PIERSON — Montcalm County has lost a legendary, longtime commissioner.
Carl Paepke died Wednesday morning at his Pierson home after fighting lung cancer. He was 86 years old.
Paepke, a Republican, was in his 18th year as commissioner for District 5, which encompasses Maple Valley, Pierson and Pine townships. He was one of the longest serving current commissioners, second only to Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview, who is chairman of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners.
“He was probably one of the hardest-working commissioners who’s served,” said Carr, who is currently serving his 20th year as commissioner. “He attended everything he got invited to and then some. He got re-elected by an overwhelming majority several times. He was very well liked and respected.”
Carl Albert Paepke was born Sept. 19, 1925, in Pierson Township, the son of Albert and Gladys Bradley Paepke. At age 18, Paepke served in World War II with the U.S. Army’s 90th Division, the “Tough Ohmbres” stationed in Central Europe. He received a Bronze Battle Star for his service.
Paepke married Donna Fike on Aug. 28, 1944, in Rockford. They had three daughters, Kathleen (who died in 2006), Priscilla and Jeanne.
Priscilla Heimbecker and Jeanne Paulsen, both of Trufant, remember their father as strict but loving.
“He was so in tune with the military,” Paulsen recalled. “Every morning when he wanted us to get up for school, he would yell upstairs, ‘Hit the deck!’ We knew what it meant — get ready, get up, time to go to school.”
Heimbecker and Paulsen said their father’s military experience made them feel safe while growing up on a farm in Pierson. Their father also had a strong sense of right and wrong.
“He was always helping somebody,” Paulsen said. “He didn’t advertise it, but he helped a lot of people. He taught us the Bible without us even knowing it. He’d say, ‘It’s right or wrong and you’d better be right.’
“He was always right,” she added with a chuckle. “As our mother would say, ‘That’s a laugh.’”
Carl and Donna Paepke were married 65 years when Donna died on Christmas Day 2009.
Paepke joined the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 1, 1995. He served as chairman of the Parks & Rec Committee and the Solid Waste Management Planning Committee. He also served on the Finance & Personnel Committee, Health & Human Services Committee, Law Enforcement & Courts Committee and as a representative to the Mid-Michigan District Health Department Board.
“I think the parks were pretty important to Carl,” Carr said. “He took a lot of pride in seeing the parks in nice shape for county residents. We always had a lot of good comments from other counties when we’d run into people who had served with Carl on the health department.”
Like Carr, Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer worked alongside Paepke for years.
“Commissioner Paepke was instrumental in developing the solid waste plan and bringing recycling to Montcalm County,” Hyzer said. “It was a honor to work with Carl on different projects and his insight to a wide variety of topics.”
Mid-Michigan District Health Department Health Officer Kim Singh said Paepke was serving his 18th year on the Board of Health and was a tremendous supporter of services to improve and protect the public’s health.
“When he was first appointed to the Board of Health, he took time to accompany the staff on home visits, restaurant inspections and even attended WIC and immunization clinics to get a good understanding of what we did,” Singh recalled. “When I became health officer 12 years ago, he invited me and my family to his home for lunch. He was very supportive. He has continued to be an advocate for the value of basic public health services that we often take for granted — we have fresh, safe drinking water, a safe food supply, and we have eliminated most vaccine preventable diseases.
“Each holiday season Carl and his wife, Donna, would deliver candy canes to all of the staff wishing a Merry Christmas,” she added. “Carl will surely be missed but definitely not forgotten.”
Paepke was a life member and past commander of the Sand Lake VFW Post and an officer of the Sand Lake Lions Club. He enjoyed farming in Pierson and was a member of the American Breeders Service, where he worked with cattle breeding and research in breeding.
Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Trufant, where Paepke attended church. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Hurst Funeral Home in Greenville.