In Memorium 2023 • Gone But Not Forgotten

Paying Tribute to People & Personalities We Lost in 2023

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Dec 14, 2023
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“The meaning of life is that it stops.” -                                                                Franz Kafka, German-language author

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said death smiles at us all and all a man can do is smile back. Death is the great leveler that evens out the playing field. Death takes no bribes, pays all debts, and keeps no calendar.  

Consequently, as we close out another year circling around the Zodiac, we at The REVIEW find it incumbent to take inventory and honor the many significant souls who passed over to what I like to call the ‘unseen world’.

Each of these individuals were special and irreplaceable in their own unique way and their legacies and contributions resonate strongly even though their mortal coils have ceased to exist. Some of them were personal friends; others major influences, and may each of them live eternally in our memory and illuminate our lives with their collective legacies, imparting upon us the wisdom to vanquish fear and darkness with the light, levity, brilliance, and talent they brought to this often dark and unruly world. 

As English author George Eliot so deftly puts it: “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.”

Ken Kousky

The Great Lakes Bay Region lost one of its most passionate, inventive, and iconoclastic advocates  with the untimely passing of Kenneth W. KouskyKen’s optimism, expansive intellectual curiosity, and exceptional brilliance infused each project he advanced as an educator, inventor, and investor to fortify the economic climate of the Tri-Cities and improve the quality of life throughout the Tri-Cities.

Ken graduated from Douglas MacArthur High School in 1972 and later from  Washington University in 1976 with a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Urban Studies and then received a Master's degree in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a visionary entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert in St. Louis, and later when he decided to move back in Saginaw, Michigan in 2002, he expanded his focus upon nurturing start-up companies and revitalizing the economic climate and contours of the place that he called home.

Ken founded Wave Technologies, based in St. Louis, which he then took public - an amazing accomplishment in itself - and later sold to Thomson Reuters. He then founded IP3 Inc. upon returning home to Saginaw. More recently, Ken was the Executive Director and a founding member of the BlueWater Angels Investment Network, a Michigan-based funding network. 

He was CEO of ClearWater Ventures, a company devoted to helping startups organize, capitalize, and launch.  In addition, Ken was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Saginaw Valley State University, where he also enjoyed teaching and mentoring students and was a member of several corporate boards, including Michigan Sugar Corp.

Ben Fletcher

In July of this year Saginaw lost one of its most genial, engaging, and colorful advocates with the Passing of Benjamin Fletcher.  Ben worked for Muehlenbeck Distributing in beverage sales for over 30 years until his retirement. He was referred to by many as "The Miller Man" and was a proud veteran, having  served in the United States Navy as a Marine Corp Medic. 

Ben was the epitome of a civic minded person who despite his ribald nature and informed dry wit, deferred stepping into the spotlight when it came to the services he provided to numerous organizations throughout the community, including The Fordney Club, Positive Results Downtown Saginaw, FOP Lodge 105, and 100 Club of Saginaw County.

He was also instrumental in starting the first Saginaw 4th of July Fireworks show. "Gentle Ben" as he was sometimes called, will be remembered as a loving, caring, and sentimental man.

Julie Stevens

In December Saginaw lost one of its great cultural champions with the untimely passing of Julie Stevens, whose genial upbeat personality and passion about making a difference in her community manifested itself with leadership roles and commitments to organizations as varied as the Saginaw Children's Zoo, Temple Theatre, The Stevens Center for Family Business at SVSU, First Presbyterian Church, Saginaw Symphony, Delta College Foundation, Junior League of the Great Lakes Bay Region, Saginaw County GOP Executive Committee and the Saginaw Panhellenic Society.

Susan Weersma 

In the bittersweet beauty of Spring we lost another colorful, giving, and exuberant soul with the untimely passing of Susan Weersma. Although trained as a professional phlebotomist, Suze’s talents and passions far exceeded her gift for mapping the physical arterial terrain that delivers nutrients & oxygen to our bodies.    Suze had a passion for nurturing and nourishing both those she loved, as well as those in need of nourishment, as witnessed through countless Sundays when she would serve up her recipes at the Old Town Outreach Mission after their church services.

