Richard VanderMey

July 9, 1955 - December 26, 2019
Traverse City, MI



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Life Story / Obituary


Richard Duane VanderMey died unexpectedly at his home in Old Mission on Thursday, December 26, 2019.

Richard was born on July 9,1955 in Cadillac, Michigan, to Charles and Margaret (Beerens) VanderMey. The family lived on Hammond Road then moved to Kewadin and Lake City before settling in Old Mission in 1970. Being raised on farms with the no-nonsense, hard working lifestyle of a farmer helped build the man he would become. Always working, always expecting the best from himself, never asking for help but always willing to help anyone who needed it

After moving with his family to Old Mission, he gained employment with the Kroupa fruit processing plant and worked doing different jobs at the plant, eventually driving semi- truck for them, hauling fruit across the state and the country. He never strayed far from his upbringing on farms.

In 1975, he embarked on a journey that would become his life's passion-the fire service. He joined the Peninsula Volunteer Fire Department at the age of 18, training as a firefighter during the time when formal training was a 66-hour program. He would later be one of the many area firefighters who took the very first Emergency Medical Technician training in Grand Traverse County. Rich learned from not only the older members of his own department, but from other fire fighters and Chiefs from surrounding departments. He took special pride in his working relationship with Grand Traverse Rural Fire Chief Fred Mueller, who gave him a bountiful education on arson origin and detection. Rich would call upon Chief Mueller on many occasions to help him determine a fire's cause and origin. He also admired and respected Grand Traverse Metro Fire Chief Wayne Hanna Traverse City Fire Chief Ed Fisher and Grand Traverse Rural Fire Chief Bill Sedlacek. Rich worked his way up through the leadership of the Department, eventually becoming Chief in 1986-87. He saw this as an opportunity to bring the department and the services it provided to a higher level with upgrades to equipment and training. In 1989, he became the township's first full-time fire department employee, staffing the station in Mapleton during the daytime hours. He was instrumental in getting a second full-time firefighter/EMT hired to work alongside him and, with the help of his department, was able to provide 24/7 staffing for the department. His mission was to make his department and the men and women who staffed it, the best it could be.

Rich made many relationships throughout his career as Fire Chief, both professional and personal. He took great pride in helping the citizens of Peninsula Township, assisting them not only with emergency situations, but with anything they needed afterward. He was a member of many organizations including the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs. Along with Chiefs Mueller and Hanna, he helped in the development and realization of the Northwest Regional Fire Training Center and was as active member of its Board of Directors and a state-certified instructor until his retirement. His most important relationships were with members of his own department. Rich considered them his family, his responsibility, and was very proud to pass on his knowledge and experiences to the newest members. Some of those "newbies" he considered to be sons to him and a few even referred to him as "dad". Rich would encourage them to train and to learn as much as they could to help him with his vision of creating the best fire department around.

In 1984, he joined the Traverse City Police Department Reserves Unit and was in one of the very first classes they offered. He enjoyed doing patrols with the regular City Police officers and made many friendships in the department. He was also trained and certified as a firearms instructor. He retired in 2018 as Captain of the Reserve Unit.

In 1989 he married his wife, Pamela (Montague), and together raised two sons, one of which would join the department later on. Rich and Pamela met after Pam joined the department. They served on the department together until Pam retired in 2011. In 1995, Rich took on a second job managing a cherry farm near his home in Old Mission. True to form, he needed to keep busy. Rich would work for the fire department during the day, come home and change his clothes, climb in a tractor and go work on the farm till well after dark. He would pass his passion for farming to his youngest son and both sons and a nephew would later help out on the farm. Rich remained on the farm until his passing.

Richard would enjoy his two grandsons in his later life and took great pride in them. Tractor rides and cherry shaker rides in the summer were always a staple.

Richard remained Fire Chief until his retirement in 2013. He became a full-time cherry farmer upon his retirement from the fire department and remained on the farm until his death.

Richard is survived by his wife, Pam, and sons Michael (Rachel) and Adam (Ashley Stennet) and grandsons Mason and Mitchel. He is also survived by his brother, Harry VanderMey and nephews Thomas VanderMey and Mathew VanderMey.

He was preceeded in death by his parents, Charles and Margaret VanderMey. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the family.

A celebration of his life will be held 11 am, Saturday, January 4, 2020 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Old Mission. The family will greet friends starting at 10 am.

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