The island says goodbye this week to one of it’s most beloved members, Dick Burris. A fixture on Beaver since moving there in 1973, Dick seemed to live more in one life than most people could in several. A legendary bricklayer, stonemason, and concrete wizard, his beautiful craftsmanship can be seen in dozens of homes, fireplaces, grottos, benches and other structures around the island; as well as throughout his hometown of Lapeer, MI, where he was born on March 27, 1929, growing up on a farm. He later served in the US Army at the age of 27, when he was already married with four kids.
Dick was also a veteran diver who explored shipwrecks and reefs around the Beaver Island archipelago and much further away as part of his many travels to the Caribbean islands, Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and South America. He could tell you the location and history of every wreck around northern Lake Michigan and beyond as if it were written on the back of his burly hand. He attacked life, work, and adventure with equal passion; and as many of his friends remember, shared his skills, knowledge, wisdom and stories with great generosity. He gave a lot of people a hand up in their trade when they were coming up the ladder, and was a friend and mentor to so very many. Dick donated his time and expertise to countless projects and organizations around the island over the decades, always giving, always available when needed.
He was rarely if ever seen without a smile. When asked how he kept one on his face so often, he said “My smile comes from a constant loop of good memories running through my mind.” His body was as strong as his spirit, with him still laying stone and pouring concrete at the age of 87. Some may remember a photo of him carrying a cement mixer on his shoulder at a job site, a testament to the stuff he was made of. Time and the wear and tear of the masonry business may have bent his posture some, but no one could deny how tall he walked as a man and human being.
This remembrance can’t begin to encompass all that Dick was and did in his long life. Everyone that knew him has a story or several about him, unique to the way he touched them with his character, his sense of humor, and the way he lived his life. He never stopped eating up life with the appetite of a man who couldn’t get enough of it, a dynamo that it seemed would never slow down. About the prospect of retiring, he once said, “You’ll read my retirement notice in the obituaries.”
Dick Burris was father to Jean Ann, Arnold, Susie, Roger, Danny, Sandra, Sherry, and Galen, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He leaves behind his wife Amy, who worked, loved, lived, and laughed alongside him every step of the way over nearly two decades together. A memorial and celebration of Dick’s life will be held on Saturday, March 10, 11 am, at Holy Cross Catholic Church on Beaver Island. Memorial contributions can be made to the Beaver Island Hospice in memory of Dick.
And finally, a little poem in honor of our dear friend...
The things you built will never fall --
with stones and brick and concrete, all.
You dove great depths in exploration
of history’s ships and God’s creation.
You built a life with grit and song.
Your smile was as bright as your hands were strong.
You ran toward adventure, straight and true,
from the shores of Cuba to the peaks of Peru.
You gave of yourself to all that needed,
and many learned from your wisdom, when heeded.
You lived a long life, but never got old.
When they cast you, Dick, they broke the mold