betty gray parsons, marilyn gray purkiss, al gray, harold gray, old mission peninsula, gray road, old mission gazette, old mission, old mission michigan
Betty Gray Parsons and Marilyn Gray Purkiss | Jane Boursaw Photo
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You just never know who you’re going to run into when you’re out driving around the neighborhood. Tim and I were heading up Ridgewood Road (past Haserot Beach) and saw a couple of ladies taking pictures of the beautiful swans in Bagley Lake (on the right as you’re heading up the road).

So of course, we stopped to chat and take a few pictures. The ladies turned out to be sisters Marilyn Gray Purkiss and Betty Gray Parsons, whose brother, Al Gray, was a Peninsula Township Trustee and member of the Peninsula Fire Department. Sadly, Al passed away in December of 2016.

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The Grays have deep roots on the Peninsula, including being the namesake of Gray Road (see our Photo of the Day). Their parents were the late Harold and Irene (Rokos) Gray. Harold’s brothers were Vern, Lewis, Arthur and Perry Gray.

Harold passed away at the age of 97 on May 15, 2001. From his obituary:

The eldest son of the late Edwin Perry and Ellen Marie (Sundquist) Gray, he was born at home on the Old Mission Peninsula of Traverse City on Oct. 20, 1903. His father was one of the original cherry farmers on the peninsula dating back to the late 1800’s.

Harold attended grade school at Stony Beach and graduated from Traverse City High School. He attended Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing from 1923 to 1926. While at college he worked on the MSC Union Building construction site. He graduated with diplomas in horticulture, farm machinery, livestock, chemistry of soils, farm crops, bee keeping and blacksmithing.

Harold loved music – playing harmonica, cornet, trumpet, drums, banjo uke, and doing the vocals in bands. He had a good memory for music he heard and a keen sense for harmony. On June 27, 1933, he married the former Irene Sophie Rokos, who preceded him in death on June 22, 1965, five days before their 33rd wedding anniversary.

He moved into town in 1934 and held various jobs, including working at the Traverse City Waterworks. He invented, built, used, and sold the first self-propelled orchard sprayer in the area. He started his own business, Gray’s Orchard and Field Service. In the 1960’s he worked at Immaculate Conception School and Empire State Bank.

Harold was a prolific writer penning his autobiography as well as poems, articles on farming, politics, religion, and current events over the years. His poem, “The Substitute Teacher,” was published in the 1996 edition of Amidst The Splendor – The National Library of Poetry.

On Feb. 11, 1967, he married Dorothy Hopkins Core and they spent their remaining 33 years together enjoying music, square dancing, and traveling. They lived in Elk Rapids and Florida, returning to Traverse City in June of 1998. Dorothy preceded him in death on Dec. 5, 2000. Harold was a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and mens choir, the Knights of Columbus, SPEBSQSA, The Traverse City Four and The Northmen Barbershop Quartets.

It was great to meet these ladies and learn more about their family and history on the Old Mission Peninsula.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. Don’t know what happened to the comment I started so will start over. Was checking my email and found the new issue of the Gazette and lo and behold there’s the picture of my sister, Marilyn, and me staring back at me. You did a nice article. The pictures of the swans turned out wonderful. It was nice to have been able to meet and talk with you and Tim. Have really been enjoying your Gazette articles and news of the Old Mission Peninsula.


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