Local philanthropist dies

ESCANABA – Local philanthropist and businessman John Besse has passed away, but his legacy will live on through the many organizations, groups, and clubs he has helped and supported throughout the years.

Besse, 86, of 7364 Lake Bluff 19.4 Road, Gladstone, died Saturday morning at his home.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and children, Greg, Merrijo, and Melissa, and was preceded in death by his wife, Melissa, who passed away in 2011.

Besse and his wife Melissa had started their own company, Northern Michigan Veneers Inc., in Escanaba in 1966. The company expanded in the 1980s and 90s and turned into a multi-million dollar corporation – Besse Forest Products Group. All three children began working at the family business when they were younger, and Greg now serves as company president and owner.

“My dad was a great man,” said Greg. “He’s going to be sadly missed by not only the community, but by the Besse Forest Products Group and hardwood lumber and veneer industry… He was a good family man. He loved his children and grandchildren dearly.”

Over the years the Besses have shown their philanthropy in many ways, giving back to the community through generous donations to the Bonifas Art Center, Bishop Noa Home, Bay College (Besse Center), and OSF St. Francis Hospital. In Marquette, they made generous donations to the Marquette General Hospital’s cancer center, the Beacon House, and the Catholic Diocese. They have also donated to Bay Cliff Health Camp.

One of John and Melissa’s largest contributions was to his childhood town school in Butternut, Wis., where two foundations were set up – one for the school’s operating expenses and another a scholarship foundation. The two donations amounted to approximately $10 million.

On top of all this, the Besse company also donated to local organization, club, and community group fund-raisers for several decades and continues to do so today.

Escanaba Mayor Leo Evans expressed his condolences with the news of Besse’s passing.

“Council and I are saddened by his passing,” said Evans. “He’s been a very community-minded person and has given back in many ways to the community.”

Just recently, John and Patt Besse donated $2.5 million toward the construction of a new physical rehabilitation and wellness center at OSF St. Francis Hospital.

In the past, John and Melissa Besse made generous donations to OSF for permanent MRI services and an expanded emergency department, according to Lanna Scannell, manager of community and government relations at OSF.

“He’s such a philanthropist and to give so generously to the community in so many areas…is a true example of a kind and generous person, and our hearts go out to his family,” she said.

John and Patt Besse also recently contributed to renovations at the Escanaba Civic Center and the construction of a new public park, named Besse Park.

“He’s been a tremendous help to our community through his generosity and he’ll be sorely missed,” said City of Escanaba Recreation Director Tom Penegor. “My thoughts and prayers go out to him and to Patt and to his family. I was blessed to know him and to work with him. I’m so happy we were able to finish the project at Besse Park before his passing because I know it was one of his favorite projects.”

John’s funeral will take place Saturday at the Crawford Funeral Home in Escanaba.