George W. Alley, 92, of Sturgeon Bay passed away on Sunday, Sept. 1, after a long illness. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, at Zion United Methodist Church,
8781 County Road F, followed by a potluck at the Alley-Heide Farm, the site of so many happy occasions.
George was born on July 31, 1921, in Metamora, Indiana, and grew up on the family farm. After high school, he enrolled at Purdue University and was in his first semester there on Dec. 7, 1941. As a member of the ROTC, he knew he'd be called to active duty soon, so he enrolled in the paratroopers, signing a little slip of paper that said, "I agree to jump out of an airplane in flight with the use of a parachute."
George reported for duty on Nov. 6, 1942, and arrived in England in January 1944. He spent 22 months overseas and was decorated for his participation in four major campaigns in Europe with the fabled 101st Airborne, including - after just three practice jumps - parachuting behind enemy lines on the night before D-Day. (A story about his experiences during the war can be read on-line in the archives of the Peninsula Pulse,
He returned to Purdue after the war and graduated a semester early on Feb. 7, 1949, with a degree in forestry. During 38 years with the U.S. Forestry Service and the State Conservation Service, he worked as a forester and soil conservationist in Indiana, California, Nebraska and Wisconsin, retiring in 1985.
George and Juanita Hall Alley celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on June 28, 2013. They are the parents of: David (Dr. Deborah Webber), Sister Bay; Melanie (Jay) Vercauteren, Moorseville, North Carolina; Chris, Sister Bay; the late Fred; and John (Rhonda), Madison.
They have six grandchildren: Chelsea (Dan) Nicholson, Green Bay; Amber (Keegan) Waldo, Madison; Callie (Brent) Hill, Princeton, New Jersey; Josh Alley, Fish Creek; Keenan Alley, Milwaukee; and Katie Alley, Madison; and a very special great-grandchild, Haley Nicholson. He is further survived by his nieces, Darlene (Joe) Brownrigg, Monroe, Michigan, and Patty Good, Connersville, Indiana, his nephew, Tom Dawson, Connersville, Indiana; sisters-in-law Joyce (Fred) Klingman, Cincinnati; and Nora (the late Omer) Rieckers, Holton, Indiana.
George was predeceased by: his son, Fred, on May 1, 2001; a grandson, Casey Alley; his parents, Roy and Rae Alley; his brothers, Dale, Lester (Betty) and Gene; and his sisters, Wilda Dawson and Grace; his parents-in-law, Christopher and Nannie Hall; and his sister-in-law, Jean (Eddie) Purnell.
George was active as a youth leader in the United Methodist Church and Boy Scouts. Lee Becker, an actor and playwright with American Folklore Theatre, remembers George taking youth groups in Mt. Horeb, fishing and on nature walks at Pine Lake and teaching them all about trees. "It warms, my heart," Lee says, "to imagine your reunion with Fred, and the two of you harmonizing on ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike.' "
When Fred and Dave became active in the Heritage Ensemble and, later, after Fred co-founded American Folklore Theatre, George and Juanita were also involved, she with sewing costumes and he with research for the shows Fred wrote. They moved to Door County in the early 1990s to be helpful in any way they could with AFT.
Frederick "Doc" Heide, co-founder with Fred Alley of AFT, wrote in an Advocate column, "George never appeared on our stage or received a dime from our payroll. Yet without him and his darling wife, Juanita, AFT as we know it would not exist. George was the hidden patriarch of our troupe. George did everything he could to help us, literally giving us the shirt off his back (which Fred borrowed for an early production of ‘Lumberjacks in Love.'
Jeff Herbst, who first appeared on stage with Fred Alley in sixth grade and followed him to AFT, where he is now artistic director, says, "I certainly remember with fondness visiting the Alleys when I was in middle school and high school. Juanita always had terrific food, of course, and George was a great storyteller. He always had a stack of books by his reading chair and was full of talk, especially about history."
That love of reading, especially history, never changed. When his eyesight failed, he turned to books on tape. He was a man who digested and remembered all he read. His memory, even in his nineties, was amazing. In 2012, he was the subject of a feature story in the Peninsula Pulse about his World War II experiences, and he recalled dates, names and events in meticulous detail.
But the most important thing in George's life was always family. Messages three of his granddaughters posted on Facebook the day after his death included these lines:
"He taught me to listen to music more gratefully, to read more earnestly and to love more fiercely than I ever thought possible. He fed the finches outside the window even after he couldn't see them anymore. He was a true giant in a world of men, and in every tree I see, every song I sing, every finch I feed, I will miss him with all my heart." Amber Waldo
"The world lost an amazing man yesterday. He could have told you the family, genus and species of any plant or tree. He would have eaten ice cream for every meal if he could have. Most importantly, he loved his family more than anything in this world." Chelsea Nicholson
"I'll never forget you, Grandpa. And I'll always think of you and smile every time I'm in my garden, eating asparagus and green beans, trying hopelessly to identify trees or eating a burnt meal. I remember you told me, ‘When I was in the army, they served gravy on our peaches, and we were happy to have it.' " Callie Hill
Tom Brokaw wrote of the Greatest Generation. George Alley was one of the best of them.