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Alexander "Sandy" Gemmell

April 16, 1929 - January 12, 2024
Kalamazoo, MI

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Funeral Mass

Thursday, June 6, 2024
11:00 AM EDT
St. Monica Church
4408 S. Westnedge Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008

Lunch will follow in the church hall.

Web Site

Burial

Thursday, June 6, 2024
2:30 PM EDT
Ft. Custer National Cemetery
Web Site

Contributions


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Rose Arbor Hospice
5473 Croyden Avenue
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
(269) 345-8910
Driving Directions
Web Site

Flowers


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Ambati
1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Taylor's Florist and Gifts
215 E. Michigan Ave.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-6256
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


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Alexander "Sandy" Gemmell was born April 16, 1929 at Jackson Park Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Sandy was said to be the largest baby born there to date! He was the last of 9 children born to Alex and Mae Gemmell. Early life was nestled in the heart of Chicago’s Southside, an area bustling with life and energy, which shaped many of his childhood experiences. Sandy's home was a vibrant and crowded one, with 13 people gathering around the dinner table each night.

Sandy’s first and oldest friend has always been Donna, his cousin, who was only a year younger than him. Despite the biological relation, Sandy and Donna were raised more like siblings, forging a bond that was both deep and enduring. They walked to school together and came home to a lunch of soup and grilled cheese, a simple yet fond memory that highlighted the warmth of their family life.

The Gemmell household was always filled with music and laughter, especially during the evenings when Sandy's sisters would wash dishes after dinner, accompanied by listening to the record player. Sandy, with his infectious energy and love for music, made it his job to dance with his sisters as they cleaned the kitchen. He always loved to dance and was taught by his brother Joe, the oldest in the family, and sister, Grace, who always knew the latest dance moves.

Many of the Gemmell family, including Sandy's mom, Mae, worked at Oscar Mayer. A particularly charming story from Sandy's childhood was when his mother would have to take the summer off because she could not leave Sandy alone at home. Oscar Mayer himself, showing a kind-hearted nature, told her to bring Sandy to work instead. Sandy was put to work sorting and delivering mail, getting paid directly from Oscar's pocket every Friday. Additionally, once a week Oscar would hand out quarters to the neighborhood kids. Sandy had the unique job of ensuring no neighborhood kids doubled back in line for the quarters Oscar handed out. Oscar had a soft spot for Mae and he would send a roast home with her on Fridays for Sunday dinner.

Sandy's early employment included being a soda jerk at Sam's Drug Store and working at the movie theater, involving two things he loved, ice cream and movies. His fondness for movies was shared with his mom, who he would take once a week to the show and stop afterword for shrimp or corned beef at local neighbor hood spots. The other big influence in his life growing up was his older bother, Tom. He taught him so many things beginning with learning to swim and how to paint. Two things that greatly shaped his life.

The next chapter in Sandy's life began when he decided to join the Navy in 1946, marking a significant transition from his youth. Sandy was fortunate to be stationed in San Antonio, Texas. He worked in the recreation department. He fell in love with the San Antonio areas and visited it often later on in his life. His main duties were to recover pool tables, show movies, and maintain bowling alleys. The Navy had him pegged!

After his service in the Navy, Sandy began college at Wilson Jr. College, simultaneously working at the Illinois Central Railroad in damaged freight. Mae was very proud, as he was the first in the family to attend college. It was during this period that a pivotal moment in Sandy's life unfolded—a double date setup by his good friend Dave and Dave's girlfriend, Dolly. In a twist of fate, Sandy canceled his original date to go on a blind date with Mary Anne, Dolly's friend. It was love at first sight. Sandy was smitten and proposed to Mary Anne that very night. Their courtship blossomed into engagement, culminating in their marriage on June 23, 1951. For their honeymoon they took the train to Florida. Sandy’s boss upgraded them to a sleeper car as a wedding gift. So they traveled in style!

The arrival of their daughter, Sandra Anne, nine months later marked the start of their family life. They had trouble selecting a name and finally selected a name that represented both of them! Sandy and Mary Anne moved into the basement apartment of Mary Anne’s mother, navigating the joys and challenges of parenting in a multi-generational home. Sandy's career also took a significant turn when he left the railroad and began painting with his brother, Tom, a job he enjoyed and excelled in, thanks to his meticulous nature and the skills honed during his naval service.

As Sandy's family grew with the arrival of his sons James, William, and Robert, he soon joined Eckert Decoration in 1956, a large painting contractor. It was there that he met Don Geiser, who invited him to try water skiing. Sandy loved it, purchased a 14’ wooden boat and affectionately named it the 6 G's. Eventually they moved the boat to Pine Lake in LaPorte, Indiana. The family began spending summer weekends there. Sandy purchased a large tent that accommodated the family. It was a great way to introduce his city kids to the great outdoors!

Sandy & Mary Anne loved sports, particularly hockey. They loved the Chicago Blackhawks and purchased season passes attending games twice a week at the Chicago Stadium. They often went with family, including Donna and Richard, then with Grace and Bob. Sandy's favorite player, Stan Mikita, and Mary Anne's fondness for Keith Magnuson reflected their deep engagement with the sport. They followed hockey their entire lives.

Sandy’s passion for sports was passed on to his three sons. They all 3 played hockey, as well as football as kids and young adulthood. Ofcourse, Sandy was the coach of many of these teams.