And hands down, Suze was the most passionate artist I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Her canvas was herself and her home. Her house was so unique it could have filled the pages of Architectural Digest & Better Homes & Gardens, with a bathroom that she personally designed and constructed consisting of multi-colored beach stones she had collected and meticulously secured to cover her entire floor and bathtub; with a wild,  beautifully painted ‘jungle’ landscape covering the walls, replete with densely drawn and detailed trees and lions peering out from behind dense clusters of ferns. And her backyard was like visiting the Land of Oz. Suze was an engaging package of positivity and purpose who believed actions spoke louder than words and a true friend deeply missed by all of those whose lives she touched. 

Bob Eastham

A formidable musical force throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region left us this year with passing of Bob Eastham at the age of 94.  Bob was a gifted musician for his entire life and an accomplished string bass player, performing with the likes of the late Paul Vanston and was a member of multiple bands and Jazz groups throughout the years, most notably in the “Bob Eastham Trio” with his father Glenn and sister Glenda, playing for many activities and events in Caro and the surrounding area, along with the big band “Out of the Past” playing for many years with his father and later, playing with his good friend, Dave Opperman in the phenomenal “New Reformation Dixieland Band” at multiple events in the area. He was also a well-known piano tuner until he retired in 2019. 

Randy Cupp 

The month of May witnessed the untimely passing of regional business icon Randy Cupp at the age of 67. A co-owner of Blues Lakes Charters & Tours, Randy enjoyed riding motorcycles, cooking, golfing and especially spending time with his children and grandchildren. He always took a genuine interest in his clients as individuals, not simply their business; and was an example of what we should strive for as a family man and business man

Lanny Roenicke 

This year we lost rock ‘n roll legend Lanny Roenicke, who played the piano, trumpet, bass guitar and floor bass. Lanny was a founding member of The Bossmen together with his great friends, Pete Woodman, Dick Wagner and Warren Keith. He also  owned and operated Lanny’s Second Hand Store for over 50 years and was a hard worker until the very end. Lanny gained much of his wisdom from reading the Word of God, the Bible, and he also loved and quoted Benjamin Franklin. 

DJ Frank ‘Sonny’ Medel

A true regional D.J. pioneer, Frank ‘Sonny’ Medel formed Medel Enterprises, bringing other entertainers into his realm of promotion, entertainment, and event planning. He also successfully branched into radio and co-founded Midwest Tejano Radio in 2010. A true servant of the community, he volunteered countless hours across the Great Lakes Bay Region. He is one of the founders of the Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Leadership Institute, served as a board member on the Midwest Tejano Cultural Entertainment, and served in key roles on many other boards, councils, and organizations to further  positive impact to the community. He was well-known for his energetic and enthusiastic personality, which made him a beloved figure in the music community.

Dr. Betty Jones

Educator, historian, and a leading cultural figure in the Midland community, Dr. Betty Jones passed in March of this year and initially served as a social worker at Bay City Public Schools, hosted activities for Midland youth, introducing children of different races to each other. She was a member of Midland Black Coalition, which hosted events for Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as well as leadership workshops for Black youth. Jones retired in 2001 as Delta College’s vice president of instruction and learning services. She was also a mother of two and a grandmother.

Tony Bennett

On another bittersweet note, we lost one of the great voices in popular music with the passing of Tony Bennett at the remarkable age of 96.  In a career spanning 70 years his voice was the bridge to preserving the classic American popular songbook from writers such as Cole Porter, the Gershwin’s, Duke Ellington, Rogers & Hammerstein, and so many more; and was equally keen to keeping his ear close to the cusp of current artists such as Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse.

Paul Reubens • Pee Wee Herman

The actor, comedian and writer whose beloved character Pee Wee Herman delighted a fresh generation of children in the 1980s the way BoZo the Clown did for kids in 1950s, only was able to add adults into his fanbase with his hipster style and whimsical wit, rode his shiny red Schwinn up the stairway to heaven, leaving behind a legacy predicated upon the importance of kindness..

