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GH woman remembers younger brother killed in house fire

Becky Vargo • Dec 2, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Susan Carlson said it finally sunk in Wednesday night that she would never talk to her younger brother again.

John Carlson, 71, died a day after being trapped in his Grand Haven home during a fire last weekend.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” Susan Carlson said Wednesday. “I’m just so thankful that Morgan (John’s granddaughter) wasn’t home that night.”

Firefighters responded to 620 N. Fifth St. at about 4:30 a.m. Nov. 25 and found the house fully engulfed in flames. John’s wife, Linda, and her mother, Arlene, were able to get out the back door.

However, they couldn’t convince John to go outside, Susan said, explaining that her brother had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.

The family dog, Leroy, was outside, but ran back in and died of smoke inhalation, relatives said. They buried him in the backyard later that morning.

Grand Haven Department of Public Safety officers knocked down the fire and were able to drag John from the home and get him to the hospital. However, he died of smoke inhalation the next morning. 

“Sweet and funny — that’s the way I’d describe him,” Susan said of her brother. “He had such a great sense of humor.”

Susan, who lives in her original childhood home on Woodlawn Street in Grand Haven, said her brother was very artistic.

“When he was a little kid, he had this little newspaper he published,” she said. “It was mostly gossip from one family to another. He would write it and draw cartoons and sell it.”

After graduating from high school, John spent time in the U.S. Navy, and then attended Pratt Art College in New York. His mother had attended the same college.

Susan said their grandmother sold her North Shore cottage to put John through art school.

“He lived in New York after graduation for quite a while,” Susan said. “He worked in film, making TV commercials.”

When he returned to Grand Haven, John continued his artwork and filmmaking. One of his projects was creating a Monopoly game of Grand Haven, Susan said.

Susan said her brother was really good with her kids and made home movies with them. He was also a musician.

“He played guitar with his friend, Denny Vance,” she said. “I used to live at 205 Clinton. They would come over and play their guitars. They were really good.” 

Susan said they didn’t have as much contact after John became a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

John and Linda Carlson lived in the family’s ancestral home on Fifth Street. It belonged to the Bahr family, Susan said, explaining that was where their grandmother, Selma Nemeth, and their aunts, Katherine Vink and Elsie Behrendt, grew up. The aunts lived there later on, as well.

“Auntie was like a second mother to us,” Susan said. “John went over there after school every night.”

That’s where all the old family photo albums were stored, as well — in the attic of the Fifth Street home, Susan said.

“It’s all just a tragedy,” she added.

Funeral information is not yet available.

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