John Harvey Bemis |

John Harvey Bemis

John Harvey Bemis, 84, died peacefully at his home in Snowmass Village, Colo. on June 27, 2012, after a long battle with a rare neurological disease, multiple system atrophy.

The son of the late Harry John and Carroll Thomas Bemis, John was born April 26, 1928 in Milwaukee, Wis. and grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. and Highland Park, Dallas, Texas. In 1952 he received his BBA from East Texas State Teachers College in Commerce, Texas and that year entered the U.S. Marine Corps Officers Training Program in Quantico, Va. From his initial rank of lieutenant, Bemis served the Corps and progressed through the ranks and was promoted to colonel prior to his retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1981. His devotion to the Corps was unwavering and he proudly served as president of the national Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association.

In 1954 he married Joan Mougin of Quitman, Texas. They spent the next 25 years in Kalamazoo and South Haven, Mich. In the 1930s, the Bemis family was a pioneer in building buses. The 20-passenger “Kalamazoo Pony Cruiser” was sold across the United States to inter-city bus lines and resorts. Henry Ford purchased a “Pony” to operate in his Greenfield Village, Mich. and the Pony was also operated in Sun Valley, Idaho. The family also operated a bus line, Peoples Rapid Transit, in Michigan and Indiana until the end of gas and tire rationing after World War II finally brought the bus business to a halt.

People wanted to ride in automobiles, not in buses.

In the 1950s, following the advice of a mentor, John looked for a way to be involved in the construction of the Interstate highway program. Not being a contractor but having the real estate facilities and manpower available, he purchased a truckload of flashing lights that operated on 12-volt batteries, manufactured sawhorse type barricades then started calling on highway contractors renting his new safety devices. Bemis and Son, Inc., and its subsidiaries Michigan Barricading Co. and State Barricading manufactured, leased and installed safety devices through 17 branches in nine states. With others in this new field, John helped write the first national safety regulations and formed the first national trade association. It was his honor to be President of the Michigan Road Builders Association – the first non-contractor elected to that office.

In the 1980s, he worked for his best friend, Jack DeBoer, who is an industry pioneer in the development of the all-suite hotel concept. John worked with Jack at The Residence Inn Corp. in Wichita, Kan. for many years, developing hotels in Michigan and other areas. John and Joan then moved to Snowmass Village in the 1990s and he continued to be interested and involved in hotel development.

For over 50 years, John enjoyed the camaraderie of his nine Ski Bums of America (SBOA) friends. SBOA skied all around the world from Boyne Mountain Michigan to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Four “Bums” have preceded him and four survive.

John was an avid dry fly fisherman, an instrument-rated pilot, and sailor who had the adventure of a transatlantic crossing in a 45-foot sailboat. He was very proud to be a Paul Harris Fellow member of Rotary International and was an active member at the Snowmass Chapel. In 2009 when the traditional community Thanksgiving potluck was being abandoned, he led the charge to resurrect the dinner, organizing community groups and individuals to create a community dinner with linen tablecloths, linen napkins, china plates, real silverware, real wine glasses – “NO plastic, NO paper.” It was special event for locals and lifties – everyone was welcome. His last public appearance was at the November 2010 Snowmass Community Thanksgiving dinner attended by more than 400 people, and he was happy.

Ever optimistic, John’s motto was “Don’t Die Wondering” – he’d just do it, or figure it out, or invent it. John lived to serve his family, community, church, and his country.

John H. Bemis is survived by his wife Joan; son John M Bemis (Nancy) of New Canaan, Conn.; daughter Helen “Missy” Bemis (Peter Markland) of Birmingham, Ala.; granddaughter Julia Bemis and grandson John Henry Bemis of New Canaan, Conn.; sisters Joanne Small, Pasadena, Calif.; Susan Blankenship (James) Hotchkiss, Colo., Nancy Brown (Mitchell) Ridgecrest, Calif.; many nieces and nephews and the SBOA.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley (, Basalt Colo., or the Snowmass Chapel ( in Snowmass Village, Colo.

Friends and family are invited to a memorial service Saturday, Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. at the Snowmass Chapel, Owl Creek Road, Snowmass Village. His body has been cremated and burial will be in the Hidden Valley Cemetery, Snowmass Village.

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