Charles “Chuck” Simon Jr. was a man of many interests.
For a career, he considered becoming a medical doctor … until he took an organic chemistry class and decided otherwise.
A voracious reader and writer, he earned a degree in journalism and received job offers from multiple newspapers. Chuck told his wife Karalyn he would consider an offer from an Australian newspaper — but only if he wasn’t accepted into law school.
However, he was accepted into law school, and the rest is history.
The longtime judge for Ionia and Montcalm counties died Feb. 18 in Indian Wells, California. He was 87 years old. A funeral is being planned for May in Michigan.
Chuck worked as a judge for nearly 40 years, including more than a decade of civil case assignments in Oakland County in retirement.
“He loved the law,” Karalyn said. “He just loved what he chose to do.”
Chuck Simon was the youngest of nine children born and raised in Edmore. The Simon family and the Curtis family were good friends, and when Chuck came home on leave from the military, Karalyn Curtis’ mother pressed her to attend a local dance with the young man.
“I didn’t really want to date him the first time I went out with him, but my mother said, ‘Karalyn, he’s a good boy, he’s a very good boy,’” Karalyn recalled.
After an uneventful first date, Chuck returned to the military. When Chuck’s father died, Karalyn mailed him a sympathy card, and the two struck up a regular correspondence. Chuck returned from Korea in August 1953 and Karalyn agreed to a second date.
They were engaged by Christmas and married in May 1954, a union that would last 65 years and result in two sons, Charles “Tad” Simon III, who is the current judge of Montcalm County Probate Court, and Timothy Simon, a crane operator, plus eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“He was a good guy,” Karalyn said. “He always wanted the best for the boys and me. He was born on a farm and he knew he certainly didn’t want to work on a farm, but he was an extremely hard worker. He worked hard for our boys and me.
“He was opinionated, he was compassionate … I don’t know that criminals would think that,” she exclaimed with a laugh. “He loved his job and he loved people, he really did.”
Tad Simon chose a single word to describe his main impression of his father’s primary attribute: Integrity.
“This was a man that was firmly and consistently aligned with his beliefs and principles who rarely veered from them in his public or private life,” Tad said. “This consistent and honest adherence to set principles made it easy to understand what to expect from him at home or in his courtroom. As his son, this predictability made it easy to understand rules and expectations. And I believe that most of the attorneys that routinely practiced in his court would agree that he was intellectually honest, exceptionally consistent and principled in his decision-making, as frustrating as that could be at times. He loved his family, he loved the law, he loved being a judge and he managed to do them all with integrity, and that is what I will remember most about him.”
After his military service, Chuck worked for the U.S. Postal Service sorting mail at nights while attending an accelerated law school program at the University of Michigan while Karalyn worked in accounting at U of M Hospital.
Chuck was classmates for two years at U of M with now-retired Ionia-Montcalm Circuit Court Judge Charles Miel, who is a cousin to Karalyn. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism and a juris doctor in law, Chuck became a partner with Miel at the law firm of Miel, Miel & Simon while also working as an assistant prosecutor at the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office.
When Montcalm County Probate Court Judge Guy Wagar unexpectedly died, Michigan Gov. William Milliken appointed Chuck to the bench in 1971.
When Ionia-Montcalm Circuit Court Judge Leo Bebeau retired after 14 years, Milliken appointed Chuck to the circuit bench in 1976, a seat he would continue to hold until he retired at the end of 1998. When Chuck was appointed, he was the only Circuit Court judge at the time; however, in 1978 the Michigan Legislative approved adding a second judge to the circuit.
For two years, Chuck and Miel were Circuit Court judges at the same time — 1997 and 1998, as Chuck was nearing retirement and as Miel was just taking on his new responsibilities.
“I would describe him as a no-nonsense, learned, intelligent, professional, reasonable-thinking and decisive individual,” said Miel of his colleague. “He was able to well look at the facts of a situation and the applicable law and in that way come to a proper conclusion as to what his decision would be. In addition, he was a well-liked, fun person with whom to spend time. He had a great outlook on life and always enjoyed whatever he was doing.
“He had, and still has, my greatest respect and admiration as a person, community member, lawyer and judge for all he did and accomplished,” Miel added. “He will be missed.”
Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause handled her first felony trial in front of Chuck in 1990. He went on to appoint her prosecutor in 1998.
“Judge Simon was a great judge,” Krause said. “Knowing I had his support helped me continue what is now a 30-year career as a prosecutor. For that, I will always be grateful.”
Chuck and Karalyn lived at their Edmore residence on First Street for 55 years, across the street from the house where Karalyn was born. They enjoyed wintering in California for the last 23 years and they were both honored as grand marshals of Edmore’s Potato Festival last summer.
Chuck was very involved in his community throughout his lifetime, serving on the board for the now-defunct Tri County Community Hospital in Edmore from 1961 to 1970, the Edmore Village Council from 1962 to 1967 and the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) Board from 1964 to 1976. After retiring from the bench in 1998, he presided over the civil trial docket in Oakland County by assignment until 2010.
Chuck also played an important role in the creation of Montcalm Community College (MCC).
According to MCC Communications Director Shelly Strautz-Springborn, the MAISD initiated a feasibility study in 1963 to explore creating a community college. MAISD Superintendent William Seiter facilitated the initial groundwork and the study was completed in 1964, led by Chuck as chairman of the steering committee, along with Vice Chairman Phil Peasley and Secretary Dee Cook.
Chuck compiled and printed a final report regarding the college idea under the direction of Dr. Max S. Smith of the Office of Community College Cooperation at Michigan State University, according to Strautz-Springborn. A publicity committee was established to promote the idea of the college, which eventually opened in 1965.
And the rest is history.