Donald Raymond Cole, age 96, of Beaver Island, Michigan, passed away peacefully at Boulder Park Terrace nursing home in Charlevoix, Michigan on August 14, 2023.
He was born on Beaver Island to Raymond Cole and Grace Gillespie Cole on May 26, 1927, their only child. His childhood was spent between the harbor village of St. James and the settlement of Nomad on the island's south end, where his paternal grandparents ran a sawmill and rented out cottages for summer visitors. His early life was marked by tragedy when at the age of nine he lost his father in a catastrophic fuel salvaging accident in northern Lake Michigan. Afterward he spent the remainder of his childhood years in Charlevoix, St. James, and again at Nomad, an idyllic refuge that would hold some of the most precious memories of his long life.
In the years immediately following World War II he served in the US Army stationed in Kitzingen, Germany, acting as a courier for military intelligence, part of which included his presence at the historic Nuremberg Trials. Following military service he returned to Beaver Island and worked at a number of jobs before marrying his island sweetheart Lillian Connaghan, a nurse. They spent two years in Detroit before moving back to Beaver Island in the mid-1950's and raising nine children. In the decades that followed he worked for over thirty years on the island as a road engineer for the Charlevoix County Road Commission, as well as operating a family-run commercial fishing business for twenty-five years.
Throughout his life he was active in civic affairs both publicly and behind the scenes. He and the handful of Beaver Island families who remained on-isle after WW II collaborated to keep their hometown intact at its lowest point, when the year-round population numbered under two hundred souls and the fate of their community hung in the balance. Their efforts succeeded over time, but he didn't stop his efforts to help others, often quietly assisting those in need one way or another. He found sobriety in his forties, and for decades sponsored and supported many in their search for the same, both on Beaver Island and in Charlevoix.
In the years before and after his retirement he traveled abroad and throughout the US, sometimes wintering in warmer climes where he spent time with friends and relatives. He dabbled in gardening, sailing, and houseboating in the Beaver Island archipelago, but also kept a hand in local matters at civic, business and local government levels. In his own way he was a visionary with an eye toward the betterment and sustainability of his community. Time eventually softened the scars of his youth and the edges of his demeanor, and brought him a peace elusive to him in earlier years.
He was preceded in death by his father Raymond in 1937, his mother Grace in 1998, his wife Lillian in 2002, and his eldest child Hugh in 2021. Surviving are his second wife Sharon, his children Raymond (Lisa), Jim, Laurel (Tim), Garrett (Pam), Tom, Paul (Shirley), Robert, Brian (Rose), and several grandchildren.
A graveside funeral service will be held on Beaver Island at Holy Cross Cemetery at 2 PM, Saturday, September 2. All are welcome to attend and pay their respects. Donations in his memory can be made to the Beaver Island Association, for the Trails Project.