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Eight Bells: John L. Nedeau, Sr

Published on June 15th, 2016

John L. Nedeau Sr. passed away on June 15, 2016 at 85 years.

2016-06-15_13-54-36Born April 14, 1931 in Muskegon, Michigan, John graduated from Muskegon Heights High School after earning all-state honors in football and accepting a football scholarship to Michigan State University. He married his high school sweetheart Joan E. Ouwerkerk in 1952 and together they had six children.

John initially went to work for his father in the family real estate firm, but soon branched out on his own. In 1969, John formed J. Nedeau Realtor, Inc, where he applied both his creative business mind and competitive nature across a broad spectrum of business interest, which resulted in him sitting on the board of Lumberman’s Bank, Grandco Clark Co. and Glenn of Michigan.

He led the development of several residential and commercial properties, throughout the Midwest and South which included the development of the first free standing single family condominiums in Michigan.

He was seen as the pioneer developer, with the WMLAR (West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors) recognizing John in 2013 as a Realtor Emeritus. His business partners and associates revered John for his business mind and willingness to personally invest in and to assist in the financing of local businesses.

John’s lifelong commitment to business was matched by his passion for racing sailboats. John’s father, Harvey taught John how to sail as a child on Muskegon Lake. John started taking trophies in International One Designs, 210s and later has some great races in E-boats against Buddy Melges. Soon John joined his father in many successful and prizewinning seasons of sailing his father’s boats, all named RoMaHaJo.

During the winters of the 1960’s and 1970’s, John sailed in in the heyday of SORC aboard Wally Stenhouse’s S&S 42 Aura and later Chuck Kirsch’s Scaramouch. In 1973, he commissioned the first Windancer, a C&C 50 which was custom built for John in Toronto, Canada. Next he built a one-off custom C&C 52. Over the next forty years, John campaigned a total of seven different Windancers, including the former two-time America’s Cup winner Intrepid, which he converted for offshore sailing (an endeavor that he referred to as character building).

Always sailing with family and friends, the Windancer program came to be respected as one of the top Great Lakes amateur programs. When Windancer won the 2011 Chicago to Mackinac race, Windancer’s crew included John’s son Sam Nedeau and his granddaughter Maggie Shea and grandson Tyler Nedeau.

A 2005 inductee into the Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame and a 2013 inductee into the Lake Michigan Sailing Hall of Fame, John is recognized as a Master Mariner. To this day, John Nedeau owns the record for sailing the most Chicago to Mackinac races – 66 races. In fact, he is the only known sailor to be recognized as a Double Grand Ram, finishing at least 50 Chicago to Macs and 50 Bayview Macs.

He regarded those he sailed with and against as his closest friends and was known for saying at the start of each Mackinac race, “there is nowhere in the world that I’d rather be than right here with all of you.” When the dust settled, it is hard to name a significant race on Lake Michigan or Lake Huron that Windancer did not win.

John strongly believed in volunteering his time and through his 85 years he served as President of the Muskegon County Board of Realtors, President of the Lake Michigan Yachting Association, a board member of the Muskegon YMCA, St. Jean’s Catholic Church and Michigan Maritime Museum. He also taught Real Estate classes and Safe Boating classes. For over 50 years, he always made time for a basketball or handball game at the YMCA on his lunch hour.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 64 years Joan, daughters Nancy Maloney (Riverside, CT), Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Millane (Boston, MA), Melinda ‘Mindy’ Shea (Wilmette, IL), sons Nicholas Nedeau (Lake Bluff, IL), John Nedeau Jr. (Lake Forest, ILO), and Sam Nedeau (North Muskegon, MI), nineteen grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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