers and Artists
My favorite chapter.  It begins with a tribute to the maestro Leo Najar and local musician Jerry Marcet. I met Leo Najar during the Remember the Child Project that involved local rock & roll legend Dick Wagner in collaboration with Najar's Saginaw Symphony Orchestra. My friend Scott Seeburger organized this massive event that raised tens of thousands of dollars to organizations that fight child abuse and neglect.
 
From that time on I chanced upon Leo on several occasions. He was open and honest, the real deal and a musical bohemian who would experiment freely with musical forms. A genius! Another notable performer is comedian/musician Harry Jarkey. I had seen him a few times during a few brief moments in the seventies when I was a Shriner. He was all right indeed.
 
Of special note is The Burdons one of the greatest rock & roll bands from the Great Lake Bay region of Michigan. They formed back in 1981 and tore the town apart. They rocked hard and would combine elements of punk with pop songs.  They had a sixth sense about music and they cultivated “sound.”  They could take a cover song and make it their own whether it was Last Train to Clarksville by the Monkees or What I Like About You from the Romantics catalog. Their debut album, The Burdons, was a garage rock masterpiece. Hail to the Burdons!
 
Chapter Six: Sports Notables
The list includes Olympian athletes such as Doug Sharp (bobsled, 2002), and speed skaters Terry McDermott (1964) and Izzy Izykowski (2006). George “Kid” Lavigne was a world-class lightweight champion. He earned the title in 1896. Not bad for a southpaw. Football was one of my favorite sports and Hi Becker from Bay City Handy and Elmer Engel from Bay City Handy were two of my favorite coaches along with Paul Nestor who took the helm for only one year at Arthur Hill (1967/68) and to this day comes back to Saginaw to meet with his team. These are men who set a level of excellence that few could ever duplicate.
 
Art Dore is one of the great shaker and movers in mid-Michigan. I've met him several times and like his direct no nonsense approach to business and to his own life. He is a remarkable force of nature.
 
Chapter Seven: Community Figures
The final chapter pays tribute to community figures such as sisters Mary and Helen Macgregor who together gave 109 years to service to Bay City schools. Leo and Bette Jylha were radio pioneers. Leo was a radio engineer while Bette was an on air host doing programs like “The Stork Reporter” and engineered broadcasts of all-women big bands (which were popular during WWII). Leo became the general manager of WBCM from 1956 until his retirement in1973. Their son Eric also devoted his career to broadcasting. He filmed the Delta Pops Festival in 1969, which featured Michigan Rock Legends such as the MC5, Bob Seger, The Stooges, Amboy Dukes and The Rationals. He worked as a disk Jockey and a news reporter for WSGW, WGER, WXOX and others before landing a gig as reporter and weekend anchor for WNEM TV-5. Eric is a one-of-a-kind talent with a quiet dignity and a homespun charm. He's one of the best
This fine book is dedicated to the memory of Leo Najar and Jerry Marcet and I can't think of two people more deserving.
 
The Legendary Locals of Bay City is available at Barnes & Noble Bookstore * 3311 Tittabawassee * Saginaw 48604 * 989-790-9214

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