Jimmy Buffett

The musician who patented a lifestyle of ‘Beaches, Boats, Ballads & Babes’, and whose easy-breezy hit "Margaritaville" became a way of life for legions of devoted Parrotheads, sailed into the sunset at age of 76 back in early September.  “Jimmy passed away peacefully surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs," issued his family’s statement, which was accompanied by a touching photograph of Buffett sitting on a boat. "He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many,” conluded the statement.

Bob Barker

The legendary host of The Price is Right, passed away at 99 years of age, just shy of a century in his longtime home ucked away in the Hollywood Hills. Arguably the World’s Greatest MC, Barker was a man of many talents, turning in a memorable cameo appearance in the film Happy Gilmore, and an early trailblazer at using his celebrity to expose cruelty to animals in the entertainment industry, which included working to improve the plight of abused and exploited animals throughout the United States.

Robbie Robertson

One of rock’s great storytellers and the legendary guitarist and primary songwriter of the ground-breaking group known simply as  The Band, who backed folk-singer Bob Dylan back when he decided to go electric in the1960s, passed away at the age of 80.  The musician, who famously penned the group's classics including “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down" and “Up on Cripple Creek," died in Los Angeles "after a long illness," according to a press release.

Sinead O’Connor

A trail-blazing and revolutionary Irish singer, songwriter, and feminist who broke worldwide with hits like her interpretation of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, and shook the world when she tore up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, possessed an amazing vocal range fueled by not only her passion, but her dedication to social issues. A complicated artist whose life was scarred by a series of mental health struggles stemming from a sexual assault incident at an early age, O’Connor possessed a ferocious courage and unwillingness to compromise her art that is rare in today’s world.

Tina Turner

From Nutbush City Limits to rolling down the river on Proud Mary, the iconic singer, known as the Queen of Rock ‘n Roll, passed away at her home in Zurich after battling a long illness. With her smoldering, confident, and sultry voice coupled with the contours of those unmistakable legs and aggressive dance moves, Turner powered a five-decade career as one of the biggest stars in rock music, selling more than 200 million records.

Burt Bacharach

As a songwriter, composer, pianist, and stylistic innovator known for memorable melodies and complex musical arrangements, Bacharach was  the recipient of six Grammy Awards and three Oscars. He helped create the soundtrack of several decades' worth of pop hits, with his musicianship drawing comparisons to Cole Porter.

David Crosby

A founding member of seminal rock bands such as The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the body of work created by this thoughtful and politically committed artist fueled the inspiration for a 0sgeneration. Armed with an angelic voice and visionary controversial songs such as ‘Triad’ and ‘Wooden Ships’, in many ways Crosby was the ‘Mayor’ of the Laurel Canyon Music Scene throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.

Jeff Beck

Innovative guitarist Jeff Beck, who rose to fame in the English rock band The Yardbirds and framed a legacy of memorable musical alliances, passed away in January of 2023 after contracting bacterial meningitis at the age of 78. In addition to introducing  the world to singers such as Rod Stewart and pushing his music into genre-bending experiments blending the boundaries of Rock and Jazz together into a fusion of sound, Beck carved a sound that was distinct, inimitable, and unparalleled within the lexicon of Rock music.

Rosalynn Carter

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter was the closest adviser to Jimmy Carter during his presidency. Both said she was the more political of the pair. Unlike many previous first ladies, Rosalynn sat in on Cabinet meetings and spoke out on controversial issues. The president even sent her on a trip to Latin America to tell dictators he meant what he said about denying military aid and other support to violators of human rights.  Fiercely loyal and politically astute, Rosalynn prided herself on being an activist first lady, whose support for projects was often enlisted by White House aides before they discussed it with the president.

She became the only First lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to address a congressional panel when, as honorary chairwoman of the President's Commission on Mental Health, she testified before a Senate subcommittee.

….and last but not least

Because of space limitations, we cannot go into greater detail, but this year we actor David McCallum, Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, controversial Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who shaped much of Post-World War II Cold War policy under Richard Nixon and expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia, NFL Football star Jim Brown, actress Raquel Welch, and Lisa Marie Presley.

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