Longtime area newspaperman dies

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:14 AM

e. He tried to be the comedian. He always wanted to lighten things up.”

“He wore his heart on his sleeve,” his son remembered. “He wasn’t overly nice, he was genuinely nice. He could talk to anyone.”

Clarence Poel died Sunday at age 91, with his family gathered at his side.

A newspaper man for more than 65 years, Poel was most recently known for writing his “Focus on People” columns, which appeared twice weekly in the Grand Haven Tribune.

He had written more than 7,000 columns by the time he was interviewed in August 2010 for the 125th anniversary of the Tribune. Randy said he believed his dad’s last column appeared in December 2010.

“I try not to make my columns critical of people,” Clarence Poel said for a story written at the time. “I especially like to write columns about people helping other people.”

Randy Poel said it drove his dad crazy when somebody wrote something bad about someone.

“He didn’t like exploiting people’s misery,” Randy said. “That’s the only thing he didn’t like about being a reporter.”

Clarence Poel was born and raised in Grand Haven, graduating at age 17 from Grand Haven High School in 1937. He married his sweetheart, Doris (Welling), now 88, who graduated from GHHS in 1940.

Clarence worked at General Motors in Grand Rapids prior to enlisting in the Army in World War II, Randy said.

“He wrote Mom virtually every day when he was overseas,” Randy said. “Mom never threw the letters away. We have all of them and we have Dad’s military locker.

Randy said his dad’s journalism career evolved when one of his dad’s friends read some of those letters and invited Clarence to write for the local newspaper. That friend was Almon McCall, who was at that time the editor of the Grand Haven Tribune.

Clarence started his career as sports editor. That evolved to the point that he found himself covering police, then city and county news as well. Eventually, he became the managing editor. He switched to editorial page editor in 1973 when Fred VandenBrand became the managing editor.

“The Tri-Cities area has lost someone very special with the death of veteran Grand Haven Tribune reporter, photographer, editor and most recently columnist Clarence ‘Tad’ Poel,”  VandenBrand said this morning. “Although he brought news to Tri-Cities residents for more than a half of a century, his relationship with his God and family were always far more important to him than the printed page. Those first loves were reflected in the way he treated people and in the thousands of ‘Focus on People’ columns he authored past his 90th birthday. Tad loved human interest stories, especially about common folk, and his columns usually were about people who weren’t normally in the limelight.

“Being raised in the Tri-Cities and working at the Tribune in various capacities for more than 60 years, he was also a great resource for local history,” VandenBrand said. “He will surely be missed.”

Randy said back in the early days his dad had an offer to be the press secretary for then-President Gerald R. Ford.

“He didn’t want to leave Grand Haven and the money wasn’t any better,” Randy said. “And he had already started his family.”

One of his father’s greatest virtues was loyalty, Randy said. “Once he made a friend, they were a friend for life,” he said.

Randy noted that his father had a diverse group of friends, despite his staunch Christian Reformed upraising and the fact his father didn’t approve of his Catholic friends.

“That was Tad,” Randy said. “Life’s too short to carry grudges. He liked everyone.”

Something that always stuck in Randy’s head was a question a co-worker asked him more than 20 years ago: “Why doesn’t your dad run for mayor? Everybody knows him and likes him.”

Randy said he posed the question to his father at a Sunday dinner and, for once, his dad did not smile.

“Why would I subject myself to that,” was Clarence’s answer. “I’ll just support the town the way I love to do.”

Randy also remembered his father working late at night during elections. Not only was he writing stories for the Tribune, but he was also releasing reports to other newspapers.

“He did stringing for years,” Randy said.

Clarence did reporting for the Grand Rapids Herald, Grand Rapids Press, Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press.

Clarence also stayed very physically active, always walking the few short blocks from his house to the Tribune and playing tennis up until two years ago, his son said.

Poel is survived by his wife of more than 66 years, Doris; seven children: Barb (Dan) Hoekema of Grand Rapids, Marilyn (Paul) Milkamp of Grandville, Bill (Kathy) Poel of Grand Rapids, Chris (Andy) Maddox of Grand Rapids, Linda (Scott) Wesseldyke Hudsonville, Randy (Lisa) Poel of Grand Haven and Marie (John) Wiersma of Spring Lake; as well as 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren; a sister, Gladys Brook of Jenison; and sister-in-law, Jackie Spence of Largo, Fla.

He was preceded in death by a sister, Mary Ellen DeWitt.

The funeral service for Clarence will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, with the Rev. Michael Koetje officiating. Relatives and friends are invited to greet the family from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Klaassen Family Funeral Home in Grand Haven.

Interment will be at Lake Forest Cemetery. Full Military Rites will be provided by the Charles A. Conklin Post 28. Memorial contributions may be given to the Gideons or the Ross Poel Organization.

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