Bea Kimmerly: An Omena Original Preserves Her Family’s Land
From our 2009 Spring Newsletter
My purpose in writing this article is to announce that my 96-year-old neighbor, Bea Kimmerly, has engineered the permanent protection of her family’s 35 acres in Omena through the donation of a conservation agreement to the Leelanau Conservancy. But I can’t quite get to that story without first talking about this extraordinary nonagenarian who I have known since moving to Leelanau in 1987.
The first thing I would say about Bea is that she gives an impressionable hug. When I see her on our road, or on my occasional forays to church, she greets me with open arms. Her hugs are hearty and enveloping, always accompanied by a definitive kiss on the cheek. Anyone who gets a hug from Bea knows that she means it, and is all the better for it.
The second thing is that she is sharp as a tack—and not just for a ninety-something-year-old. She still travels all over the world making annual visits to her daughter in Utah and to Germany to see her grandchildren. She’s a fan of crossword puzzles, and her reflections during the last election as a lifelong Republican were thoughtful and informed.
The third thing is that she is always thinking of other people. She never fails to inquire after my children, and when my mother moved north 16 years ago, Bea was the first to reach out and invite her to coffee hour at the Omena Fire Hall, to church, and to Club 21, an Omena do-good women’s group that Bea co-founded. Last year, when my mother had knee surgery, Bea visited often, bringing a loaf of banana bread or a plate of cookies. It was Bea, more than me, who helped my mom integrate into our community.
I first became acquainted with Bea’s land when my first son was born 19 years ago. It was September, and we were in the midst of a glorious Indian summer. Then as now, the September light and fall colors are at their most beautiful. The mellow days made me a restless new mother so I would load Sam in a front pack with a light blanket, and amble up Freeland Road to Bea’s lane and visit.
Freeland Creek runs through the Kimmerly land. I often walk along Freeland Road, and always pause to watch and listen to the creek’s soothing rush toward Omena Bay. Bea and her children’s land takes in 1,600 feet of stream frontage. It also is home to native white cedars that shelter wetland birds and other creatures. Our 21-acre Frazier Freeland Preserve is just across the road, so the sum total of these protected lands is good news for area wildlife.
Bea’s house, tucked back off Freeland Road, features a welcoming screened-in porch and is framed by golden maple trees. She and her husband, Myles “Mike” Kimmerly, bought the house and land in 1962 from an old bachelor. According to Bea, the house was built from lumber taken from the old Omena Hotel. I never knew Myles, for whom the county park near Maple City is named. But by all accounts he was a compassionate probate judge with a soft spot in his heart for troubled youth. Myles spent just 10 years on Freeland Road; he was diagnosed with cancer soon after they moved in, and died in 1972.
Before moving to Freeland Road, the couple had operated and lived above a general store in Omena from 1946 to 1958, now the Tamarack Gallery. They raised three children there. Bea’s memories of that era, with its resort hotels, summer theatre, and vibrant farming culture are fascinating. Summers at Kimmerly’s Grocery were busy. They sold ice that had been cut from nearby Moughey Lake in the winter. In this time before modern cherry shakers, she says that every farmer in the area employed as many as 100 pickers, and at noon the workers would descend upon the store for 10-cent crackers and slices of cheese and bologna. They went through so much bologna that she stacked it like cordwood in the store. She got to know everyone, from seasonal pickers to the summer people of Omena Point. “I’ve watch the kids from the Point grow into teenagers, and now they are all grandparents!” she laughs.
When Mike was appointed probate judge in 1958, they closed the store and moved to Freeland Road. Her children were nearly grown. Son Jack liked to hunt on the land, and she enjoyed walking in the woods. Myles loved the solitude, she says. She also kept a small garden, and took to transplanting maple trees behind the house.
As a longtime Conservancy member, Bea says she had read about conservation easements in our newsletters. “It sounded like a good idea for our land,” says Bea. “I think it’s nice to make sure that this stays as it is. Because it seems like every time you turn around there is another house on top of a hill.” Bea’s two living children, Karol Ann Berwald and John Kimmerly, and her two grandchildren, James and Patrick Kimmerly, jointly own the land and are named in the conservation easement. Like her, Bea says they all wanted to see the land stay the way it is. Bea’s single request was that a sign be posted on the land noting that it had been conserved in Myles’ memory.
On the day that we sat down to talk about her project, Bea tells me that her favorite thing to do in Leelanau is to just take a nice long drive. “It’s getting awfully busy, but it’s still the best place in the world to live,” she says. “The people are all so nice and friendly.” I would venture to say that they are because she is.
“You can’t have it any better than this,” she adds. I tend to agree, and am reminded every time I see her what a wonderful role model she is for all of us, regardless of our age.