volunteer story

Don Freirich

Doctor, sailor, garden hole digger navigates new course

By Jennie Berkson

Like many people who eventually settle in Leelanau County, Don Freirich arrived on a boat.

“We had some good friends who lived on Torch Lake,” Don said.  He and his wife Kathy came to Northport on a sailboat and stayed overnight in the marina.  “We had dinner at Woody’s, which was a popular restaurant in the same location as Tucker’s.”

After a year of looking around, the Freirichs decided to buy a home in Northport because “it wasn’t too touristy.”

Don was an internist for 40 years at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit before he retired several years ago, which then meant that the couple could move here full-time.

In the short time he’s been living in Leelanau County, he’s become very involved in the community.

“I first learned about ShareCare from Dick Lang and then from Phil Mikesell and his late wife Vina.  They introduced me to Julie Tarr, the Executive Director.  They knew I was a doctor and thought I’d be a good addition to the board,” he said. “I like the fact that it was neighbors helping neighbors.”

In fact, now he’s President of the Board, presiding over some of the organization’s recent changes in structure and service offerings.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Don is also involved with the Northport Lions group which does civic deeds in the community mostly related to eyesight issues. 

And his interest in the outdoors, health and safety led him to serve on the Leelanau County Park and Recreation Commission.  As a road biker, he recognized that the road leading north out of Northport on the way to the lighthouse lacked a bike lane, which made it unsafe to ride on.  That situation has now been improved through some road widening completed last year.

Don and Kathy’s biking adventures have taken them near and far. 

“We like to ride the Leelanau Trail to Traverse City and back,” he said.  “We’ve also cycled in Tuscany.”

Sailing, the activity which first brought him and Kathy to Leelanau County, first became a passion when Don was serving in the Army in Hawaii in the early 1970’s. 

“We’ve owned several small sailboats over the years, but when we moved here, we got a motor boat because Kathy thought that would be more fun for our sons Jay and Todd and their families.”

Nonetheless, sailing has remained a passion, which has led the couple to ply the waters of far flung places such as Greece, the British Virgin Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef, where they narrowly missed getting caught in a typhoon.

“When we can travel again after the pandemic is less of a concern, we are planning a trip with the family on a small boat to Alaska which has a crew of biologists,” Don said.

In the meantime, Don likes to read. “I take book recommendations from Kathy,” he said.  Most recently, he read Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.

And he helps Kathy, a Master Gardener, with her work.  “I dig the holes,” he said.  And then because she doesn’t like where it is, I dig a different hole and she transplants it.”

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