About 500 Chelsea area community members said a final farewell to Joseph Martin Merkel Wednesday afternoon during a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Mary Catholic Church.
Merkel, 66, died on Jan. 18 at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital but his legacy and love for Chelsea will not be forgotten.
The former village council member and business owner was remembered in the homily by Fr. William Turner who took his shoes off (and invited others to do likewise) in memory of Merkel, who was in a wheelchair and had both of his legs amputated.
“Joe Merkel loved people,” Turner said. “He gave to people in need and he did so privately.”
He’ll be remembered as a generous man, who saw a need and filled it without fanfare or public ceremony.
Turner joked that his frequent visits to St. Joe’s Hospital would pay for a new wing and that it should be named after him.
“He was a textbook case” of never being deterred from doing what he wanted to do in his life, Turner said, adding that “Shoeless Joe” was a better driver without legs than he was with them.
“Joe now has his legs back,” Turner said, “He can dance like he did at his daughter’s wedding. Now there are no restrictions for our friend, Joe. We’ll see him again and he’ll be dancing up a storm.”
A military veteran, Merkel bought the Wolverine Food and Spirits Restaurant in 1968, and turned it into a community gathering place for celebrations, discussions, laughter and love.
Among his many accomplishments, Merkel was a Chelsea Fair Board Member, Village Police Commissioner, Construction Captain for Timber Town, a Village Council member, and an active member of the American Legion Herbert J. McKune Post 31. Legion members were color guards at his burial service.
Merkel was named Chelsea Citizen of the Year in 1996.
He served as a Knight of Columbus and more than a dozen of his fellow Knights served as honor guards.
“There are special Messengers of God’s love and I’d like to think of Joe Merkel as this for all of us,” Turner said.
And, as friends and family exited the church in light snow flurries, many stopped to view his American flag-draped casket. Some touched the flag and said personal good-byes to their friend.
His casket rested in the back of a wagon hitched to a pair of jet black Percheron horses, which took him for his last ride down the driveway of St. Mary Church, exiting onto Old US-12. It was a journey that ended at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
The son of Joseph E. and Betty M. (Smyth) Merkel Sr., Joseph Martin Merkel is survived by his father, his wife of 46 years, Judy, three children, three siblings and six grandchildren.