Nahma family in August Hall of Fame spotlight

Delta County Genealogy Society is presenting a series of articles on the people who helped make Delta County what it is today.  People from all walks of life and from all over Delta County will be chosen and honored for his/her contributions toward helping to shape life in Delta County.  This month’s selection is the Groleau family of Nahma.

NAHMA – Many small towns made up Delta County in the early years.  Some have faded to nothing more than a faint memory and some have grown and continue to prosper.  But some have fallen into a holding pattern.  Maybe not growing but the people who live there are not ready to give up and go somewhere else.  Some of these families have lived in these small communities for generations.  Some are “newcomers” having only been there a short time.  But all seeing something in their community worth staying for.

Nahma is one of these communities and the Groleau’s are one of the families that believed in the area.

Nahma was established in 1881 by the Bay de Noquet Lumber Company, using it as a base for its Upper Michigan lumbering operations.  Along with the mill, the lumber company built a lumber shed, a community building, a school and a hotel.  The mill provided housing, steam heat, and electricity for its employees.

There was also a company store where the mill workers were forced to shop, as the lumber company paid its workers with its own scrip that only the company store accepted.  (This kept the workers indebted to the company.)  The lumber mill itself employed over 1,500 men at the mill and lumber camps.

The town of Nahma had 800 people living there at the peak of the lumber industry.  The lumber mill ran for 70 years until it cut and processed the last log on 26 July 1951.  The mill and its workers processed over 2,500 million board feet during that time.

Omer Groleau was born in Clarence Creek, Ontario, on 13 May 1890, the son of Thomas Groleau and Sophie Mesnard.  Thomas and Sophie moved to the St. Jacques area bringing Omer and his siblings with them.  Omer later married Florestine Sabourin on 7 November 1912, and the couple had 16 children: Rudolph, Leila, Edward, Irene, Emil, Rosario, Loretta, Rosalyn, Rita, Gerald, Leo, Anita, Gary, Wade, Matthew, and a baby girl who died soon after birth.

Omer earned his living as a farmer and woodsman.  He had a farm off from what is now Co. 499.  He loved playing the fiddle and contributed much to the Catholic church in Indian Point.  Florestine died 13 December 1952, and Omer later married Mabel Dulek.  Omer passed away on 19 August 1970, at the age of 80.

Most of Omer’s children settled in the Upper Peninsula.  His son Edward ran a general store.  Emil became a postal worker.  Rosario followed in his father’s footsteps and was a woodsman and construction worker.  Gerald and Leo both became construction workers, Gary a plumber, Wade a heavy equipment mechanic.  Omer’s daughter, Rita, was a master quilter and Anita a semi-professional furniture refurbisher.  Loretta was employed by the Michigan Conservation Department until her retirement.

Omer and Florestine would have been proud of the contributions to the area that their children have made.

In 1951 the town was sold to an Indiana playground manufacturer with the idea of turning it into a resort.  The idea for the town was even written up in “Life Magazine,” but sadly the manufacturer lacked the financing to carry the idea out and the town sat idle for many years.

Fast forward to 1994.  Three Groleau brothers, Warren, Pat, and Ron, sons of Edward and Jerita Groleau, purchased the 1910 Nahma Hotel and the golf course.  Together along with their wives, they spent two years restoring the hotel, along with the old company store, turning that into an ice cream shop.

Warren’s wife, Christine, stated they had fun redoing the hotel which opened on Mother’s Day 1996.  But all three brothers had other jobs and after four years, the running of the hotel got to be too time consuming and it was sold.  Unfortunately the lady that purchased the hotel could not make a go of it and again, after about a year, the hotel closed once again.

After several years the hotel was purchased by Charley and Laurie MacIntosh, who have lovingly brought it back to life.  They now run the hotel with an on-site restaurant and lounge.  The MacIntosh’s along with the Groleau’s served on the committee for the music festival held this past June, bringing additional life to Nahma.

Lucky for the town of Nahma, the selling of the hotel is not the end of the Groleau family’s involvement with the town and surrounding area.  The former Bay de Noc Lumber Company Pay Office has recently been converted into an art and craft studio by Christine Groleau, wife of Warren Groleau, great-grandson of Omer Groleau, who settled in the area with his parents in 1890.  “Christine’s Gallery” features, not only her art work, but that of other local artists.  Classes are also available.

Warren and Christine’s daughter, Vicki Schwab, and her husband have purchased the St. Jacques Grocery, soon to be renamed “Groleau’s Grocery.”  Vicki is also the newly appointed director of the Delta County Economic Development Alliance (EDA).

Many things have changed in Nahma since the opening of the lumber mill in 1881, but the Groleau family’s commitment to the area has not.

Visit Nahma for the the traditional Labor Day celebration, have lunch at the historic hotel, or just play a round or two of golf.  You will surely see the Groleau family there and somewhere Omer Groleau is smiling as his family helps keep Nahma alive.

Adapted from Escanaba Daily Press, 27 August 2011.