W. Donald “Don” Wertz, 98, of Escanaba, passed away peacefully at North Woods Place on Friday, October 2, 2020 following a brief but valiant fight with cancer.
He was born on February 27, 1922 in Sioux City, IA, the son of Walter and Faye (Whitney) Wertz. Don graduated from East High in Sioux City in 1939 and went on to attend and graduate from Morningside College in Iowa.
Don enlisted in the Army Air Corps on November 3, 1942. He became a decorated B25 pilot and flew 34 missions in the Pacific campaign. He was very proud of his time served during WWII.
On April 9, 1943 he was temporarily stationed at Milwaukee State Teachers College. It was there at a dance held for the GI’s that he met his future wife, Mary Jane Richer. He caught a glimpse of her red coat as she was leaving and asked her to dance. On September 14, 1944 they were wed on the Columbia Army base in Columbia, SC. They celebrated 71½ years of marriage, or 858 months (they celebrated months rather than years during WWII), before Mary Jane passed away in March 2016. Their love for each other was truly amazing.
After the War they settled in Escanaba to raise a family. After working for various local companies, he eventually became Secretary/Treasurer of Clairmont Transfer Co. and Northern Motor Rebuilders, positions he held for many years until his retirement in 1987.
Once retired, he and Mary Jane spent the winter months in FL up until 2009. They were avid bridge players and had many wonderful friends with the same passion. He was still playing in a bridge group in Escanaba up until August of this year. Don’s biggest passion was golf. He LOVED the game. He played for many years in FL and various leagues at the Escanaba Country Club. Don was still playing twice a week at age 98½. You could always find him at the Country Club on Friday nights for a fish fry. One of the highlights of his later years was going to Washington, D.C. on the U.P. Honor Flight in 2010.
Don was a member of the Escanaba Kiwanis Club for 30 years, serving as President in 1967. He was a member of the Kiwanis Golden K Club and the Escanaba Elks Club. Don also served on the Board of Directors for State Bank of Escanaba for 17 years. He was a long-time member of the Escanaba Country Club, serving on the Board of Directors for many years and as its president the year the course expanded to 18 holes. As he always noted though, the organization that was dearest to his heart was the Presbyterian Church. Don was a lifelong Presbyterian. He became a member of the Escanaba First Presbyterian Church in 1947. He taught Sunday School from 1949-1972, was a member of the Choir for 73 years, and served on the Session for a total of over 20 years. Church was a very important part of his life.
Don had a remarkable memory for dates and events that took place throughout his life. He loved telling jokes and making people laugh. When he was in 7th grade, he memorized the poem Casey at the Bat, which had 13 stanzas. He was still reciting this for family and friends and to Escanaba Junior High students. Don touched the lives of many and will be fondly remembered.
Don is survived by his 3 children, Jane (Craig) Gundry of Ford River, Sally (Charles) Guay of Rapid River, and Bill (Suzanne) Wertz of New Berlin, WI; 8 grandchildren, Ed (Alec) Verhamme, Mary (Jerry) Feuerbach, Andy (Danielle) Verhamme, Donald (Kelly) Guay, Kelly (Jon) Reit, Erika (Adam) Eidson, Kevin Wertz, and Michael D’Alessandro. He was also blessed with 11 great-grandchildren. Don is further survived by a nephew, Rick Hobson; niece, Barbie Vaughn- DiRusico; and numerous great-nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his beloved wife, Mary Jane; and his sister, June Hobson.
Funeral services celebrating the life of W. Donald Wertz will be held at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at the First Presbyterian Church in Escanaba with Rev. Jan Reed officiating. Due to the current mandate, masks and social distancing are required. Entombment will take place in the Gardens of Rest Mausoleum. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials please be directed to the Delta County Historical Society or the U.P. Honor Flight.
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