WATTON — Robert Godell, 97, of Watton, entered into his eternal rest on March 19, 2019 at his home.
The youngest of eleven children with an age span of twenty-two years, Robert was born the seventh son. As family legend has it, his birth on a perfect autumn day, Sunday, October 2, 1921, caused Watton’s baseball team to forfeit a winning game as his brothers were (most disappointedly) summoned home from the ballfield to fetch the midwife. Born to Finnish immigrant parents, August and Maria Godell, Robert was raised on their family farm in Watton and also spent a lot of time at his father’s lumber camps in the area. As a youth, he was involved with 4-H and eventually became a leader for the dairy club.
Robert attended Covington Township Schools and graduated from Amasa High School in 1941, traveling there by bus for four years with other township students. One of those students, Irene Autio, caught his eye, and they were married on October 17, 1942. In 1948, they bought a farm on Plains Road and made their home there until 1997 when they moved to the house they built a couple of miles down the road on Section Sixteen Road. Robert was able to travel to many places in his adult life, but he said he never saw any place he’d rather live than the Upper Peninsula.
Like most young men in the area, Robert’s early working years were spent logging and maintaining a small dairy herd. In 1944, several CCC camps in the Upper Peninsula were converted into WWII POW camps. The prisoners were assigned to fill labor shortages and work with local woods jobbers. Robert’s personal recollections of working with Camp Sidnaw POWs were featured in the 2004 film by John Pepin and Jackie Chandonett, “The Enemy in Our Midst”. The pair credited Robert with inspiring the title of the documentary as he related that locally, there was resentment towards the German prisoners at first.
Robert spent a couple of years working underground at Cliff’s Shaft in Ishpeming. Crippling lay-offs sent him back into logging, but his career path took an abrupt change in 1959 when community residents petitioned the Michigan Public Service Commission to approve a request to bring telephone services for Covington Township and Robert was tapped on the shoulder to launch the operation as president and manager. Midway Telephone Company, as it was aptly named, eventually grew its service area to include Sidnaw, Kenton, Trout Creek, and Golden Lake. With no experience, minimal equipment and a crew of less than five, progress came to the area pole by pole, and switch by switch. Robert wore many hats as he managed the installation of lines, telephones, and switchboard, answering many a late-night call to restore a disruption of service, as well as the office. Shareholders sold their interest in the company in 1986, and after a couple of changes of ownership, it is now privately owned by Hiawatha Telephone of Munising. Robert remained president and manager until his retirement in 1992.
Robert faithfully served his church serving as an elder and Sunday School teacher, his community and area with his participation with Baraga County Road Commission, Soil & Water Conservation Board, Resource Conservation and Development, Midland Co-operatives, Inc., Regional Board, Michigan Independent Telephone Pioneers, Telephone Association of Michigan, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Covington Township Historical Society, and Covington Lions Club.
Robert was proud of his Finnish heritage and was very pleased to find that his ability to speak and read the language gave him passing status as a Finnish resident rather than a tourist when he visited Finland for the first time. His last visit there was at the age of 94 when he accompanied his granddaughter, Emilie, to Oulu to begin a semester of study at University.
Robert was a man with many commitments, fueled by a strong work ethic, but never too busy to love on his family and friends. He and Irene raised their children on the farm where there was plenty of opportunities to learn the value of work as well as of play. Their home was always open to guests and hunting season found them hosting a group of hunters from Illinois who became great friends of the family. It was common practice for Robert to bring sales reps or telephone officials home for a spur of the moment lunch in Irene’s kitchen. These two enjoyed 66 years of a loving partnership and marriage. She preceded him in death on April 10, 2009 and their son, Daniel Robert, who was born on May 21, 1944 and died on May 6, 1946.
Also preceding him in death were his family, Swande, Bill, Eino, Thomas, Hjalmer, and Fabian Godell, Mary Saari, Mayme Maki, Bertha Kangas and Emma Anderson; and a favorite friend and nephew, Clifford Maki.
Left to carry on his legacy are as follows: daughter, Phyllis Pokela (Marty) of Traunik, and children, Brenda, Tara, Rene’, Erin, Neil & Lee and their families; sons, Ralph (Barbara) of Fort Collins, Colorado, and children, Erika & Alex, and Steven (Susan) of Saline, and children Emilie, Andrew & Daniel. He also leaves behind nephews and nieces on both sides of the family who loved their Uncle Robert, and dear friends, many of which he enjoyed breakfast with every morning in Covington. Robert’s quick laugh, great sense of humor, and wealth of interesting local historical facts and accounts will be sorely missed by many.
The family wishes to thank Dr. Craig Vickstrom, Dr. David Pesola, the staff at Baraga County Hospital, Officers Butler and Bianco and EMS crew who attended to him at his last, his community, church family, Bible study group, neighbors, Susan and Bill Hemminger, and dear friend, Eleanor Sikkila for their most appreciated gifts of loving kindness and fellowship.
Funeral services will be held Thursday, March 28, 2019 at 11 a.m. at Watton Apostolic Church with Officiants Walter Ketola and Herb Jarvi.
The family will receive friends at Jacobson Funeral Home in L’Anse, Wednesday evening, March 27, 2019 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. and also at the church at 10 a.m. A luncheon reception will be held at the Multi-Purpose Building on M-28 in Covington following the service.
Memorial gifts in Robert’s name can be made to Foreign Missions of Apostolic Lutheran Church, Covington Twp. Historical Society, or Covington Lions Club.
Jacobson Funeral Home has been entrusted with the arrangements and the obituary can also be viewed and condolences sent to the family on their website.