For the second time in four months, Chelsea has lost a well-known community leader and business owner.
Joseph M. Merkel, 66, a long-time Chelsea resident, former Village Council Member, and the owner of The Wolverine, died Friday at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.
“The Chelsea community has lost another icon with the passing of Joe Merkel,” said City Council Member Frank Hammer, who added, “The best description I can give of Joe is that he was ‘everyone’s neighbor.’”
Hammer and Merkel served on the Village Council together for years.
“Joe would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, and never expected a return favor,” Hammer said, adding that “Joe was generous with his money, time and talent when someone or some group was in need.”
Reuben Lesser, who has known Merkel for many years, said he was a past fair board member, and will be remembered for his community involvement. “He didn’t look for any public recognition,” Lesser said. “When he saw a need, he just took care of it.”
Always generous with his time, Merkel got done whatever was needed — whether it was for an individual, an organization, an individual or the city.
“If someone said, ‘Ask Joe’ or “What does Joe think?’; no one ever asked Joe who?” Hammer said.
Merkel preferred to operate behind the scenes, but was always supporting, promoting and encouraging of a lot of important developments in the community, Hammer said.
“It was always a privilege to sit down and talk with Joe and discuss all kinds of ideas and issues, or just to kibitz about the world in general,” Hammer said.
Merkel quietly took care of city employees as well.
Craig Maier, the retired public works director for the city, and current Lima Township supervisor, said, “ I can remember one year we were out plowing snow during a bad snowstorm and it was about 2 a.m. Back then, we had keyed radios, and Joe came on the radio and asked where we were, then told us to head to The Wolverine to get something to eat. He had the hamburgers and fries all laid out for us. We grabbed a quick bite, warmed up and headed back out. Everyone really appreciated that,” Maier said.
“That was just Joe,” Maier said. “He always did that for us. He took care of us.”
If you’ve lived in Chelsea for any length of time, it’s likely that you have a Wolverine story – from surprise birthday or retirement party to a holiday or birthday bash.
Maier said, “Many, many members in the (Lima) township have frequented The Wolverine and Joe will be sadly missed. He was the first face you saw when you walked in the door and the last one you saw when you left. It won’t be the same with him gone.”
Longtime manager of The Wolverine Gary Farmer said, “We were like brothers, Joe and I. At least he’s not suffering (from ill health) anymore.”
Merkel had been in and out of the hospital a number of times in recent years.
But he will be remembered by the Chelsea community for his selfless involvement in many aspects of the community — from helping the youth at the Chelsea Community Fair to helping his many employees with sound advice to assisting Legionnaires with the food orders for the Winter Carnival.
“When he was physically able, Joe was a wealth of knowledge for the Legion,” Maier said, adding that he was a long-time member of Chelsea American Legion Post 31, and spearheaded the post’s involvement in several fundraisers including a poker tournament.
Although some people might have thought his manner was a bit gruff at times, those who knew him well and those who took the time to sit down and talk to him were aware that behind a sometimes growling voice was a huge heart – and someone who cared deeply about the Chelsea community and its people.
A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Wednesday, Jan. 23, from St. Mary Catholic Church at 11:00 am with The Rev. Dr. William J. Turner Officiating. The family will receive friends at the Staffan Mitchell Funeral Home on Tuesday from 2-4 and 6-8 pm. Expressions of sympathy may be made to St. Mary Catholic Church or the St. Louis Center.
A full obituary from the family and Staffan Mitchell Funeral Home will be posted as soon as it becomes available.