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Life Story / Obituary
Donald "Swede" Carlson was a self-made man by his skill, hard work and frugality. At the same time, he was generous with his talents and caring toward his family and friends. He was soft-spoken and patient yet cunning and humorous. His laughter was as big as his heart and his love was as broad as his reach. Donald touched the lives of many who are grateful to have known an honest and upstanding man.
Donald Arthur was born August 3, 1926 in Muskegon, Michigan, the eldest child of Carl and Ida (Lundeen) Carlson. Like others who came of age during the Great Depression and met the challenge of World War II, Don was shaped by the values of duty and sacrifice that put him in the company of those who have been called “The Greatest Generation.”
Growing up on Ridgewood Street in Kalamazoo, Don was an active child and somewhat accident prone. However, he survived many-a mishap at play and at work in the local celery fields. From an early age, Don developed a strong work ethic, and from his carpenter and millwright father, he learned the skill of construction that served him well throughout his life.
Deep in the throes of WWII when Americans were stepping up to join the military efforts abroad, Don enlisted with the U.S. Army in 1944. He was deployed to Europe as part of the 87th Infantry Division—the Golden Acorn—under the command of General George Patton. Don, nicknamed “Swede,” was very proud of his service and was honorably discharged with the gratitude of a thankful nation.
Life changed dramatically when Don met JoAnn Owen, a cadet nurse at Bronson School of Nursing. The two had agreed to a blind date, and sledding at Echo Valley was the place of their first meeting. It was the beginning of a long and loving friendship that lasted a lifetime. Don was fond of saying that when he got his arms around JoAnn that day on the sled, he never let go. Yet his greatest day was yet to come. Don married JoAnn on March 20, 1948 at First Methodist Church in Kalamazoo.
With JoAnn’s training as a nurse and Don’s skill in carpentry, the newlyweds were very employable and equally adventurous. They were eager to spread their wings and had intentions of moving to Florida. However, when they got to Atlanta, Georgia, they “took a right” and ended up in Denver, Colorado instead. Later, they ventured to Albuquerque, New Mexico, but when their first child was born, they made a decision to return to Kalamazoo. They wanted the support of parents and extended family to help them raise their children in a caring and loving home.
Structurally, Don’s home was also in good shape. Being a carpenter, he could craft almost anything and being handy, he could fix nearly everything. In addition, he happily tended his hobby farm on the corner of Stadium and 8th Street, all while working as a fire fighter for the City of Kalamazoo. In his 30 years of service, Swede received numerous commendations and, truth be told, he earned a PhD in practical jokes and agitations.
Though he was employed with the fire department, Don kept his hand in construction and teamed up with fellow fire fighters to build houses on their days off. He also served as building inspector for Oshtemo Township and, for a period of time, acted as its treasurer. Being an active member of Oshtemo United Methodist Church, Don helped build the fellowship hall. Wherever he was needed, Don readily showed up to lend a hand without being asked.
When Don retired from the fire department in 1982, he worked in real estate and took advantage of a more flexible schedule. He and JoAnn moved to Minor Lake in Allegan and rebuilt the family cottage into a year-round home. They also “built” many memories with their children, grandchildren and extended family at their annual 4th of July gathering and more. They took the opportunity to travel, visiting relatives as far away as Sweden and making a trip to Alaska for their 50th wedding anniversary. Once again, the spirit of adventure had come alive as Don and JoAnn left their home in Michigan to travel by train and boat to Alaska. Their life together was true joy, made happier each day by the love of family.
Donald Arthur “Swede” Carlson, age 89 of Kalamazoo, Michigan, died on Tuesday, November 24, 2015. Members of his family include his wife of 67 years, JoAnn; 4 children: Mike (Sandee), John (Coleen), Ken (Amy), and Deborah (Jack) Nyhoff; a sister, Arlene Meadows; 9 grandchildren , 8 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Also dear to him were his brother and sister in law, Al and Sally Johnson and sister-in-law Ann Carlson. He was preceded in death by his son, David in 1970; a brother, Loren and his best friend and brother-in-law Laurn Meadows. Visit with Don’s family on Monday from 6-8 PM at the Oshtemo United Methodist Church, 6574 Stadium Drive, where services will be held on Tuesday at 11 AM. Please visit Donald’s personal web page at www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of him and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the Oshtemo United Methodist Church. Arrangements by Life Story Funeral Homes, Betzler – Kalamazoo; 6080 Stadium Drive (269-375-2900).