Planner honored for his service in Maple Forest Township
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Maple Forest Township resident whose family homesteaded in the area and served in several capacities for the township was recognized last week.
Bernard “Bernie” Feldhauser was honored by the Maple Forest Township Board of Trustees for his service to his community and was presented with an award by the township board at a meeting held on Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Feldhauser has served as a trustee on the township board since March 2004, when he was appointed to the position. Feldhauser, age 95, opted not to seek reelection.
Feldhauser said his friend, John Rolfe, joked with him that he wanted better accommodations while attending the meetings as the reason he accepted the appointment.
“My friend told me that the only reason I wanted to get on the board is I wanted a softer seat,” he said. “I used to come to all of the meetings and would sit out there on the hard chairs.”
Feldhauser’s service to the township dates back to 2001, when he was appointed to serve on the Maple Forest Township Planning Commission.
“I was in the surveying business, so I knew planning well,” he said.
Feldhauser is the last of the original planners appointed to serve on the board for the township.
“There were nine people on that and I’m the only one left of that bunch,” he said. “They’ve either scurried away or have died.”
When Crawford County eliminated countywide planning and zoning in 2006 and passed the duties on to the City of Grayling and six townships in the county, Feldhauser developed the planning book for Maple Forest Township. He said the task kept him busy while he stayed at the hospital bedside of his beloved wife of 59 and a half years, Alma, before she passed away after a battle with cancer in 2006.
“I sat there for (almost) two months and I put that whole thing together and then got it approved by the attorneys,” Feldhauser said.
The Feldhauser family were northern Michigan pioneers that date back to the late 1880s. Henry Balser Feldhauser was born in Germany in 1852, the son of William and Barbara Feldhauser. In 1870, he sailed to the United States and settled in Ann Arbor, where he met and married Caroline Kern on March 13, 1876.
In the late 1870s, much of the land north of the AuSable River in Crawford County was open for homesteading. The couple believed this was a great opportunity, so on March 24, 1880, they traveled by train with their first two children, Henry and William, to Grayling. They brought a team of horses with a wagon, two crates of chickens, a few household goods and were accompanied by two other families.
The couple literally blazed new trails as they made their way to the property they homesteaded and built cabins.
“The trail was so narrow that in some places they couldn’t get the wagon through without cutting the trees there,” Bernie said.
Henry farmed during the summer, and supplemented the family income by working in the lumber camps during the winter. Caroline shared in all of the family’s undertakings, and the couple became known as the most progressive farmers in Crawford County.
“It was a real good farm with orchards and all kinds of stuff,” Bernie said.
The couple went on to have 12 children, 11 boys and one girl.
Bernie’s parents, Robert John and Marie Christine, continued to work the farm until it was lost due to unpaid taxes as the Great Depression gripped the nation. Between the age of 6 and 10 years old, Bernie recalled living in Lovells, where his father worked for businessman T.E. Douglas.
“He had sawmills and dairies and the whole thing,” Bernie said.
After United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced a program that allowed families to repurchase foreclosed properties by paying back taxes to the states, the Feldhauser family regained possession of the farm property.
“It was sitting idle. Nobody was living in it, but the state owned it,” Bernie said. “We just didn’t have the money. There was no money around in those days.”
Bernie’s father served as a justice of the peace for Maple Forest Township, before the title was changed to township trustee in 1965. His aunts, Carrie Baynham and Martha Peterson, also served as clerks on the Maple Township Board.
Bernie graduated from the Frederic High School in 1938.
After school, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was based in Higgins Lake. The young men learned how to survey areas to make county maps, which are used for plat maps today.
After fulfilling his CCC service, Bernie accepted a job working for a surveying company based in Birmingham, Michigan.
Bernie enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps during World War II, with plans on becoming a pilot until it was discovered that he was color blind during a physical examination.
Instead, Bernie was assigned to serve as a photographic technician with a B-29 bombing unit that was based in Saipan. The bombers flew missions over Japanese-held territory, and cameras on the plans captured the effect the bombs taken on their targets.
“When they pushed the bomb release, the cameras would come on and took the pictures,” Bernie said. “We developed them and sent them back to Hawaii to decide what their next target was going to be.”
Bernie said the pilots and technicians got to their base, but had to wait a couple of months to get into action due to the tropical climate.
“It was raining so much when we first got over there, it took us (almost) two months to get off the ground,” he said. “We couldn’t even fly because it took up to 18 hours to make a trip up there and come back.”
Once the weather cleared, Bernie said that activity got fast and furious.
“It was the first week in November when we finally got going, and we bombed them from then on through until the war was over of course,” he said.
Bernie spent long hours developing the film in a lab located inside a Quonset hut.
“One time I spent 76 hours without even going to bed. I would take a nap on the bench in the Quonset,” he said. “We were so busy keeping it going and developing the film.”
A bout with allergies cut Bernie’s military service short, and he was sent home in June 1945.
“Something was bothering me over there. I was so bad that I was sneezing and coughing and bleeding all of the time and I lost 30 pounds,” he said. “They didn’t even check me out. A hospital ship came along and they sent me back to the states.”
Bernie returned to the surveying business as an employee for another firm. He then went on to launch his own business, Feldhauser Associates Surveying Company based in Waterford. He also had offices located in Central Lake and Alpena, and had a workforce of 38 employees.
Bernie served on the Pontiac Township Planning Commission and on a transportation planning committee for Oakland University.
He said he loved the surveying trade.
“Lots of people worked to make a living, and I was doing it because I enjoyed it,” Bernie said. “It was interesting. There is always something new happening when you’re surveying and what have you.”
Bernie sold his business, retired and moved back to Maple Forest Township in 1984. Due to his familiarity with local government through the surveying business, his family urged him to run for township supervisor. He opted not to get involved because he spent six months out of the year in Florida.
Bernie decided to follow in the footsteps of his family members in Maple Forest Township after life circumstances changed.
“We had a lot to do with Maple Forest Township,” Bernie said. “It’s been in the family for years.”