June 23, 2024

Marian Gyr, Benzonia’s Grand Lady, Lived 97 Storied Years

Marian Gyr lived a long and purposeful life. Here with Aaron Olson and babies. (Photo: Keith Schneider)

BENZONIA, MI — For a long while, many years in fact, Marian Gyr disdained the mobility afforded by motorized vehicles. She walked. Everywhere. Even in the blowing snow and drifts of winter.

Everybody I know here in our little village, on a rise close to Lake Michigan, has a Marian Gyr walking story. She was well into her 80s, with two reconstructed hips, and still walking far from where she slept. How many times — more than a few — did I see her by the side of the road, her gait strong and purposeful. Often she was holding a shopping bag. If I pulled over and asked if she wanted a ride, she’d wave her arms like swatting at bugs. “I’ll walk. I’m almost there,” she’d say.

Marian drew her inspiration for walking not from the need to achieve a destination, but from the power of personal purpose. She walked just like she lived, without guile or artifice. She was a woman born in the early decades of the 20th century who transcended social strictures and personal sorrow and disappointment to become a beloved guardian of independent values well into the 21st. She was timeless in a way.

Marian Gyr died on Saturday night. She was 97 years old.

In the nearly 30 years that she was my dear friend I always thought of her as Benzonia’s Grand Lady. Walking was just the clearest manifestation of Marian’s determination to do whatever she regarded as appropriate, righteous, just, and personally satisfying.

May 2018, Marian Gyr with her great grandson, Addison Gyr, and with Lindsey Stow and father Leland Gyr. (Photo: Keith Schneider)

Walking also displayed Marian’s physical sturdiness, and especially the outstanding cardio-pulmonary internal infrastructure that so adeptly transferred oxygen to her blood and muscles. She was the genesis of the Gyr gear, which is the uncommon capacity she and her sons and grandsons possess to cover a lot of ground fast, without tiring.

She was unyielding in that way. When you met her it was apparent immediately. She greeted you with a smile and bright eyes, a warm hug, and a welcome hello. It was uttered in a resonant woman’s voice that sounded like what would happen if a ram’s horn was crossed with a mandolin. It was deeper than most feminine voices, clarion and musical.

Marian’s voice, insistent and unmistakable, commanded attention. It was the voice that led chants at public protests around here to oppose injustice — the Iraq War in the early century; prosecutions of underprivileged women facing trial at the county courthouse.

It was just the sort of voice a woman needed to reach her six boys, all of them as determined and emboldened, a flipping airborne tumult of male enterprise born and raised with Marian’s same genetic repository.

The Gyr gear in action. Superior cardio-pulmonary capacity. From left, Jack Gyr, Leland Gyr, Kim Gyr, and Keith Schneider. (Photo:Keith Schneider)

Here are a few of Marian’s life transitions that I’m familiar with. She and husband John raised their rambunctious sons in Brighton, Michigan, in a house where learning, love, and loyalty were taught and encouraged. She was an elementary school teacher. She read widely, and much later helped home school two of her grandsons. Here in Benzie County she sang in the Benzie Community Chorus and she helped organize and promote the development of the Betsie Valley Trail, a 22-mile hiking and bicycle path from Thompsonville to Lake Michigan that is one of Benzie County’s primary recreational resources.

She endured unspeakable tragedy as a young mother when one of her boys was killed in a bicycle accident. Years later a grown second son also died. Grief did not buckle Marian, though, nor did the end of her long marriage. She was so capable of love, in fact, that when John got sick as an elderly man she honored his request to be with him where he lived in Switzerland. She departed Benzonia for more than two years to care for him.

After all these years I’ve come to know well four of her sons, two grandsons, daughters-in-law, and a whole bunch of her family. They all express the same devotion to each other that she did. They all are as lively, as intent on making a difference, as interested in their days as she was.

The last few years, Marian lived in Traverse City. In May last year she came down to Benzonia for a party, during which her two-month-old great grandson, Addison Gyr, was introduced to the community. It was a splendid affair. So many of the millennial young adults that my generation raised in Benzonia attended with their toddlers. Four generations were on hand. A tableau of strong family and community. Marian was joyous.

And why not. Marian Gyr lived and thrived with a surety of purpose, like gravity, or the energy of the noontime sun, or the satisfaction of a long walk. Now the steps have ended. Like everybody lucky enough to accompany Marian, I grieve. I miss her.

— Keith Schneider

10 thoughts on “Marian Gyr, Benzonia’s Grand Lady, Lived 97 Storied Years

  1. Grammy Marion…I like to remember her voice singing to babies as one of my favorite memories. She was one of my harshest critics and at the same time biggest supporters. A strong female role model. Thank you for your writing. I’m a better person for knowing her.

  2. What a beautiful tribute, Keith. She was certainly a remarkable and memorable woman, and as you indicate, her legacy is immense. I love all the Gyrs and their extended families. An amazing family.

  3. What a beautifully written piece, Keith. You embodied Marian’s spirit perfectly! I only knew Marian for the last 2 years of her life by singing with her every Monday morning. It was a delight! Besides the songs we loved and shared, we swapped stories. I loved her wholesome, adventurous tales of life and purpose with music woven in and through it all. Many thanks to Maggie, Jack and family for inviting me to be part of her life. There are at least a dozen songs that will bring her smiling face to mind each time I sing them. I’m so blessed to have known her. Marian, you ROCKED!!!✌️🎶♥️

  4. Music does magical things, and one of the magical things it did was introducing me to Marion thru the Benzie Community Choir. I learned what a special person she was. – and yes she walked to every rehearsal!

  5. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing Matriarch of Benzie County! Thank you Keith for embodying the true essence of Marian in words!

  6. I was lucky to have Mrs Gyr as my first grade teacher in Brighton. She was such an amazing teacher who helped us develop confidence and appreciate each other. I’m glad that I was able to visit her in Traverse City last year and express my gratitude.

  7. What a wonderful tribute! Marian was my first grade teacher during the 1969-1970 school year in Brighton, Michigan. At the end of that year I fell off a playground slide and broke my femur and spent six weeks in traction. Marian came to the hospital several times to cheer me up, sing, or read to me. We kept in touch and in the late 1970’s just before she and John moved to Bern, Switzerland she invited my family to her home on Fonda Lake for a traditional Swiss Dinner. We continued to write letters back and forth and when she moved to Benzonia in the 1990s my parents and I often stopped in to see her and catch up on things. I went to visit Marian in Bern in 2005 while she was taking care of John and after he passed away and she moved to Empire my mother and I continued to visit her there. When she moved to Traverse City I continued to correspond with her through “snail mail,” and I probably have close to 50 letters I have kept over the years, most in their original envelopes! I last saw Marian in December when I was visiting my family in Manistee. We had a wonderful hour and a half together. I didn’t think at the time that that would be the last time I would see Marian. I kind of figured she’d live forever! I am so grateful to have had Marian as a teacher and a friend for almost fifty years. I have nothing but fond memories of her and I am a better man for having had her in my life. I’ll miss you always Trushka!

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