Carlene Hilt, Vi Solomonson and Mary Johnson (Ginny Dohm Coulter in the background) at a September 2016 Old Mission Women's Club meeting | Jane Boursaw Photo
l to r, Carlene Hilt, Vi Solomonson and Mary Johnson (Ginny Dohm Coulter in the background) at a September 2016 Old Mission Women's Club meeting | Jane Boursaw Photo
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Several residents of the Old Mission Peninsula have passed away recently, some that I’ve known forever and some I’ve only seen at Township meetings or other events here and there.

I’ve had readers email me and wonder why I didn’t mention their loved one in the Gazette, but honestly, with our aging population on the OMP and so many residents who’ve moved here recently (as in, the last 20 or 30 years), it’s tough for me to keep up with all of our losses. I’ve asked the folks who’ve emailed me to send me something about their loved one, but so far, no one has responded.

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So here’s my official obituary policy. If you’ve lost a loved one recently (or maybe they passed a long time ago and you’d just like to remember them), you’re welcome to send along a write-up about them and what they’ve meant to you through the years. Send a photo or two, as well. It will also be more meaningful coming from you, especially if I didn’t know them.

That being said, if someone passes who I’ve known all my life, I will likely write about them. Here are a few folks who’ve recently passed…

Verna Bartnick. Many of you probably know Verna, who passed away on Jan. 23, 2024 at the age of 92. She and her husband Art started an ice cream shop on the corner of Center Road and Eimen Road, and inside was a small eatery with a pool table … in the 1970s? Someone help me out with the date. I know it was while I was working on our family farm, Johnson Farms, because we used to head down there to wait out a downpour or breakdown on the cherry shaker crew. So I’m thinking mid-1970s.

Of course, that little ice cream shop — which I think was named Mission Freeze — evolved into the Old Mission Tavern and Bella Galleria that we all know and love. Verna even accepted a few of my oil paintings to sell there back in the day. The food was reliably great, and her famous Thursday pierogi platters and Sunday chicken dinners were the best. In Mom’s later years, we always went there after church with Tim and the kids.

Verna was also a renowned artist, and you’ve likely seen her sculptures, “A Time to Let Go” at the Open Space in town (a depiction of a Dad pushing his son on a bike), “Perry Hannah” on Union Street, “St. Francis Statue and Stations of the Cross” at St. Francis Church, Chateau Chantal’s “The Vine and the Branches,” and a bust of Les Beiderman at NMC. Verna created a lasting legacy in the community. Read her full obituary here.

As for whether the Tavern will open again (I get lots of questions about that!), I’m not sure. If you go to their Website, there’s a note saying, “To all our valued friends and customers of the Old Mission Tavern, we sincerely thank you for the 40 plus years of loyalty and support. We are hoping 2024 will open new doors and give us an opportunity to reunite with all of you again. It truly has been a pleasure serving our friends and family with good food and smiles. Thank you again for all of your support while we navigate through these transitions.”

The meta title on that note on their Website is “Goodbye,” so who knows? Hopefully, this fab eatery will either continue under the Bartnick family or be sold to someone who will continue its legacy. (If you’re a Bartnick or have any info, feel free to email me, [email protected].)

Old Mission Tavern on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Old Mission Tavern on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo

Carlene Hilt. Here’s a picture of Carlene, with Vi Solomonson and my mom, Mary Johnson, at a luncheon for the Old Mission Women’s Club. All of these beloved women are now gone (except for Ginny Dohm Coulter, in the background!), and I miss them all dearly.

Carlene Hilt, Vi Solomonson and Mary Johnson (Ginny Dohm Coulter in the background) at a September 2016 Old Mission Women's Club meeting | Jane Boursaw Photo
l to r, Carlene Hilt, Vi Solomonson and Mary Johnson (Ginny Dohm Coulter in the background) at a September 2016 Old Mission Women’s Club meeting | Jane Boursaw Photo

Carlene was married to Jim Hilt, who passed away in 2020. The Hilts lived just up the road from where I grew up in Old Mission. I used to bike up there during my grade school years so that her mother-in-law, Marian Hilt (later Happel), could tutor me in math (I’m still not great at it, but she got me through the school years).

Carlene was a dear friend with a loving heart, and I’m so glad we got to know each other after she and Jim moved back to the OMP. She missed Jim terribly after he passed, so it makes me happy to know they’re together again. Read Carlene’s full obituary here.

