Cover photo for John Monroe Frey's Obituary
John Monroe Frey Profile Photo

John Monroe Frey

November 23, 1939 — March 28, 2024


John Monroe Frey

Environmental steward, conservationist, art and nature lover, actor and philanthropist John Monroe Frey passed away peacefully in his Charlevoix, Mich. home on March 28, 2024, surrounded by family. He was 84.

John’s roots ran deep in Michigan soil. Born and raised in East Grand Rapids, he lived his adult life on his beloved farm in Charlevoix, where he and his wife, Hilda, raised their five children.

Warm and multi-faceted, he was a champion of exploring one’s passions and talents. From his time as an all-star athlete at East Grand Rapids High School, then graduating from the University of Hartford, to his senior years as a self-employed investor, he had a zest for life, diverse interests, and unlimited curiosity that led him to create life on his terms.

As a young man, he expressed his passion for the theater as a stage actor at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater, the Red Barn Summer Theater in Saugatuck and later in life at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut.  John used his humor and storytelling to captivate others, often with a panache for facial expressions, accents, punctuation, and comedic timing. When you were in conversation with him you felt his words as much as you heard them. He loved the written word, as well, handwriting personal letters – often on yellow legal pad paper or a card with one of his hand drawn birds – to let others know he was thinking of them.

He loved travel and was just as comfortable taking in theater in New York City as he was exploring Patagonia, camping under the stars, or at his cabin in the Upper Peninsula where he studied wolves, coyotes, and bears. But, of all his interests and adventures, it was the Charlevoix farm and nature that surrounds it that held his heart. He loved knowing the names of the trees and birds and which animal tracks were found where. He was a talented fly fisherman and bird hunter, at his best when accompanied by his beloved English Setter, Kate. He created several ponds throughout the farm for migratory birds, delighting in the cacophony of cranes, mallards, and geese. He set up conservation easements to ensure protection and greenways for wildlife.

His philanthropy was heartfelt and hands-on. He was a founding board member of the Charlevoix County Community Foundation and was engaged with the Frey Foundation throughout his adult life, helping shape the foundation’s philanthropic priorities, first as trustee, then vice-chair and finally trustee emeritus.

John is survived by his wife of 49 years, Hilda Carey Frey; and his children, who affectionately called him “Papa”; William Frey of Virginia, Eleonora H. Frey Zagel (Chad Zagel) of East Grand Rapids, Johannes Frey of Spring Lake, MI, Laura Frey (Erico Franco Gomes) of San Francisco, and Katrine Frey of Miami; and grandchildren Jeremy Frey, Dylan Frey, Izabel Frey, and Steven Zagel.  He is also survived by sister, Mary Caroline “Twink” Frey. He was preceded in death by his parents, Edward J. and Frances M. (Tallie) Frey, and brothers David G. Frey and Edward J. (Ted) Frey, Jr. 

The family is planning a private celebration of life. Memorial gifts may be made to FLOW (For the Love of Water), 440 West Front Street, Suite 100, Traverse City, MI 49684.   Or gifts can be directed to a charitable organization of your choosing that supports mental health for youth.

Donation link: 

Arrangements are in the care of the Charlevoix Chapel of Mortensen Funeral Homes.   Please sign his online guestbook

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