SUTTONS BAY — Jack Emerson Burton, 89, of Suttons Bay, died peacefully on Monday, July 1, 2013, surrounded by his family.
He was married for 60 years to Nina Nelson Burton, who he profoundly missed since her passing in May 2007. Jack and Nina leave two daughters, Joan Burton Hunault, of East Lansing, and Mary Burton, of Traverse City; and two grandsons, Adam Burton Hunault, of New York City, and Erik Beck, of Boulder, Colo.
Jack, born Sept. 20, 1924, was the oldest son of Shellie Emerson Burton and Frank W. Burton. Born in Detroit, his parents raised him and four siblings in Flint and Alpena.
His sisters, Mary Medemar and Jeanne Meisenbach, their husbands, Charlie and John and his brother, Richard Burton predeceased him.
His brother, Col. Robert Burton (ret) of Galena, Ill., with whom Jack was very close, survives. Uncle Jack is survived by 26 loving nieces and nephews and also his sisters-in-law, Ruth Nelson Rice and Elaine Nelson, both of Alpena. He counted among his closest family and friends, Hal Martin, of Galena, Ill., and Randy Sprague, of Traverse City.
In Alpena Jack was a standout All-State basketball player. He earned an academic scholarship to Michigan State College (now University) in 1942 where he played freshman ball before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. There he received his pilot’s wings and taught cadets as a flight instructor in 1944. He then served as a pilot for 14-and-a-half months in the Philippines, New Guinea, Okinawa and Japan.
Jack returned to MSU in East Lansing to earn a bachelor’s degree in forestry and to begin master’s degree coursework after his service in the Pacific.
Before his retirement in 1984 Jack was the director of roadside development for the Michigan Department of Transportation. There he was a major force in the “greening” of Michigan’s highways, leaving a legacy of 600 miles of landscaped freeways and more than a quarter million trees. He led the effort to build and upgrade Michigan’s roadside facilities, including 76 freeway rest areas, 10 with travel information centers. One of those on I-75 north of Topinabee in Cheboygan County is named in his honor. For his work Jack earned the International Society of Arboriculture’s highest award.