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Guse acted on his beliefs, leaving his life well-lived

Published 9:58am Thursday, December 27, 2012


R. James Guse left a large legacy between the Board of Commissioners and the Cass County Fair.

The 2004 fair was their 25th for grand marshals Jim and Barb Guse since they came over from Benton Harbor and he gave up hanging overhead garage doors to farm fulltime.

The couple met at Benton Harbor High School, married on Oct. 18, 1958, and had their reception at Coloma Township Hall.

During 15 years in county politics, Jim chaired the county board which approved construction of the Law and Courts Building, though the project closest to his heart remained the 1990-91 show arena.

In Berrien County, Mr. Guse had a small fruit farm and supported the youth fair in Berrien Springs, but was never as active as in Cass.

Mr. Guse, a father of five who died Dec. 23 at 75 after a bout with thyroid cancer, once explained his belief in fair projects this way: “So many go home from school and don’t know what to do. A project can take their time and teach them something. It gives them experiences they can use in their lives. Kids with livestock spend a lot of time with their animals, but still exhibits are great. I’ve always said we need to get city kids involved, but it’s hard to get leaders because they think it’s a farm thing. We should have a lot of kids doing little projects to take to the fair and to show their parents, grandparents and friends.”

The Beeson Street residents settled here July 16, 1980. The Guses bought land on Dewey Street and Hampshire Road in Pokagon Township in 1966 to farm nights and weekends with his late brother Ed, 1998 grand marshal. In 1968 Guses added property in LaGrange Township.

Mr. Guse spent a decade on the fair board until he was appointed to the county commission following the death of Dennis Stamp. He returned for a year after Jim Mesko suffered a heart attack.

Mr. Guse never used “chairman” to describe his tireless work on the show arena, opting for the more inclusive “coordinator.”

He was not on the fair board when he undertook that project, “the greatest thing I’ve ever been involved with because of the community involvement. We got $60,000 from the state (in) grants. That got us started, then the building committee would report to the fair board” headed by 2003 grand marshal John Norton of Cassopolis.

Mr. Guse logged several years as beef superintendent, then auction superintendent, making him responsible for lining up auctioneers and ring workers for Thursday night’s market animal sale and recruiting buyers.

Their three youngest daughters participated in livestock shows, particularly beef and sheep. Lori, Dowagiac’s 1995 valedictorian, became a doctor.

Mr. Guse valued the fair as “giving experience in winning and losing. Losing’s part of life, too. Down the road you’re not going to get that job or promotion. It teaches so much about winning, losing and making friendships. I used to fight with commissioners to give something to the fair. There was a time when the county appropriated funds.  You spend a fortune on these kids sending them to a detention home. Spend 10 cents to keep them out rather than $100 to straighten them up.”


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