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David Gernant

January 9, 2024
Plainwell, MI

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David Gernant, most recently of Plainwell, died in Buenos Aires on January 9, 2024 at the age of 80 of complications of malaria.

David was born November 4, 1943 in Kalamazoo, the son of the late Frances and Leonard Gernant. Surviving are two sons, John Stroeve of Hillsboro Oregon and his wife Candice, and Peter Stroeve of Fort Lauderdale Florida and his partner Becky Ascione; grandchildren Emily and her partner Keith Burroughs, Rae, Mercedes, and Ethan; sister Karen Gernant of Talent Oregon and Fuzhou, Fujian China, and her husband Louis Roemer. David was pre-deceased in 2015 by his sister The Rev. Mary-Kathleen Gernant Blanchard of Augusta Georgia, and in 2020 by his brother Paul Gernant of Acme Michigan.

David attended Kalamazoo Public Schools 1948-61, and graduated from what he always called "the real" Central High School, with high honors. He studied political science, history, and philosophy and religion at Western Michigan University, 1961-65, and graduated magna cum laude. He was active in student activities. In 1963 at the age of 19 he was elected president of the student body-the first non-Greek to win the position in many years. He loved to brag about his performance as Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., First Lord of the Admiralty, in the spring 1965 musical "H.M.S. Pinafore." His audition "stole" him the role from music and theater majors. He was praised (by many who were surprised) for his stage command and comic timing.

David was one of the first two Western graduates admitted to the Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 1968 (and, may it be said, without academic honors among that crowd of unusually gifted brains). He was proud and pleased to carry the distinction of that degree, but also found it a conversation stopper when he left the east coast, so he didn't mention it much, and never framed or hung his law school diploma, done in traditional Latin.

An accomplished musician, David enjoyed singing in choirs. He was a boy chorister at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 1952-57; a member of the First Presbyterian Church Choir in high school and college, and after his return in retirement, 2011-2017; the Washington Cathedral Choir during his early professional life in Washington, 1970; and the St. Michael and All Angels Choir, Portland, 1972-74.

David lived most of his adult life in the Portland Oregon area, from 1972 to 2008. There he met and married his wife Ellen Schadel Stroeve (whose mother was born in Kalamazoo), and became father (the words "stepfather" and "stepson" were never used by either David or his sons, whom he formally adopted in 1988) to John and Peter, then 12 and 10 years old. During the marriage, David finally came to acknowledge that he was gay. Ellen accepted the reality with both difficulty and some understanding. But the marriage ended in divorce after eight years, when both sons were in college and David wanted to live his life as a gay man and, increasingly, as a gay activist.

David served as legal counsel in Salem to Oregon's Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and State Court Administrator for 10 years, 1972 to 1983. Then, in a mid-life re-launch he got a real estate salesperson's license and sold timeshares at the Oregon coast. Simultaneously, he experimented as a multi-level marketer with three different companies, including the famed Michigan exemplar, Amway.

Perhaps needless to add, David made no money from these ventures. So by the spring of 1984 he returned to the practice of law as a private solo practi┬Čtioner. He parlayed his appellate expertise by marketing his services to other solo practitioners and to small firms that couldn't afford an appellate expert.

David made his last court appearance (December 1992) in the United States Supreme Court as the "second chair" attorney on behalf of a Portland man who fell into a crevasse and died in Antarctica. His widow sued the Navy. The issue was whether Antarctica (not a country at all) was a "foreign country" under the Federal Tort Claims Act. David's argument, presented by an Emory Law School professor, drew only one justice's vote, but the case did settle this arcane point. By 1986, David had been appointed a part-time, "pro tern" trial judge by the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. He served in that capacity in 13 different counties in Oregon between 1986 and 1992. In December 1992, Governor Barbara Roberts appointed David to a seat on the Multnomah County (Portland) Circuit Court, making him the first openly gay male judge in Oregon. In Oregon, judges must stand for non-partisan election every six years. David was elected in May 1994 and re-elected in May 2000, without opposition.

David chose not to run again in 2006, but continued to serve part-time as a circuit judge throughout Oregon until the end of 2008, completing 22 years of part-time and full-time service to the people of Oregon.

In the fall of 1996, David started studying Spanish, in a course offered at Portland State University. He continued his studies for several years, with private tutors both in Portland and in Mexico, community college evening classes, and in immersion programs in Mexico, Ecuador, and Spain. He never achieved complete conversational fluency, but the fluency he did achieve enabled him to be comfortable traveling in almost every Spanish-speaking country in the world. At the time of his death, David had still not been to Venezuela.

When David returned in retirement to live in Plainwell, he got involved at Western in the theater department. As a culture vulture and longtime fan of legitimate theater, David had always wondered how plays were put together. So in 2013, he took his first course in theater--how to direct. He followed that with one in script analysis and another in musical theater history--always for credit, which required him to do the work, and the professors to grade his work. He received an A in each. He didn't study acting, but he did appear onstage in 2014 as a scripted "audience plant" in a British farce, "One Man, Two Guvnors." Again, his comic timing won praise (and not a little wonderment from his fellow actors, 50 years his junior).

David enjoyed traveling more than almost anyone. Always alone, and almost always without help securing reservations for flights and accommodations. He drove through all of the "lower" 48 states, including through every major American city and dozens of national parks, presidential homes and libraries, art museums-stopping often to take what became his trademark photographs. He also drove through all but three of Canada's provinces and territories. He liked to say that he averaged taking 1000 digital images per week when traveling, processing and sharing about 2% of those with his many friends and followers on Facebook. In his manic drive to see all of North America, he also visited 25 of Mexico's 32 states.

By the time he died, he had visited 124 countries and all 50 states. His trips typically took him away from home for three to five months at a time, and for much longer in his later years. In 2017-18, he planned what even for him was an extraordinary venture--a 12-month journey circumnavigating the southern hemisphere. First scheduled stops: Easter Island, and the still almost impossibly remote Pitcairn Island, where the "Bounty'"s mutineers settled.

At home in Plainwell, David became well-known among a large circle of friends as a genial host of meticulously prepared dinners, usually including a soup, a main course that might have been learned from travels to Mexico or Peru or India, home-baked bread, and a memorable dessert. Repeat guests knew enough not to eat earlier in the day and to leave at home any dietary qualms.

The political bug caught up with David in 201 5-1 6, when he stood for election to the legislature-as a Democrat in Allegan County. It was a special election called for the day of the presidential primary in March 2016. Despite raising more money than any Democrat had ever raised in Allegan County, with a hotly contested presidential race on the Republican side David was swamped even more than was usual for a Democrat. The last time Allegan County elected a Democratic legislator was in 1894.

David tried to squeeze every drop of life out of the years allotted to him.

He always joked that he wouldn't have time to produce a book of his photos and travel notes until he couldn't travel any more. And death caught up with him first.

(The length of this notice is probably because David wrote it himself, and couldn't bear to leave out any of the salient points of his biography.)

A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m. EDT on April 13. A light lunch will follow the service. The service will be live streamed beginning at about 10:45 a.m. EDT: https:/www.youtube.com/@fpckalamazooevents7687/streams

Contributions in David's memory may be made to WMU Foundation: David Gernant Acting Scholarship; or to First Presbyterian Church: Performing Arts Fund.