2018-12-06 / Front Page

County loses icons

By Eric Carlson
of the Enterprise staff


RINK RINK There were far too many reasons for Leelanau County residents to fly their flags at half-mast this week.

Dean Robb, a well-known civil rights lawyer and longtime Suttons Bay resident, died Dec. 2 at the age of 94.

George Weeks, a nationally-recognized columnist and longtime Glen Arbor resident, died Nov. 30 at the age of 86.

Bernard Rink, a Bingham Township resident and pioneer of Leelanau County’s wine industry, died Nov. 29 at the age of 92.

News of the Nov. 30 death of the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, 94, has almost faded into the background for many Leelanau County residents.

That may also be true following the death of yet another World War II veteran, Don Schwendemann of Suttons Bay, who died Nov. 24 at the age of 99.

Dean Robb, 1924-2018

Born on a farm in southern Illinois, Dean Robb served in the Navy during World War II before becoming a founding partner of the first interracial law firm in Michigan in 1949. In the 1960s he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement, working directly with civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


ROBB ROBB In the 1970s he worked on behalf of battered women and became well known as an advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians. He was recognized for his pro bono work to advance consumer and victim’s rights, environmental protection, and worker’s rights.

He moved to Leelanau County in 1971 and continued his legal career from Suttons Bay. He was well known for his Mark Twain impersonations at special events and public gatherings.

His son, Matt Robb, now 32, wrote a book about his dad titled “An Unlikely Radical.” Matt Robb also took a lead role on behalf of his family in his dad’s final days. Moments after Dean Robb died, Matt Robb let the world know that Dec. 2 was “the final sunset in an extraordinary life.”


WEEKS WEEKS “Dean passed with the sun at 5:05 p.m. … holding his family’s hands, singing songs in his heart and beaming love to all those who touched his blessed life,” Matt Robb said.

Dean Robb was with his wife Cindy in their Detroit apartment when he died. According to Matt Robb, Dean had been airlifted from Munson Medical Center in Traverse City to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for a potential heart valve replacement. However, his condition did not allow for the procedure and he was placed in hospice care.

“Because moving him back to the county would have been too strenuous, we decided together than he would spend his final days in the Detroit apartment,” Matt Robb said.

A local celebration of Dean Robb’s life will be announced in the near future.


DEAN ROBB, right, worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960’s. DEAN ROBB, right, worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960’s. George Weeks, 1932-2018

Service arrangement were also pending this week for George Weeks of Glen Arbor who died Friday in Traverse City.

Weeks was a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. He worked as a reporter with United Press International and, later, as a close aide for 14 years to Michigan Gov. William Milliken. He then worked as a columnist for the Detroit News until 2006.

He kept writing a column in retirement from his home in Glen Arbor, and the column appeared regularly in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. His lasting legacy, however, will be the four books he wrote – three of them on Leelanau County topics.

The first of his books, published in 1987, stands as a definitive history of Michigan governors: “Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan.”

He then wrote two books about the national park headquartered in Leelanau County, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The first, published in 1988, was titled “Sleeping Bear: It’s Lore, Legends and First People.” The second, published in 1990 and since updated, was titled: “Sleeping Bear: Yesterday and Today.

Weeks also wrote the first book ever published outlining the history of the indigenous population of Leelanau County. The 1992 book is titled “Mem-ka-weh: Dawning of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.”

Bernard Rink, 1926-2018

Visitation will be held tomorrow at the Martinson Funeral Home in Suttons Bay and a funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at St. Mary’s Church in Lake Leelanau County for “Bernie” Rink who died last Thursday, Nov. 29.

He is best known as a founder of Leelanau County’s wine industry. In 1964 he planted 15 acres of wine grapes in Bingham Township and opened Boskydel Vineyard including the county’s first wine tasting room in 1976.

Rink was born in Ohio and earned a master’s degree in library science before moving to Leelanau County. For 30 years he was library director at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.

Many Leelanau County vintners considered Rink to be a role model and mentor.

“I considered him my sensei – somebody who walked the path before me,” said fellow Leelanau County vintner Larry Mawby. “I must have been 22 or 23 when I saw that Bernie Rink was doing something really cool – something that had never done in our community before then – growing grapes and making wine.”

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