Remembering the Cardinal: longtime Daily News columnist dies at 84Published 8:00am Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Whether the subject was one of the many landmarks or the kinds of candy he savored as a kid from Woolworth, there were few stories about the Grand Old City that Charlie Gill didn’t share with his readers.
For a quarter of a century, Gill weaved together tales of the history of his hometown in his weekly column in the Dowagiac Daily News. Known by many in the city by his penname turned nickname, “Cardinal Charlie,” the lifelong Dowagiac resident’s writings were a treasure trove of knowledge about the community, and the people, businesses and institutions that called it home.
Gill died on Monday, June 2, at Lakeland Hospital. He was 84 years old.
Born in 1930, Gill began working at James Heddon’s Sons Co. while still enrolled in high school, where he graduated in 1948. He later worked for the State of Michigan, retiring after 30 years of service in 1984, at the age of 54.
Four years later, Gill suffered from a brain-stem stroke. However, instead of debilitating him, the Dowagiac man said his memory was enhanced following the illness.
“It enhanced his long term-memory, he felt, because he started to remember all this stuff from old Dowagiac,” said John Eby, former community editor for the Daily News.
A year later, Gill, who once recalled never being much of a writer in school, submitted his first column to the Daily News, about his old coal-heating stove from the 1930s.
“It got enough of a response that he felt encouraged to keep going,” Eby recalled.
Over the next 25 years, Gill would pen nearly 700 columns for publication in the paper, writing primarily about his experiences growing up in Dowagiac during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, Eby said.
“He was a presence in the Daily News for so long, and he was probably the most popular thing in it,” he said. “I posted about his death last night on Facebook, and people from all over the country were commenting on it.”
Gill was a connoisseur of local historical artifacts, collecting old newspapers, graduation directories, scrapbooks and other documents, which he often used a springboard for his columns.
“He was one of those guys who was really interested in stuff like that,” Eby said. “He was always bragging about his ‘pack rack’ collection.”
“The Cardinal” was also an avid collector of anything related to the vibrant red bird, from which he derived his penname. Starting with a piece of art depicting the bird his wife and kids gave him for his birthday, Gill had amassed an impressive number of cardinal memorabilia, including a 16-piece set of dinnerware with the bird on them.
Despite living in Dowagiac for his entire life, Gill only moved from Orchard Street once in his life, living for two years on New York Avenue.
“I happen to live in the same neighborhood as him, so I learned about my home from his reminiscences,” Eby said.
In 2007, Gill compiled 297 of his weekly columns into a book, “Dowagiac’s Cardinal Charlie Remembers,” which has received several reprints since its initial publication, Eby said.
Gill is survived by is his wife of 51-years, Peg; their two children, Terry and Barry; and one granddaughter, Amber.