Steve Sobkowski. Steve’s roots on the Old Mission Peninsula run deep. He was a fifth generation descendent of Jerome Pratt, the first Old Mission Lighthouse keeper. His parents were Leonard and Molly (Altenburg) Sobkowski, and his grandparents were Helen and George Altenburg. If you’ve been through the village of Old Mission during the Spring, you’ve likely noticed their beautiful lilacs.

He graduated from Traverse City High School in 1961, and went on to earn a BS and MS in Civil Engineering at Michigan State University, and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

Steve was a wealth of knowledge about the history of the Old Mission Peninsula, and he loved gardening and collecting Petoskey stones. He passed away on Sept. 29, 2023, and will be greatly missed in our community. If you’d like to offer a memorial in his honor, you may send it to the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society, P.O. Box 115, Old Mission, MI 49673, or at their website.

Here’s a photo I took of Steve at the “Books at the Boathouse” fundraiser in 2019. (It’s coming up on April 22, 2024 – get tickets at the library.)

Books at the Boathouse 2019 fundraiser for Peninsula Community Library on the Old Mission Peninsula
April 2, 2019: “Bernie Sanders” (aka Steve Sobkowski) at Books at the Boathouse Fundraiser for Peninsula Community Library | Jane Boursaw Photo

Walter Brys. I didn’t know Walter well, but we always said “Hi” at township meetings, and he always had a smile for me. He passed away on Sept. 5, 2023.

After searching for just the right location, Walter and his wife Eileen bought the old Brown/Giles farm on Blue Water Road and built Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, opening in 2005. They later added the “Secret Garden” lavendar farm, where they sell assorted lavendar items and other gifts.

The winery continues on under the leadership of Walter and Eileen’s son, Patrick, who was named President in 2020. Their daughter, Katie, and her husband Azmi, oversee operations of the Secret Garden.

Read his full obituary here.

Guy LaBonte. I don’t think I ever met Guy, but he lived in the village of Old Mission on the shores of East Bay near Haserot Beach since 1973. I’m longtime friends with his daughter, Lisa.

Guy passed away on Jan. 11, 2024, and his granddaughter, Lisa Ann, sent me a few thoughts and photos on Facebook, noting that her grandfather was always willing to lend a helping hand where needed. He kept the Old Mission Post Office plowed, as well as the driveways of a few other residents.

Writes Lisa Ann: “In the summer he was on his boat taking on the waters and meeting new people, and of course, rescuing the ones in need. The weather never slowed him down. He was fellow member of St. Joseph Church … a devoted Catholic.”

Photos of Guy LaBonte, courtesy of his granddaughter, Lisa Ann | LaBonte Photos
Photos of Guy LaBonte, courtesy of his granddaughter, Lisa Ann | LaBonte Photos

David Warne. Dave passed away in December of 2022 at the age of 81. I think I only ever saw Dave at the Old Mission Parade each 4th of July, where he walked in the parade and played his drum. He was the owner of Sun Radius Music in Traverse City, and I believe his group of drummers played steel drums at various events in the community.

He also played percussion with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra for many years, so it’s very possible that we played in the orchestra together at one time. Many thanks to Ann Swaney for writing up a note about him for the Historical Society website…

Our Old Mission neighbor, friend, and member of OMPHS — David Warne — passed away in December at age 81. He was born in Canada, and after moving to the U.S., married wife Nancy, who many of you remember from all the work she did for the Dougherty House. She preceded him in death in 2019. Dave was always a strong supporter of Nancy’s work and attended our historical society events with her.

Dave was a very strong swimmer, even in his last year. On summer evenings, Dave and Nancy and grandkids, or members of Dave’s band, could often be found down at Haserot Beach grilling dinner and playing in the water.

However, Dave’s principle vocation was music, and particularly percussion instruments of all kinds. He was the owner of Sun Radius Music in Traverse City. He played percussion for many years in the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, as well as for several other local groups. He was an instructor in the music department at NMC, and tutored students.

He leaves several children and grandchildren, plus a lovely log house he had constructed himself. We will miss you, Dave.

Here’s a photo I took of Dave in the Old Mission Parade in 2019.

Dave Warne, Old Mission Parade 2019; owner of Sun Radius Music | Jane Boursaw Photo
Dave Warne, Old Mission Parade 2019 | Jane Boursaw Photo

If you’ve lost a loved one from the Old Mission Peninsula and would like me to mention them in the Gazette, please send along a write-up and a photo or two to [email protected]. I would be honored to publish them.

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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