Cover photo for Thomas Despres's Obituary
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Thomas Despres

November 13, 1932 — March 26, 2024

Kewadin

Thomas Despres

Thomas A. Despres, 91, died peacefully in his home in Kewadin, Michigan on March 26, 2024. He was born on November 13, 1933 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Achille and Irene (Young) Despres.

Thomas studied engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1956 and Masters’ in 1959. He served full-time in the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1959. He worked on development of the Redstone, which was the first Medium Range Ballistic Missile ever deployed by the U.S. Army. His service included a position as the Test and Evaluation Engineer for the Explorer IV and V projects, some of the earliest satellites ever sent into space. His duties included coordinating environmental and preflight tests of the satellites.

Thomas met his wife, Dolores (Corrigan) through a blind date. They courted while Tom served in the Army. He often drove from Huntsville, Alabama, to Michigan to see her. As the story goes, he would arrive in Michigan and dial the phone; her father would answer, and he would ask “Is Dee there, please?” Her father would answer, “Yep. Sure is” – and hang up the phone.

Eventually, though, young love won out over overprotective fathers, and they married in 1960. Tom had returned to civilian life and returned to his studies in 1959, although he still served in the Reserve. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on May 21, 1962. He was awarded a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1963 from the University of Michigan.

In fall of 1963, Tom began a full-time position as an Assistant Professor teaching metallurgy and machine design at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. Thomas and Dolores moved from Ann Arbor to Dearborn, Michigan, where they raised five children and lived a full and busy life.  

In addition to his university teaching and research duties, Tom was unable to resist the allure of metal and machines. He soon started a small shop where he made gun sights for Marble Arms of Gladstone, Michigan. It was more than just a side business, however. The company, which was the main economic engine for Gladstone, Michigan, had been struggling. Tom used his expertise in manufacturing processes to help Marble Arms to streamline production and improve quality.

Tom soon turned his attention to automobile manufacturing processes. Always an innovator, he developed a process for cold sawing steel, forming a second company that he named Cold Saw Precision Company (CSPC). He began producing precisely cut metal “blanks,” pieces of steel cut to an accuracy within microns. The pieces were then shipped to other companies and made into stabilizer bars for Chrysler, pinions for General Motors, and more.

He had found his niche: by adopting new technologies quickly and modifying older technologies, he was able to improve quality. Tom was able to more safely produce less costly, accurate parts for vehicles ranging from passenger cars to semi-trucks.

Tom retired from University of Michigan Dearborn in 1987 to devote his energy to CSPC full-time. Dee joined him as bookkeeper and administrative manager. The business grew. It was truly a family business, with his own kids working in the shop and a cadre of 10-20 employees. Tom and Dee embraced employees like family, always supporting them in and out of the shop.    

Even though he was the Boss, Tom was never happier than when he was in the shop, earplugs and safety glasses on, measuring parts and fixing machines.  

Tom always thought big, whether it was buying the biggest pickup truck he could find, a Mack truck for the shop, or sponsoring a softball team in the over-40 league (his friends jokingly and respectfully made jackets calling it “Tom’s Beer Club”).

He sang big, too. His repertoire included church hymns, the songs he learned while in the Army and later as a member of a barbershop quartet at University of Michigan, songs from childhood, and others. The house was always full of Tom’s voice, singing with joy and humor, songs like “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true,” “Goodnight Irene,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and many, many more.

Tom and Dee built their dream home in Kewadin, Michigan – the biggest dream of all being a happy retirement on The Lake. Construction was finished in 1995, and Tom and his family spent many happy weekends and holidays in their home near Torchport. Tom and Dee were both working long hours at the business, but they escaped to their beloved Up North home whenever they could.

Tragically, cancer claimed Dee’s life in 2013. Tom, meanwhile, was in the early stages of dementia. Shortly before Dee died, the family decided to close the business, selling production cells to competitors and customers.  

About a year after Dee’s death. Tom moved to Kewadin. His daughter Denise moved to Williamston, so she and her husband Frank could be close by. His final years were spent in childlike joy and wonderment at the  beauty of things – the splendor of Lake Michigan, the color of a rock, the mystery of a leaf turned red by fall. As his mind returned to the farm in Marne, Michigan where he spent his childhood years, he lost cognition but never joy.   

Tom died in the sitting room where he and Dee had sat so many evenings, reading, quietly watching the sunset over Mission Point, with his daughter Denise and a member of his dedicated team of caregivers by his side.  

The sun has set on a long, vibrant, beautiful life. We celebrate Tom with gratefulness and love.

Thomas was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Dolores, his brothers Philip, David, William, and Andre, and his sister Margaret. He is survived by his brother Daniel (Kathleen) Despres of Nunica, Michigan, and five children – Raymond Douglas of Somerville, Massachusetts, Renee Therese of Gila Hot Springs, New Mexico; Celeste Diane and her husband Sidney Sheres of Manhattan Beach, California; Denise Marie and husband Frank Bura of Williamston, Michigan; and Andre Paul and wife Sara of Brooklyn, New York. He is also survived by nine grandchildren: Teresa, Gabrielle, Arielle, Benjamin, Rowan, MaryJane, Paul, Caroline, and Roseva.

A funeral mass will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Elk Rapids. Visitation will be held from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5, also at the church.

To access a remote viewing of the funeral, go to  https://sacredheartelkrapids.org/ and click on the live streaming link. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association. Please see Tom’s memorial – and contribute your thoughts – at: http://act.alz.org/goto/Tom_Despres

Arrangements are in the care of the Central Lake Chapel of Mortensen Funeral Homes.  Pleas sign his online guestbook at www.mortensenfuneralhomes.com
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Thomas Despres, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Visitation

Friday, April 5, 2024

5:00 - 7:00 pm (Eastern time)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

143 Charles, Elk Rapids, MI 49629

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Mass

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Starts at 10:00 am (Eastern time)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

143 Charles, Elk Rapids, MI 49629

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

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