Godfrey von Platen

Godfrey von Platen was a man who had the will and the capacity to do big things in a big way ad who also had the generous heart that prompted him to do little things in a big way – the little things that make for human helpfulness and that indicate the indwelling spirit of human sympathy and kindness. Mr. von Paten become one of the most prominent and influential lumber operators of Michigan and the state of Washington, and as a substantial capitalist he identified himself with other interests of important order, especially in his home city of Grand Rapids, where at the time of his death in Chicago, while on a business trip, on Christmas day of the year 1924, he was president of the Widdicomb Furniture Company and a director of the Michigan Trust Company. Mr. von Paten was born in Germany, April 11, 1867, and thus was but fifty-seven years of age when death brought a close to his earnest and useful life. He was a child of two years when his parents came to the United States and established the family home, first in Chicago and later in Emmett county, Michigan, where his father built and operated a flour mill at Advance, near Petoskey. The subject of this memoir attended the pioneer schools of that section of Michigan, but his broader education was that gained under the direction of the wisest of all headmasters, experience. As a boy he assisted in the work of his father’s flour mill and sawmill, and when he was but seventeen years of age he assumed charge of his father’s lumbering operations, the business having in the meanwhile encountered serious reverses. He introduced new methods and policies and brought distinct success to the business, and his virile resourcefulness and energy enabled him to see and grasp opportunities, with the result that he expanded his lumbering operations to broad scope and importance. After he had exhausted his timber holdings near the village of Advance he transferred his operations to Boyne City, Charlevoix county, where he continued to maintain his home until his removal to Grand Rapids and where he made his influence potent in the general advancement of the community, along civic and material lines. After he had depleted his timber reserves in Charlevoix county Mr. van Platen acquired large timber tracts on the upper peninsula of Michigan, with Iron Mountain as the base of his operations, and about four years prior to his death he purchased in that locality also the Ayer tract, involving a transaction of $2,000,000,000. The large and important timber holdings on the upper peninsula are still held by his estate, and his only son has recently associated himself with the active management of the extensive lumbering interests of the estate, including those pertaining to the large holdings that the subject of this memoir acquired in the state of Washington. Mr. van Platen became one of the substantial stockholders of the Boyne City Chemical Company at the time of its organization, and assisted in obtaining for the city an iron furnace and a tannery. He was there a charter member of the First National Bank, and there was one of the organizers and stockholders of the Wolverine Hotel Company. He was one of those most prominently concerned in formulating the rules of the National Lumber Association, and he was not only one of the leaders in lumbering operations in northern Michigan but also in the general development and upbuilding of that section, his benefactions having included contributions to the establishing and maintaining of a goodly number of churches throughout that section of the state. His intense civic loyalty was but one of many manifestations of the intrinsic spirit of loyalty that animated him in all of the relations of life and that made him a natural leader as well as a man to whom came the staunchest of friendships. Buoyant, genial, generous, considerate, Mr. van Platen made his personality felt wherever he appeared, and there was bigness – aye, true greatness – in that personality. When death terminated the life of this fine man, loyal citizen, successful business executive and noble friend of humanity, there came from many sources tributes to the man who had made his life count for good in its every relation. From one of these tributes are taken the following extracts: "All his life, in spirit he was a boy, and he solved the problems of each day, and did not have any carrying over. He was always liberal, charitable and kind. His personal dealings with his men were unusual. At Christmas time, during his life-time, every man got an extra dollar for each year he had been with the firm. When the troubles following 1893 were large, and plants were shutting down – men not knowing what to do – he took some boxes of cigars and some candy and went out to his camps, ate with the men, and told them he did not know whether he could sell his product or get money to operate the mills, but that they could live in the camp, and if they wanted to take their chance with him on delayed pay, he would keep on running. Every man stayed, and the mills never shut down a day! He was known to go to Chicago and carry back with his own hands two suit cases full of candy – all a good, strong man could lug – for the mill children ad the little ones of Boyne City." And this next is from an estimate given by one who had known Mr. von Platen long and well at Boyne City: " By his energy, ability, integrity and application he advanced steadily year by year, and his early business life was such that his name among his neighbors, friends and business associates became a synonym for integrity and fair dealing, which lasted through his later and broadened activities among his neighbors, associates, employees, customers, bankers, competitors and friends. This quality of character and his unassuming personality begot for him a universal community affection and esteem which comes to few men aggressively engaged in competitive business. His employees, uniformly loyal, held for this same affection and esteem, and thus became that wholesome organization which contributed much to his business success, as he himself so often testified. The community, the needy, old neighbors, and the church were from time to time subjects of his well-known substantial charity." The home relations of Mr. von Platen, both through his first and his second marriages, were of ideal order, and his noble attributes of character found their finest expression in his devotion to home and family. His charities and philanthropies were many and were invariable without ostentation. He was a man who would "do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame." A typical instance of this occurred at Christmas time only a few years before his death, when he presented a victrola and records to virtually every county home for the poor in the state of Michigan, though he insisted on having this general contribution made through the agency of his attorneys, without disclosure of his connections with the transaction. In his earlier business career Mr. van Platen had his full share of adversity, and he always had sympathy for those who failed, and for all those in affliction or distress. He was practical in his helpfulness, and was especially earnest in aiding ambitious and worthy youth. In the World war period, though he was of German birth, Mr. von Platen was heart and soul with the allied powers in their conflict with the land of his nativity, and as a patriot he was foremost in his support of the nation’s varied war preparations and later activities in the full period of American participation in the great conflict. He gave generously of his time and money in this connection. Mr. von Platen was twice married, and his was a tender devotion to the wife of his youth, even as the same spirit animated him in his companionship with the second wife, who survives him. He is survived also by one son, Karl, and one daughter, Pauline M., who is the wife of Fred D. Avery. Mr. von Platen is survived also by one brother, Moritz, of Pasadena, California, and by one sister, Mrs. William H. Seibert, of Hollywood, that state. After establishing his home in Grand Rapids Mr. von Platen showed his civic loyalty and appreciation in terms of service, especially in the support of charitable, benevolent and philanthropic agencies. He was affiliated with both the York and Scottish Rite bodies of the Masonic fraternity, and was a member of the Peninsular Club and the Kent Country Club. His life was in itself a concrete exemplification of the Golden Rule, and his passing was mourned by the many whom he had grappled to his soul through the medium of the very fineness of that soul and spirit. His was the faith that makes faithful in all things.


Transcriber: Nancy Myers
Created: 20 February 2005
URL: vonplateng.html