Jul 17th 1915 - Dec 19th 2011
With an insatiable zest for life that was contagious to all those within her reach, Erma Gray embraced each and every day she was given. She fully devoted herself to everything she did whether it was working alongside her husband of 70 years, tending to the needs of her children, or serving within the community she dearly loved. Erma had an eye for detail and artistry whose heart and spirit always shined through in her breathtaking flower arrangements, precise needlework, and brilliantly crafted quilts. She was known for both her strong work ethic and her energetic spirit that graced everything she did, yet it was her unending love for those around her that will be her lasting legacy.
While the eyes of the world were focused on the brewing strife in Europe with WWI, a young family from Quebec, Canada, was focused on a time of great joy within their own family as they celebrated the birth of a healthy baby girl on July 17, 1915. Erma Cleo was one of two girls born to her parents, Oscar and Emma (Taske) Guertin. Her father was a French Canadian who was from an artistic family of gifted musicians while Erma’s mother was of German heritage that was steeped in determination, strength, and a strong work ethic. Her mother’s family owned a dairy farm near the foot of the mountains where Erma loved going and tackling her own share of the farm chores. It isn’t surprising that the farmhouse table was always overflowing with fresh milk and cream, fresh eggs and meats, and Aunt Dora’s homemade bread and pies - and that was just for breakfast!
In the 1920s, Erma moved with her family to Detroit where her parents created a family gathering place on Duck Lake. Her father played the clarinet and fished while her mother kept the kitchen buzzing with her cooking and baking for the family that included Erma’s sister, Lois, and her husband, George, and all their friends.
It was as a high school student that Erma met the young man who stole her heart. His name was Ted Gray, and they became acquainted through his frequent visits to the Duck Lake cottage for fishing, boating, and swimming. After falling in love, Erma and Ted married in 1937 and began saving for their new home in Detroit. In 1943 they welcomed their daughter, Lois, into their hearts and home and in 1947 she was joined by their son, Gary. With inspiration taken from their fond memories of all the outdoor fun in Canada and Duck Lake, Erma and Ted moved to northern Michigan where they developed a lakeside resort, Graywood Circle, on Otsego Lake near Gaylord. The pioneering aspect of establishing this new life appealed to them both, and kerosene lamps were their first source of lighting. Erma’s husband and father brought in walleye and perch for family dinners, and ice fishing was an annual rite in the family. Erma took their catch and made mouthwatering chili and stew for their long stretches out on the ice. During the summer months Erma, who was an expert swimmer, made a solo swim across the lake each year with her husband rowing beside her.
With the 24 hour work demand and two growing children to care for, Erma and Ted decided to purchase the Hi-Way Inn in Hillman. Her mother was a partner in the business along with Ted, which gave Erma a bit more time to spend with their children. The Friday night gatherings she organized were second to none and boasted of platters of food when Senator Andrews came home from Lansing with the latest news in the world of politics.
After moving to Alpena in the mid-fifties, it didn’t take Erma long to involve herself in the community and with those around her. She regularly took part in neighborhood, church, and numerous community efforts, and she also loved to entertain in their home. Erma worked at Rosenthaler Accounting for a time, putting her strong work ethic to good use. Erma’s husband eventually became a partner at Huron Distributing Company, and Erma always enjoyed traveling to conventions and business meetings with Ted and his partner, Howard Boudreau, and his wife, Tillie. She also gathered an extensive collection of French and English china, and she busied herself tending to her magnificent hybrid tea roses. Erma spent hours in her garden and brought in the most beautiful bouquets of roses, coral bells, and baby’s breath for her home and also to give to others. As secretary of the Community Concert Association, she was responsible for assuring that 800 subscribers received their tickets on time. It was not uncommon for Erma to meet the planes of the artists as they arrived in Alpena, and she often served as their attentive hostess in her home as well. She was also a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Alpena for nearly 60 years where she was a founding member of the Lois Circle. Erma was known for her expertise in needlework throughout her entire life. Even during her sunset years she continued to make pieces, never dropping a stitch. Erma also learned to quilt during her later years.
With her leisure time Erma was one to keep busy. Her card clubs were near and dear to her as both the camaraderie with friends and lively card games were a delight to her. Erma was an expert cribbage player who won most tournaments with her daughter, even into her 90’s. With her passion for learning, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Erma loved Scrabble and word games, daily referring to the gigantic Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. After Ted retired they travelled with friends and spent numerous winters in Florida near Hobe Sound. Wedding anniversaries were joyous commemorations including their 50th that was celebrated in Colonial Williamsburg where Erma was excited to see the examples of Colonial needlework in the Folk Art Museum. Their 60th was spent in St. Louis with Ted’s sister’s family.
As Erma and Ted grew older, they received expert care from dedicated care givers in their home under the supervision of their son, who moved back to Alpena during this time. After Ted’s death in 2007, Erma continued to receive expert care in her home including meals served on her favorite china.
Through the life she lived each day, Erma Gray was a true blessing in the lives of those around her. With her father’s joie de vivre and her mother’s stubborn determination, she created a rich and rewarding life full of memories that will remain in the hearts of her loved ones.
Erma C. Gray died on December 19, 2011. Erma’s family includes her, son Gary; her daughter, Lois (William) Noack; and one grandson, Sergei. Erma was preceded in death by her husband and sister. Family and friends will gather on Friday, December 23, 2011, at St. Paul Lutheran Church from 10:00 a.m. until the time of the memorial service at 11:00 a.m. with Rev. Tom Orth officiating. Memorial donations may be made to St. Paul Lutheran Church or Hospice of Michigan. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you may share a memory or sign the on-line guest book.