Nature 36

John Joseph Gary Dagenais

January 15, 2021


John Joseph “Gary” Dagenais, age 79, of Bark River, passed away unexpectedly, yet peacefully, at the family farm in Alva, FL. He was seated with his son-in-law, Rob, whom was his best buddy, and a group of close friends, enjoying conversation in the Florida sunshine. In the blink of an eye, he left this world to go home to reunite with his son and grandson.

Gary was born to Phoebe and Elmer Dagenais at home in Escanaba, MI. The physician whom delivered Gary left the family home and completed Gary’s birth certificate with his own name, “John Joseph.” Granted that the birth certificate was not recorded in Phoebe and Elmer’s chosen name, the record remained as “John Joseph,” while the Dagenais family simply ignored the legal aspect of the birth certificate. Henceforth, their baby boy was forever known as “Gary.”

Gary attended Escanaba High School and proudly served his country in the United States Air Force. From childhood until his passing, Gary worked with his family at all of the businesses founded by his father, Elmer. As a young man, Gary was a butcher at Mel and Elmer’s, a Vice President and bookkeeper at Elmer’s Super Valu, and continued with the family grocery business as it evolved into Elmer’s County Market. Gary retired in the early 1990s, however, a strong work ethic was in his blood and he would return to the store intermittently until the end of his life. In 2010, Gary and his son-in-law founded Sweet Madeline’s Apiary in Alva, FL, which expanded to Hiawatha Honey Company in Wetmore, MI in 2018. For the past 2 years, Gary worked weekdays as a bookkeeper at Elmer’s and spent weekends bottling honey in the Hiawatha National Forest.

Gary married the former Lois McIntyre (Yirsa) in 1964. They had two children, Terri and Gary. Although they divorced in 1971, they remained friends, often spending special occasions and holidays together with their combined families. In fact, Carrie Yirsa, Lois’ daughter with her husband, James Yirsa, fondly referred to Gary as “Papa G.”

Gary enjoyed working, golfing and traveling – especially to visit his children. His wanderlust wouldn’t allow him to stay in one spot for long. Gary had a love for animals, and spending time with his “fur grandchildren,” Madeline, Meg, Allie Coco, and Quinn. It was not uncommon to see Gary asleep in his recliner with one or more of these “babies” snuggled on his lap.

Gary was renowned for his eccentricities and quirky nature. Undeterred by his daughter’s urgings to discontinue wearing his signature cowboy boots, especially post hip replacement surgery, as they posed a potential fall risk. Gary wore them until the moment he took his last breath. Likewise, Gary had an affinity for his Park Avenue and found it unthinkable to scrap that car for any new vehicle. He considered it to be “the best car ever made.” He had a kind and generous heart and was happiest when helping others. He was a man of compassion whom found contentment in giving rather than receiving.

Gary is survived by his daughter, Terri (Rob) Rodgers; “bonus” grandchildren, Joey and Logan Rodgers; sisters, Sandye Dagenais and Jane Sarnowski; mother of his children and friend, Lois Yirsa; bonus daughter, Carrie Yirsa; special friend, Bill Cramer; along with many nieces, nephews, and his extended Elmer’s County Market family.

Gary was preceded in death by his son, Gary A. Dagenais; grandson, Spencer Dagenais; parents, Phoebe and Elmer Dagenais; sister, Marlene Dagenais; brothers, Dennis Wendt and Wayne Dagenais; and sister-in-law, Judith Dagenais.

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, private family funeral services were held. Inurnment will take place in the Gardens of Rest Mausoleum. The family would like to extend a special thank you to Mikey D., Pat, and, and Barb for their love and support, working side-by-side with Gary until his passing. Gary had a passion and love for the store, just as Elmer did, and there was always a spot reserved at the store for Gary to work, as he desired. Gary was able to freely travel between the store and Florida to work at the family farm. Donations in Gary’s honor can be made to the Delta Animal Shelter and the Escanaba Salvation Army. 

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