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Singing the Praises of Royal Oak's Unsung Heroes

Remembering the rich and wonderful lives of Dave Macker, Tim Bryant and Ken Brancheau.

I've remarked before in this column that as I approach 60 years of age, the news of the deaths of fine people close to my age, and also my parents' age, comes more and more frequently. For the folks my age, the reaction is shock, and for my parents' friends it is sadness mixed with gratitude that a life well lived is over peacefully.

In every case, it leaves hole that cannot be filled. It's like taking a character out of book we love and not replacing him or her. Our story is just different without these people.

For nearly all of us, deaths are not public events as with politicians, celebrities, actors and other well known folks.  For us, the deaths are private and personal, yet the loss is profound.

I was thinking about three fine Royal Oak men who passed away recently. Two were far too young and one was right on time. Their lives were celebrated in completely different, yet wonderful ways. While we often refer to good men and women as unsung heroes, I heard the singing about their lives loud and clear.

Dave Macker

Dave Macker, 57, was fixture in  for many years.  I knew Dave from his role of chief security guard at my son's basketball games. Since those games lasted over a dozen years, I saw him a lot and my primary recollection was how he had encouraging words for the players—win or lose.  It was the perfect job for him because he loved sports. He must have seen as many, or more, games as anyone in Shrine history.

Dave's real story is revealed by his very good friends in the Shrine Dad's Club, of which Dave had been a past president. I was sent an email chain by Roy Ruhle of "Macker" stories.  Oh, they were numerous, and they were rich!

The stories demonstrated a man who knew not only knew how to contribute to his school, but have one heckuva good time doing it. Even though I didn't know Dave well, I was laughing out loud at the stories shared by fellow Dad's Club members. I believe that one measure of a man's life is the stories he leaves behind. By that standard, Dave led a very rich life.

Roy also paid Dave what I consider to be the ultimate compliment telling me, “I knew Dave would look after my kid’s safety the same as he would his own family." 

It was Dave who coined the catch phrase, "For the Kids!" It is still invoked in  Shrine athletic fundraising because it captures the essence of what dad's clubs everywhere are supposed to be doing.

Dave's wife Denise, and daughter Sarah, shared a man who had a big heart, a twinkle in his eye, and whose spirit lives warmly in a well-lived life and the stories carried in the hearts of his friends.

Tim Bryant

I also recently attended a celebration of life for Tim Bryant, 53, the husband of Teresa Bryant, a very dear family friend.  Tim's death was startling for his family and many friends, coming much too soon.

Teresa and her son Danny held the celebration at in Troy, which was Tim's go-to spot to watch his favorite sport's teams. The place was jammed, a testament to all the lives he had touched. 

As with Dave, I did not know Tim well, but his son Danny made a beautifully touching tribute that told everyone in the place who his father was. 

Danny is in his early twenties and all of us listening marveled at how articulately spoke from the heart, making us laugh and cry as weaved his way through his father's life in honoring him.

I was struck how the spirit of a man was so eloquently shared. As a toast was raised, with tears in everyone's eyes, I knew we would all leave with the sense a Tim's full life, carried by the words of son. I can't think of more fitting way to honor a life.  

Ken Brancheau

This past week, I attended the wake and funeral for Ken Brancheau. He was "Mr. Brancheau" to all of us who knew the Brancheau family, and there are a lot of us. Mr. and Mrs. Brancheau had a dozen children, two dozen grandchildren and baker’s dozen great-grandchildren. I sure hope I got that count right, because it's never a good practice to cross a family this large. I've known the Brancheau family for as long as I can remember. 

Mr. Brancheau was able to live the 88 plus years of his life fully to the end. He celebrated this year's St. Patrick's Day with gusto. Mrs. Brancheau told me he had shirt on with the picture of man saying, "Please pray for me, I'm married to an Irish woman!" 

Ken reminds me of all the fine patriarchs of the families I grew up with. He served in World War II. He worked the same employer, Michigan Bell, for 42 years. He participated in his church and community and was the first van driver for Royal Oak senior citizens—driving for 20 years. He worked hard to have a relationship with all the members of the family he and Mrs. Brancheau created, and that was no easy task!

The last time I saw him was couple of months ago with one of his grandchildren at a credit union. He was helping her with a loan application. I hope I'm doing that when I am 88 years old.

As you look at Mr. Brancheau's life, on the face, it seems ordinary and yet it was truly extraordinary.  Mr. and Mrs. Brancheau's legacy was simply and beautifully demonstrated at his funeral.

As a bagpiper led the procession down center aisle, a soldier-grandson was in front of the casket and following behind were the nearly three dozen grandchildren and great grandchildren. Each of them was carrying the grief of their loss on their young faces. Could there be a fuller life? It was a stirring sight.  In Mr. Brancheau's funeral celebration, a vibrant and loving family swelled with his life and it was grand.

