Mark Westrate, 63, of Cassopolis

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Born: May 30, 1950

Died: Aug. 13, 2013


Mark Westrate, 63, of Cassopolis, died Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Borgess Medical Center, Kalamazoo.

Mark was born May 30, 1950, in Dowagiac, to William and Joan (Koster) Westrate.

His parents preceded him in death.

Dowagiac City Attorney Mark A. Westrate

Dowagiac City Attorney Mark A. Westrate

He married Joan Ellen Short Sept. 12, 1975, in Cassopolis. She survives.

A life-long resident of Cassopolis, Mark was a graduate of Cassopolis High School, where he was National Merit Scholar, a track and basketball star (once personally awarded with a medal by track immortal Jesse Owens) and president of the Student Council, as well as an Eagle Scout in Troop 37.

He also was devoted to working with his father and brothers on the family Christmas tree farm.

This would become a life-long avocation, as he successfully oversaw that family business for several decades thereafter.

Following graduation in 1968, Mark enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, earning his B.A. in 1972 and entering law school at the University of Texas at Austin where he studied for one year.

Transferring to the University of Notre Dame the next, he graduated with a J.D. in 1975.

Mark entered the practice of local attorney Herbert Phillipson in Dowagiac, where he rapidly became a fixture in the community, eventually succeeding to the head of the practice with Phillipson’s departure to the Probate bench.

He was brilliant at the bar, widely respected for his skill and popular with clients for his accessibility, generosity and his devotion to civic life, serving a decades-long tenure as Dowagiac City Attorney.

In his later career, Mark’s success with complex local property condemnation and tax cases drew attention from some of Michigan’s largest municipalities, including both Midland and Detroit, which hired him to challenge the tax rate assessments of several large utilities.

This challenging and arcane field evolved eventually into his own legal niche, as he became chief counsel of a team that successfully concluded in 2003 the largest tax case, to date, in the history of the State of Michigan.

Mark’s command of statistics, as well as of trial procedure was, to all assessments, impeccable, earning widespread praise from those on all sides of the highly consequential legal contest.

Mark was, at once, a renaissance man and everyman, blessed with a brilliant mind and ready wit, who bested grandmasters at chess (and his frustrated younger brother at Scrabble) with as much competitiveness and aplomb as he challenged at golf.

A Jimmy Buffet aficionado, he also relished lying on the beach and losing himself in the written word, being comfortable with John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, as well as with sophisticated biography and history.

He was also a life-long Detroit Tigers/Michigan Wolverines fan, notwithstanding his Irish legal roots.

Most supremely, Mark adored his wife, children and grandchildren, and their happiness and welfare, above all things, constituted the focus of his life on earth.

Their home was always open, ever welcoming, to any and all, at any time of day.

With all others, he was charitable and caring, and as devoted to all who met him as the demands of time and service allowed. There were few in the area who did not know him, and fewer still who did not esteem him for the authenticity, compassion, respect and consideration he unfailingly displayed toward others.

With all the goodness inside Mark Westrate, there simply was no room for rancor.

Mark will be greatly missed by family and friends.

But his passing will doubtless leave a large void in many lives. He is survived by: his wife, Joan (Short) Westrate of Cassopolis; one daughter, Karly (Patrick Kildee) Westrate of Kalamazoo; one son, Kurt (Theresa) Westrate of Cassopolis; six grandchildren, Tristan, Brayden, Lily Westrate and Sophia, Reese, and Clare Kildee; and four brothers, William (Zully) Westrate of Cassopolis, Bruce (Sally) Westrate of Cassopolis, Joel Westrate of Grandville, and Eric (Barbara) Westrate of Chantilly, Va.

Family and friends will gather Friday, Aug. 16, from 5 until 7 p.m. in Connelly Chapel Wagner Family Funerals, 202 N. Broadway St., Cassopolis.

Services will be Saturday, Aug. 17, at 1 p.m. in the funeral home, with the Rev. Chuck VanLente officiating and former Grand Rapids city manager Kurt Kimball delivering the eulogy.

The family prefers memorial contributions to American Cancer Society, Great Lakes Division, Southwest Michigan Office, 1400 W. Milham St., Portage, MI 49024.

Arrangements have been entrusted to Connelly Chapel Wagner Family Funerals, Cassopolis.

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