Graden R. West


Graden R. West, 87 of New London, died Monday, February 13, 2023 at his home surrounded by family. Memorial services will be 11:00 a.m. Saturday, February 25, 2023 at Peace Lutheran Church in New London. Visitation and singing of Graden’s favorite songs will be one hour prior to the service. Burial in Lebanon Cemetery will be at a later date. All in attendance are encouraged to wear a flannel shirt in memory of Graden. Please wear a mask if you are symptomatic or have had a potential Covid exposure. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to Peace Lutheran Church, Sunbeam Boys Home in Jamacia or CentraCare Hospice. Arrangements are with the Johnson Funeral Home in New London.

Graden Richard West was born on March 29, 1935 in Columbiaville, MI, on the kitchen table of the family apple farm after his mother fell down the cellar steps.

AB and Mary (Stelmach) West were married after Mary and her sister were hired to pick apples on the West’s 1000-acre apple farm. Mary was the champion apple picker at 200 bushels per day! Mary at the age of 2 immigrated to the US with her extended family from the Ukraine. Graden was always proud of his Ukrainian heritage and the fact that the art of making Ukrainian Easter eggs (Pysanky) was shared with family members, friends and many community members.

Graden attended Dyball School, one mile from home, for elementary. AB volunteered as a civilian flight instructor at Corsicana, TX, after Pearl Harbor. Those four years in Texas put Graden behind in math, but he was able to not only catch up, but won a math award in county wide competition (Genesee County, MI) before going to high school.

Graden was athletic and excelled at baseball, basketball, and football. West’s home was about seven miles from the high school (Clio High School), made afterschool practice difficult. He rode a bike, then an Indian Motorcycle, and finally a model A Ford painted orange and black, the high school colors. Graden continued playing baseball in the Navy and as a freshman at Michigan State. He played softball in church leagues and finally the DNR team in Spicer. He was very judgmental of his physical skills, but played ball till in his late 70’s. Accuracy from left field to first base surprised many opposition teams.

After returning from Texas, Graden’s parents built a small airport where they taught student pilots. The GI bill allowed many people to access flying lessons. Airplanes were a major part of Graden’s growing up. He was his mother’s first student pilot. He followed his brother into the US Navy where both were still involved with planes. Jay was an airplane mechanic like his father, but Graden was a radioman stationed on aircraft carriers. He enjoyed telling stories about flying off and then landing on aircraft carriers. He smiled when recounting the takeoffs equaled landings.

Graden and Becky enjoyed flying small planes they were able to rent, and then their own J3, when they retired to Minnesota in 1990. He used skis on the plane in winter which allowed him to land on frozen lakes. Once he landed in slushy snow and couldn’t take off. The last mistake was flying through power lines on Long Lake near Hawick. That last flight was indeed his last flight and he luckily walked away from it.

When he returned to Michigan, after his honorable discharge and starting college at Michigan State University, his mother said, “You have to meet the new pianist at our church.” Apparently, it wasn’t love at first sight for either Graden or Becky, but three months after that first meeting they were dating, and married three years later, and two months after University graduation (August 19, 1961). The date was chosen so Becky could finish college finals before the wedding which turned out to be the same date as his brother- but 12 years later.

Michigan State University Fisheries and Wildlife program gave him foundation to join US Fisheries and Wildlife. He was stationed at many fish hatcheries including New London. Immediately after university graduation, he taught biology at Flushing, MI High School for a year. Graden’s hatchery job required frequent moves across the country: Spearfish, SD; Pendills Creek, and Hiawatha Creek, MI; Lake Mills and Iron River, WI; Senecaville, Oak Harbor, and Port Clinton, OH; Marion, AL; Neosho, MO; and New London, MN, where they were stationed twice and then came back in retirement, three times total! During the 2nd time in New London, they purchased their 24-acre dream location along the Middle Fork Crow River. When the hatchery closed in 1983, they moved to Wisconsin, but continued to annually plant trees on their New London property - 5000 one weekend, but all other years at least 2000. That former corn field is now a beautiful sanctuary. Later they purchased eight acres, now a restored prairie, and dedicated as PolliNATE Memorial Prairie in grandson Nate’s memory.

Graden ran a trap line before class while in high school. He continued to be concerned about environment and conservation throughout his life time. He volunteered to teach archery including hand making bows and arrows, making fly rods, ice fishing rods, and fishing flies. That made him a frequently requested teacher for 4-H and Boy Scouts. In Ohio, he wrote an archery pamphlet for a newly initiated 4-H archery program. When he moved to New London in 1979, he discovered the same booklet was being used by Kandiyohi County 4-H.

Over Graden’s life time, he impacted many young people with his ethic of environmental justice. His commitment to kids made one teacher question, “Is this Graden person real, and if so, is he safe?” That teacher’s student talked about his friend, Graden, all his interests, and the teacher was sure “Graden” was imaginary.

New London is home to a unit of Izaak Walton League, a group of people concerned about the environment. The New London chapter was organized in 1925 and is one of the oldest units in the US. One project is teaching hunter safety. Graden was recognized for teaching 30+years - mainly archery. Graden spent hours every year, on his knees at Prairie Pot Holes so every little kid who wanted, had a chance to shoot a bow at balloons. He had grandkids shooting bows in our basement range and a roving range around our property for 4-H. He gave away many of his archery trophies to reward archery proficiency.

Graden was a life member of Robert Ihlang American Legion Post #357 of New London. He marched in many New London and Spicer parades. He was a dedicated member of the firing squad, providing honors at many veteran’s funerals.

He volunteered and was recognized by the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District as the longest serving water monitor. He only retired when his balance made him vulnerable to falls.

First priority at a new station was to find a church. Participation in choir brought them friends in many communities. He was sad when his physical health declined, making it difficult, then impossible, to share his Russian bass voice. Currently, membership is Peace Lutheran Church in New London. Graden enjoyed working in the dish washer room and was a fuss bucket about washing silverware properly. Pandemic church on line made them grateful they could participate safely. He appreciated being asked to help fold the monthly, Voice of Peace, so he could continue contributing as a volunteer.

He and Becky cancelled their votes every year until President Nixon’s 2nd term. He was a passionate, and well researched “Letter to the Editor” writer. He actively participated in Kandiyohi County DFL, helping with roadside pickup, parade participant, telephone campaign calling, and volunteer host for office help.

Graden and Becky hosted many international students: Russia, Taiwan, Japan, Iran, Ukraine. One student commented, “I didn’t think Americans have that many books.” Another said they thought Americans ate all their meals at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hopefully, that little bit of sharing helps toward better understanding. They also hosted musicians from Belarus. By the end of the musician’s 3 week stay, we knew a few more Russian words and they knew a little more English (Uff Da).

Graden is survived by wife, Becky of 61 years, children: Heather (Tim) Shumaker of New London, Andrew (Cindy) West of Deland, Fl, grandchildren: Jarred Moyer of Duluth, Molly Shumaker of Paynesville, Alyx Shumaker of New London, Ben Shumaker of New London, Nico West of Deland, FL, brother, Jay West of OK; sister-in-law, Judy Evenson of FL; nephews, Gary (Glenda) West of MO, Dennis (Jie) West of TX, niece, Judy (Dan) Adams of CO, and special great and great-great nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

He was preceded in death by son, Patrick Richard West (stillborn); grandson, Nate Shumaker (age 11, 2018); his parents and two sisters-in-law, Tomi Evenson and Edna West.

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