In the late 1970s, Sandy embarked on a bold journey that would reshape the family's destiny. In 1978, amidst a period of slow work back in Chicago, Sandy made the decisive move to relocate his family to Dallas, Texas, in search of new opportunities. This move was not just a change in geography; it represented Sandy's perpetual resilience and adaptability. The booming economy in the south presented a stark contrast to the challenges they faced back home, and both Sandy and Mary Anne quickly found work, integrating into the community of Dallas.

Dallas not only offered Sandy and his family a fresh start but also reintroduced them to the Moose, that soon became a significant role in their lives in Texas. This network of support was further extended as more members of the Gemmell family, including Sandy's nephew Mark, and later his sister and brothers (Joan, Nancy, and Keith, moved to Dallas, reinforcing the family's presence and creating a mini Gemmell enclave in their new city.

The Gemmells' personal life in Dallas also thrived outside of work. Sandy and Mary Anne discovered a shared passion for water aerobics, finding joy and relief from the Texas heat in their swimming pool. This activity became a staple in their routine, highlighting their ability to find new interests and adapt to their environment, further enriching their lives together.

As Sandy and Mary Anne Gemmell transitioned into retirement, they embarked on an ambitious travel agenda that reflected their adventurous spirits and deep love for exploration. The United States and Canada became their vast playground, always in their van and accompanied by their loyal dog, Max, often visiting family and friends and the joy of discovering the countryside.

However, after a particularly sweltering summer in Dallas in 2000, Sandy, ever the navigator of their journey through life, made the decision to move back up north. They eventually moved to Douglas, Michigan, where they rented a condo from friends, the VanderMeers. Sandy and Mary Anne quickly fell in love with Douglas, a testament to their ability to find joy and belonging wherever they went. Feeding ducks at the docks and participating in water aerobics nearby, they found contentment and new friends in the small town's charm.

Their time in Douglas was a beautiful chapter, but as the VanderMeers decided to sell the condo, they moved to Kalamazoo to be closer to Sandra. Here, at the age of 80, Sandy undertook what many would consider a daunting project. He transformed their new townhouse into a home, finishing the entire downstairs to include a large bedroom, full bath with walk-in shower, family room, storage, and a workshop. His ability to carry wallboard downstairs and complete such an extensive renovation project spoke volumes about his determination, skill, and the youthful vigor that characterized his approach to life. In Kalamazoo, they also welcomed visits from granddaughters and their families, nieces and nephews. They were always grateful for the time together.

In the later years of their life together in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Sandy and Mary Anne settled into the community. Sunday dinners became a cherished tradition, symbolizing the unity and continuity of the Gemmell family. These gatherings, initially alternating between homes but eventually finding a permanent place at Sandra & Stephen’s, were about more than just sharing meals; they were about sharing lives, reinforcing the strong family bonds that had always been central to the Gemmells' life. Sandy also began swimming twice a week at the YMCA, a habit he continued until the end.

The sudden and unexpected passing of their son Jim in February 2014 marked a profound moment of sorrow for the family. Jim's death, coming without warning from a heart attack, was a shock that deeply affected Sandy and Mary Anne.

November 2016 brought another profound change to the Gemmell family, as Mary Anne faced a health crisis. Diagnosed with an aneurysm in her aorta, she made the brave decision to refuse treatment, a choice that led to her passing while holding hands with Sandy, her partner of over six decades. The loss of Mary Anne was a monumental shift in Sandy's life, leaving a void that reflected the depth of their shared life and love of over 65 years.

Following Mary Anne's passing, Sandy found solace and support in counseling at the VA and their church. His commitment to staying active and connected with the community led him to continue swimming at the Y, where he became known for his shortbread cookies, polish sausage and sauerkraut at the monthly potlucks.

Sandy met Josephine, a fellow parishioner, at grief counseling. Their friendship developed into a meaningful connection that brought joy and companionship to both their lives. Their shared dinners after Church and enjoyed watching the Polish and Irish hours on television were simple pleasures that underscored the capacity for renewal and happiness even as they navigated life without their spouses.

As Sandy entered his 90s, the inevitable challenges of aging began to manifest more profoundly. Despite these obstacles, his spirit remained undiminished, though his physical capabilities started to show signs of wear. Sandy's once sharp navigational skills, faced tests as detours and the fading light of dusk made driving increasingly difficult. With characteristic pragmatism, Sandy made the difficult decision to limit his driving, particularly after dark, a move that marked a significant shift in his fiercely independent nature.

The role of caregiver and companion fell more and more to his daughter, Sandra, who took on the responsibility with love and dedication. She accompanied him to doctor's appointments, helping to manage the bewildering array of medical advice and treatments as they sought to understand and address his unexplained weight loss and diminishing appetite.

The turning point came just after Christmas in 2023, when Sandy's health took a sudden downturn, leading to an emergency hospital visit. The diagnosis was stark and unforgiving: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. This revelation came as a shock, laying bare the reality of Sandy's situation and the limited time he had left. Yet, even in the face of this devastating news, Sandy's focus remained on living the time he had to the fullest, characterized by grace and a lack of self-pity.

Sandy's final weeks were a testament to his life, marked by the absence of pain, thanks to the medical care he received, and surrounded by the love of his family. His passing, two weeks after the diagnosis, was a quiet end to a life that had been anything but. Sandy's journey through the world was marked by joy, resilience, creativity, and an unyielding commitment to his loved ones.

In the wake of his passing, the legacy of Alexander "Sandy" Gemmell is carried forward not only in the memories of those who knew and loved him but in the lessons of love, strength, and family he instilled in his descendants. His life, rich with experiences and filled with the love of family and friends, stands as a beacon of a life well-lived, a narrative of a man who faced the world with courage, humor, and an indomitable spirit.

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