Woods Memorial Day service honors community members who made the ultimate sacrifice

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 23, 2023

 Grosse Pointe Woods’ Memorial Day service in 2016 featured participation by a number of community members, including Scouting troops.

Grosse Pointe Woods’ Memorial Day service in 2016 featured participation by a number of community members, including Scouting troops.

Photo provided by the Grosse Pointe Woods Historical Commission

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The city of Grosse Pointe Woods will once again be honoring those who have served their country in the armed forces, and especially those who died while serving.

The 41st annual Memorial Day program will take place starting at 10 a.m. May 29 in the Veterans’ Memorial Parkway Circle of Honor, a large median on Vernier Road near Mack Avenue.

The event is open to anyone — not just Grosse Pointe Woods residents.

This year’s keynote speaker is Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Deem, of the U.S. Coast Guard, who is also a Woods resident. Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant — himself a veteran of the U.S. Navy — said Deem will be discussing women in the military. He said the city tries to have a theme each year for the keynote speech.

Deem is only the second female speaker in the history of the Woods remembrance, said Woods resident Suzanne Kent, who has been with the Woods Historical Commission for 41 years and has served as president, vice president and secretary. The Historical Commission organizes this event.

“The Memorial (Day) service that we put on here in Grosse Pointe Woods is very much a small-town ceremony,” Bryant said.

He said the city honors local people who have served in the military. Local participants are also involved, including Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops who raise the flag.

Bryant said the service typically draws more than 400 attendees.

“It’s usually very well attended,” Woods Historical Commission Chair Sean Murphy said. “We have a lot of volunteers who help out. … It’s a beautiful ceremony.”

While there are some chairs placed on the grounds, organizers recommend that attendees bring their own, if possible, as Bryant said the seats quickly fill up and many attendees wind up standing for this program.

Bringing a chair “guarantees them having a seat,” Bryant said.

Kent said the Swing Shift Orchestra will be performing this year. She encouraged attendees to arrive early, as the band also plays for 30 minutes before the program starts, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Murphy said the Swing Shift Orchestra is “a great band,” so attendees don’t want to miss its performance.

Kent, who prepares the flyers for this event, always includes a historical recipe, which is something people have come to look forward to. She also includes significant quotes.

Kent called the service “a wonderful community event” where attendees will see city officials and neighbors.

“It just fosters a sense of community,” Kent said. “And also, you don’t want people to forget” about the veterans who died serving their country.

Kent said the Historical Commission and the Beautification Commission started the event together, but at some point, it became the sole responsibility of the Historical Commission.

Kent said it’s her understanding that former Woods City Administrator Chester Peterson and Beautification Commission member Dr. Albert Howe, a dentist, were among those who launched the Woods Memorial Day ceremony because both had relatives who died in World War II.

“I believe they started that ceremony to honor their relatives and anyone’s relatives (with military ties) in the city,” said Kent, who didn’t get involved with the Memorial Day program until a few years after it started.

As was the case for Peterson and Howe, for Kent, this event hits home. Her father-in-law and late father were both veterans, as was her husband, Randy, who died a couple of years ago.

“This is one of the reasons I do it, in their memory,” Kent said.

The Memorial Day service in the Woods started in 1983. Kent said they didn’t have an in-person event for 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They film the ceremony each year and in 2020, Kent said, they streamed a previous Memorial Day service that featured Woods Mayor Robert Novitke — a veteran — as the keynote speaker. Novitke died in March 2021 at the age of 74.

Bryant said parking doesn’t seem to be a problem for Memorial Day observance attendees. Parking is available nearby on Vernier and along Mack, as well as in the A.H. Peters Funeral Home lot. Additional parking can be found at Parcells Middle School, at Vernier and Mack.

The service is an important reminder of the reason behind the Memorial Day holiday — a reason that has nothing to do with the barbecues, picnics and vacations many associate with it.

“I do think it’s important for people to come out and celebrate the participation of our neighbors and friends in service of their country,” Bryant said.

The event lasts roughly an hour, meaning that attendees still have plenty of time to enjoy other activities.

In the event of inclement weather, the service will be moved into the Parcells auditorium.

For more information, visit www.gpwmi.us.