Family remembers Wolverine Mutual’s D. Bruce Laing

DOWAGIAC — Many in Dowagiac are mourning this week, following the death of a local industry leader.

D. Bruce Laing, a lifelong Dowagiac resident and a staple of the Dowagiac business community, died unexpectedly from heart failure last Thursday. He was 94 years old.

“He was a good man,” his eldest son G. Bruce Laing said. “He lived to be 94, and he lived a good life. We didn’t expect to lose him when we did, but you never do.”

Laing spent 50 years at his family business, Wolverine Mutual Insurance Company, a company which has been in Dowagiac for more than 100 years. The senior Laing had taken over the reins of the company from his father, before passing them on to his son G. Bruce Laing in the 1990s. In 2006, Laing’s other son, Jim Laing, become president of the business.

“He took a business here, and from roughly 1950 to his retirement, turned it into an employer of 50-plus people,” said G. Bruce Laing. “We are about to enter our 102nd year. Without him, this company couldn’t be here.”

“He was the conscience and heart of this firm,” added Jim Laing. “He was a leader and mentor here forever.”

Though Laing was a well-known industry leader in Dowagiac, his family says that his history and his legacy is more than just his work.

Laing was born on Feb. 15, 1924, in Dowagiac, to E. Bruce Laing and Elizabeth Sweet Laing.

As a young man, he enjoyed the lakes of Cass County, according to his obituary. In high school, Laing lettered in three sports and contributed to the school’s yearbook and newspaper.

Laing served in the U.S. military during World War II, where he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Corps and served throughout the War in the Pacific Theater. From 1943 through 1945, he served with the 5th Air Force, with his duties taking him to Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan.

He married his wife Barbara in 1946, and together they had four children. In 1950, He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Though Laing certainly has a long list of accomplishments, his sons best remember him as a humble man who believed in living a life of service to the city of Dowagiac.

“He was always quietly involved with a lot of good projects within the community,” G. Bruce Laing said. “He wrote his own obituary, which we ended up not even using, because he didn’t give himself credit for hardly anything. He’s was just a guy that loved to give and be supportive, but he didn’t really want any accolades for it.”

Jim Laing agreed.

“He loved Dowagiac,” Jim Laing said. “He contributed quietly in many, many ways over the years. … He was the personal type. You don’t see his name on any buildings downtown. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not who he wanted to be.”

In his life, Laing volunteered in various capacities in the Rotary Club, Elks Club, multiple bank directorships and at the Southwestern Michigan College Foundation and more. He served as president of the Dowagiac Union Schools Board when the current high school was built in the 1960s and created the Sports Council, which brought coaches and athletes from Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State and other institutions to the area to motivate and encourage Dowagiac’s student athletes.

“He was a pillar in the community, and I think he was respected by all,” G. Bruce Laing said.

His sons said their father was also a supporter of the Dowagiac District Library, the Dowagiac Area History Museum and that he did a lot to help local youth.

“He was very unselfish. He really put others first in his life,” Jim Laing said.

According to his obituary, Laing is survived by his wife Barbara and their four children, G. Bruce Laing (Jane Clagett), of Dowagiac, Anne Gottlieb (Bob Gottlieb), of St. Joseph, Mari Smazal (Michael Cook), of Denver, Colorado, and James Laing (Shelby Riccioni), of Stevensville, nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and many nephews and nieces.

Both G. Bruce and Jim Laing said that their father has passed, his legacy will live on in the Dowagiac community.

“I think he touched an awful lot of people with his goodness, his kindness,” Jim Laing said. “I think it is good for all of us to be reminded that people are essentially good and that people want to do the right thing. I think it is good for people to see an example of that. … He was an everyday guy, but he was an exceptional everyday guy.”

“He taught us to quietly give when we can — that’s how we were brought up,” G. Bruce Laing added. “We are going to continue that on into the next generation. … He would be proud to know that we will continue all that, thanks to him.”

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