Descendants of famed Coast Guard Station Ludington chief visit maritime museum.

April 25, 2019
Joachim Schonstrom, of Rödåbäck, Sweden and distant cousin Debra Kundert of Rockford, Ill. look at the exhibit dedicated to the great granduncle Nels Palmer.

Descendants of famed Coast Guard Station Ludington chief visit maritime museum.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — Nels Palmer was the longest serving station chief at Coast Guard Station Ludington (U.S. Life Saving Station). He arrived at the station in 1920 and stayed until the new building was erected in 1934. That building is now the home of the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, which has exhibits dedicated to Palmer. On Wednesday, April 24, descendants of Palmer — including a family from Sweden — visited the museum to learn more about their relative.

Nels Palmer

Palmer’s great grandnephew Joachim Schonstrom, who is traveling all the way from Rödåbäck, Sweden, and his children, along with Palmer’s great grandniece Debra Kundert of Rockford, Ill., toured the museum. Schonstrom, a genealogist, has been helpful in enhancing the Palmer exhibit and providing additional information.

Schonstrom’s and Kundert’s grandmothers were sisters and Palmer was their grandmothers’ uncle.

In 1874, Nels Palmer emigrated from Skane, Sweden at 16, and settled in Manistee. He worked in the local lumber camps and as a fisherman and sailor until joining the United States Life-Saving Service in 1900.  He served at the Charlevoix and North Manitou stations before coming to Ludington in 1920, where he became a beloved commander, according to Rebecca Berringer, executive director of the Mason County Historical Society. “He was involved in a number of exciting search and rescue missions, including an attempted rescue in a gale of survivors from the Our Son, a schooner that sank in 1930,” Berringer said. “Palmer helped design the new station then retired after it was up and running in 1934.  

Schonstrom said he grew up hearing stories of his Uncle Nels, especially from one of his aunts. He said his aunt would get some of the geography mixed up, but they peaked his interest.

When museum designer Valerie Van Heest was looking for information on Palmer, she naturally started with the archives of the Mason County Historical Society, which owns and operates the museum. But, then she went to the Internet, where a search found Schonstrom, who had posted a picture of Palmer on his website. That picture is now displayed in one of the Palmer exhibits.

“It’s very exciting,” Schonstrom said. “This museum took a lot of work.”

“This is beautiful,” Kundert said. “First class.” Kundert added that Palmer bought his grandmother a boat ticket when she was 17-years-old to immigrate from Sweden to the United States. She lived with Palmer, her brother, for a short time before settling in Milwaukee.

Palmer’s distant nephew and niece arrived just in time to see a newly installed exhibit on the third floor of the museum called “Life Beyond Lumbering: Ludington’s Other Maritime Industries.” In part, the exhibit discusses the Life-Saving Service that arose to protect the lumbering traffic on the lake, an industry in which Nels Palmer played a key role.

Another new exhibit about Coast Guard Station Ludington is also opening for the first time on the third floor titled “Coast Guard Ludington: 70 Years of Service” and depicts the service and many rescues conducted out of the station—a station that Nels Palmer set in motion.   

“I only live a few miles from the home where my Uncle Nels spent his first 15 years of life in Sweden, said Schonstrom. “Now I look forward to seeing where he spent the last 15 years of his working career.”

Port of Ludington Maritime Museum opened its doors for its third season on Tuesday, April 16. Additions to the museum this year include “Coast Guard Ludington: Seventy Years of Service: and new displays in the “Lumbering on Pere Marquette Lake” exhibit. Dedications for both of these new exhibits will take place in early summer.

Spring hours for the museum are Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Summer hours start after Memorial Day when the museum stays open seven days a week through Labor Day. Admission prices are: adult, $12.50; seniors $11.50; children ages 6 to 17, $9; under 5, free. The museum is currently running a spring special” of 50% admissions through April 27.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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