In the end, as I travel this part of life, my appreciation grows for the true everyday heroes in our lives.  I can see they really aren't unsung heroes, because in truth there are family and friends singing thier praises loud and clear. These heroes will long be remembered and touch us for all of our days.

Did you know one of these three men? If so, please leave your memories in the comment section.

Kimberly Middlewood April 02, 2012 at 10:55 AM
I went to St. Mary's elementary and high school with Megan Brancheau. This family is all welcoming. I enjoyed pajama parties and pool parties at their home. Sitting down to dinner at the Brancheaus was an experience you won't soon forget if you come from a small family. The love and and warmth you felt was undeniable. You were not a guest, you were a part of the family. Mr. and Mrs. Brancheau have my deepest respect, they were always kind and ready to greet you with a smile. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the entirety of the family and especially to Mrs. Brancheau. (Kimberly Nason)
Helen Hewitt April 02, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Lovely tribute to these men Gerry. I knew Mr. Brancheau, and I can attest to the wonderful home he and his wife created for their children and for all of their children's friends. I can remember being at their home hanging out with Jane and being amazed at how many people could fit in their house to eat, and play. Deepest Sympathy to the families of your unsung heroes.
Chuck Nuttchu April 02, 2012 at 03:36 PM
I say to anyone looking for a role model. Look at Mr. Ken Brancheau. He was the quintessential husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, son, uncle, Godfather, friend, parishoner, and christian. It was a privilege and joy to know him! Chuck Nutt
Dawn Ephlin Schrein April 02, 2012 at 04:41 PM
What a beautiful story Gerry, and my sincere sympathies to the Brancheau family
Renae Stephens April 02, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Ken Brancheau is my grandfather and I feel truly blessed to have him as my grandfather. Thank you for writing such a nice article on him. He truly was an amazing man and meant so much to many, many people. He will be dearly missed by all of us.
Muriel Versagi April 02, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Do you think the families would mind if I, as Curator of the Royal Oak historical Society Museum, put these stories in our Museum Library and a brief story on our web site? Hopefully someone will let me know, curator@royaloakhistoricalsociety.org Thanks.
Megan Carlisle April 02, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Great article, Mr. Boylan. I was the grandkid at the bank...he was filling out a loan application with me after the car he had already helped me buy in April started having problems (which began when I accidentally ruined the engine by running it out of oil...!) I really don't know if any man takes care of others as well as he did, but I do know that because of him it is now the mission of many people to merely try.
carole calverley wilson April 02, 2012 at 11:03 PM
All of us who lived on 9th street, Hudson and Harrison and many other surrounding streets near our school, St Marys, knew Mr Brancheau! All of our families were big, and you always had a Brancheau a Calverley or a Wright or a Bell or McEntee or a Boylan a Fitzpatrick (etc etc the lists go on!) in your class or in one of your siblings class. Mr Brancheau was a shining example of a FAMILY man,, great father husband grandfather. Hard working, honest, thoughtful,civic minded! I am proud to have grown up knowing him, and knowing the family he raised the same way, to be quality individuals too! RIP Mr Brancheau, you were loved!
Chuck Brancheau April 03, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Thank you Gerry. I am truly grateful for all of the compassion and kind words shared here and by the hundreds of people over the last week. I am fortunate that while so many people have been touched and inspired by the man that I call Dad. My parents spent their life unselfishly giving everything they had to their family, their community and those they don't even know. I feel truly lucky to have been raised in the home and the community with so many great people and families. Most people won't experience this sense of community in their lifetime. I will miss Dad and I will spend the rest of my life trying to be more like him.
John dorr April 03, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Sorry that I heard too late about the service.my sympathy goes out to a terrific st marys family for their great father. John dorr Very well done writing, as always
Gerry Boylan April 03, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Thanks, Megan...Your car story reminds me of a story (as you might expect!) when I mistook the transmission fluid during a home oil change...the result was the same as yours!
Gerry Boylan April 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Thanks for all the comments...it was an honor to write about three good men.
Rick Kerre April 03, 2012 at 06:22 PM
As a 12 yr. old I met Mr. Brancheau in 1962. I was on a baseball team with his son Pat in the summer of that year and on an ice hockey team with his son Mike in the winter of '62. Mr. B was always there to take us to practice, offer words of encouragement, and make sure there were treats after games. I didn't realize until I was in high school that he had 12 children. To this day I don't know how he had so much time to spend with us but he did and I will forever be grateful for that. He was the true definition of a gentleman and father. He will be missed not just by his immediate family but also by his extended family of friends and acquaintances. As a member of St. Mary's since 1955 I can also say the church is much emptier without your presence.

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