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Joe Palmer Jr. was born on June 26, 1924 to Marian and Joseph Sr. of Grand Haven, Michigan. He enjoyed spending summers at the family cottage on the Potawatomi Bayou off the Grand River with his sisters, Sarah and Mary. He was active in the Boy Scouts and graduated from Grand Haven High School in 1942. He had always wanted to be a middle school teacher and enrolled at Hope College (Holland, MI) in the fall of 1942. Later that fall, he and a few friends enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps. He was able to complete his freshman year at Hope College before reporting for basic training at Camp Fanning in Tyler, TX in June of 1943. He was trained as a First Scout for his squad and earned the Expert Marksman designation. After basic training, he tested and was accepted into the Army Air Corps training in January of 1944. That program was cancelled in late March of ’44 and it was back to the infantry. He was assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division at Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, and was finally deployed from New York in November, arriving in southern France in December of 1944.


Their platoon wintered in foxholes in northern France, and he was the first scout of the lead platoon of the 63rd Infantry Division for the Spring Offensive in March of 1945. He was wounded in action in the Offensive and took a shortcut through a field, which proved to be posted with signs warning of mines once he reached the other side. He developed hepatitis while in the hospital and was returned to the US in June for further treatment. He was discharged in September of 1945 with a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, and immediately returned to Hope College to enroll in the fall semester. Joe greatly enjoyed college life, being editor of the school yearbook and business manager of the school newspaper. He graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 1948, and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1950 with a Master’s degree in Guidance. He was a member of Phi Alpha Kappa and Emersonian at Hope College, and the honorary education fraternity, Phi Delta Kappa, at U of M.


Joe started teaching at Carpenter Elementary in 1950. He taught there for two years before moving to the brand new Central Intermediate School building in 1952. He would teach math and English there for the next 34 years until retiring in 1986. He would frequently meet former students around town and was always happy to reminisce with them. School was always interesting for his own children because invariably their teachers were his friends.


Outside of school, he was the nature counselor at Camp Hayo-Went-Ha on Torch Lake from 1948 until 1962. He met his wife, Nancy Harris of Green Bank, West Virginia in 1955. They married in 1960, and raised their three children: John, Jane and Pamela. Joe loved to play the piano, and the children have many fond memories of standing around the piano singing silly folk songs while he played. The family spent summers traveling around the eastern US and Canada visiting historic places, camping, and fishing. The family was active in the Midland Memorial Presbyterian Church, where Joe served as a Deacon, and Sunday School superintendent for many years. Joe and Nancy were very active in the Mariner’s group and one of their favorite outings was the annual Mariner’s Family Camp weekend at the Holiday Park campground at Silver Lake near Traverse City.


Uncle Joe was a favorite of his many nieces and nephews, always ready with the interesting nature fact on their many walks. He passed away peacefully on August 20th, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his loving wife Nancy, his children John (Naomi), Jane (Steve), Pam, grandchildren: Jessica, Jack, Daniel, Grant Michael, and Charlie, his sister, Mrs. Mary Bergstrom and many nieces and nephews.


Cremation has taken place and a memorial service will be held at a later date.


Those planning an expression of sympathy are asked to consider MidMichigan Hospice or Memorial Presbyterian Church.


It is difficult to fully capture such a wonderful and rewarding life as he had, and there was discussion of resorting to epic poetry to better record it, but the resulting verse was more succinct:


                                There was a man from Grand Haven

                                Who considered himself a breakfast maven         

                                Two eggs and toast, he loved pancakes the most,

                                Accompanied by oatmeal with raisins.


Smith-Miner Funeral Home is honored to be serving the Palmer family; to share a special memory please visit www.smithminer.com.

Condolence Messages

  1. Gary & Sally Billotti

    28 August 2020 11 months ago

    Although we didn’t know Joe very well, his good nature and warm heart showed through at our neighborhood annual luminary gathering around Christmas.

  2. David Sweet

    23 August 2020 11 months ago

    There wasn’t a time when I didn’t know Joe. He was truly a gem – kind, considerate, and extraordinarily friendly. Nancy, my thoughts are with you and the kids at the passing of such an extraordinary man. Dave Sweet

  3. Dot Hornsby

    22 August 2020 11 months ago

    I am so sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. May peace be with you and your family and precious memories live on.

  4. Jennifer Gay

    21 August 2020 11 months ago

    Nancy, John, Jane, Pam, Today my heart is heavy as I read of Joe’s passing. He was the kindest, most gentle man who reminded me so much of my dad. Of the many friends of mom and dad’s, Joe was always one of my favorites. My heart is heavy today for the loss of a truly wonderful man. With loving thoughts, Jennifer Gay

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