Last week, I was heading into town one day and had to pull over to the side of the road as first responders screamed by me headed north. In a small community, you never know if they might be on their way to help a close friend or family member. If you’re home, you step outside to listen and see where they’re headed. If the sirens stop at a place you suspect might be the home or farm of a friend or family, you start texting or calling people to check on them.
On this particular day, the sirens were headed north to help Josh Wunsch, a lifelong friend who had suffered a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter. Word spreads fast on the Old Mission Peninsula, and it wasn’t long before everyone heard the news.
I’ve been trying to imagine an Old Mission Peninsula without Josh Wunsch on it, and I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Closer to my brother Dean’s age, Josh is one of those people who’s always been in my life, one of the many OMP “big brothers” I looked up to as I was growing up. Someone who’s always been there and who you expect to always be there. But as we all know, life doesn’t work that way.
Well known in the agricultural and Farm Bureau community, you can read about Josh’s many accomplishments in this story posted on the Michigan Farm Bureau website. He was also instrumental in working with other Old Mission Peninsula residents (including my dad, Walter Johnson) to establish the first-ever township level Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program funded by a millage vote.
Because of that vote in 1994, and with the help of the American Farmland Trust, the PDR citizens committee, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and other groups, hundreds of acres of OMP farmland were snatched from the grips of urban sprawl. Some of Josh’s development rights were included in that historic program.
And while many farmers continue to partner with processing plants to sell their cherries and apples, Josh built a cold storage facility on his farm and went the route of selling fresh fruit to markets in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit and other large metropolitan areas. He wasn’t afraid to take risks and try new business models. The Wunsch farm is in good hands with Josh’s son, Isaiah (also a Peninsula Township trustee), daughter Adele and wife Barb (Dohm) continuing to farm the land.
And like everyone who knew Josh, you never knew where the conversation would go when you sat down to talk with him. I’ll always remember his dry humor, twinkling eyes and quick wit that always kept you on your toes. His influence and presence on the Old Mission Peninsula will be felt for generations to come.
I believe a gathering to celebrate Josh’s life is scheduled for May 19. I will update this story when I have more information.