George “Burt” Arola, 90, a resident of Laurium passed away on Friday February 5, 2021 at the Omega House in Houghton.
He was born on May 10, 1930 in Calumet to George and Elvie (Petaja) Arola. He attended the local schools and graduated from Calumet High School with the Class of 1948. Following high school, Burt attended Michigan Technological University for a few years.
Burt was a gifted and colorful storyteller. He knew the history of the Copper Country inside and out, and was quick to share a tale about long since passed shop owners, storefronts, hunting and fishing adventures, and many colorful characters he encountered throughout his life. The twinkle in his eye as he told stories always led his grandkids to believe he might’ve been leaving out the best parts.
As a child, Burt was active in the family business, the Vienna Bakery and Coffee Shop on Pine Street in Calumet. Every day after school he cracked eggs—eight to ten cases, or 3500-4000, eggs per night. He boasted he was able to crack four eggs at a time. He later delivered bakery, driving around the Keweenaw far earlier than probably legal – as he recalled using a piece of wood to reach the gas pedal. Every few weeks he saved up enough change to treat his Pine Street buddies to the Saturday movie at the People’s Theatre in Laurium, followed by a hamburger and a coke at Settlers. He recalled, “For 1 buck, four guys could have a heckuva time.”
He met his wife Bernadine (Ricca) in school, where they connected over having the same birthday. For their first date, they drove to Houghton’s Lode Theatre in his ’37 Chevy to see The Hucksters. The theatre was so full they had to sit in the front row, but in spite of sore necks from staring up at the screen, it sealed the deal. They married in 1950 and later had two sons, Michael and Burton, who he let not only play in a rock n’ roll band, but also use the family house as a practice space. Bernie and Burt had many travel adventures together, and enjoyed their time in bowling league and the Elks Club, and spending their summers at the camp in Little Traverse, which he built himself in 1960. As a man on the perpetual hunt for a good deal—which, if found, he would regale in great detail—he built much of the camp with recycled lumber, including hardwood flooring from the MacNaughton mansion in Calumet.
Burt worked for over 50 years for OK Auto, selling auto parts across the Western U.P. He was a gifted salesman, and those who worked with him say he could sell anything. He frequently won sales contests and very much enjoyed his work. He was able to talk with anyone and was endlessly inquisitive about people. Within moments of meeting him, he would learn where you grew up, who your grandparents were, and undoubtedly find some way you were connected. When traveling, he would call any “Arola” names he found in the phonebook to see if they were related.
He loved the Keweenaw, and knew the land and water better than most. He was an avid hunter and along with hunting in the Keweenaw, he enjoyed an annual hunting trip to eastern Montana for nearly three decades. There was never a lack of venison in Burt’s freezer. He and one of his Montana hunting buddies, Dennis Barrette (who passed away this fall) used to love telling the story of the time Burt accidentally found himself standing in a rattlesnake nest and had to shoot his way out. Burt hunted up until a few years ago when a problematic shoulder kept him from carrying a rifle. Even then, he may have tried rigging up a rifle stand on his pickup bed. He didn’t give up anything easily.
Burt was an expert lake trout fisherman. He fished his whole life out of Little and Big Traverse, and knew the eastern Keweenaw shoreline like the back of his hand. He never came home empty handed, and loved bringing fresh fish to community members in need. He also loved telling his grandkids stories of Orcala the Killer Trout, who he claimed he had seen, and who would take a person down if you didn’t respect the lake. He had many years of fishing camaraderie with friends Ken Farley, Franny Cloutier, Paul Savela and John Erkilla. One of his last fishing trips included his son and grandson-in-law. His great-grandson met them at the dock (like his grandkids always enjoyed doing) to see and clean the catch, and treat the seagulls to scraps. He always directed the kids to call the birds by yelling ‘fish’ in Finnish: “Kala kala kala kala!” The residents of Big Traverse will miss seeing his blue topped boat heading out every still morning.
Burt loved to dance to live music, and was a very light on his feet. After his wife Bernadine’s passing in 2010, he met his good “lady friend” Carol Dunstan. They could often be found on the dance floor at the South Range VFW or the White House. Burt also spent many years golfing at the Calumet Golf Course, where he and Carol often enjoyed Wings Night and he relished in catching up with old friends. Burt took great pleasure in fixing cocktails for family and friends, and was known for his famous Whiskey Old Fashioneds. If you’ve got one handy, raise a glass to a life well lived.
Burt was preceded in death by his wife Bernadine, his sister Rebecca Furness, and his brother Buddy Arola. He is survived by his sons Burt (Kelly) Arola of Dollar Bay and Michael (Karen) Arola of Ypsilanti, special friend Carol Dunstan, brother Roland (Gloria) Arola of Brentwood, California, brother-in-law Richard Furness, former daughter-in-law Jill (Bill) Hodges of Big Traverse, granddaughter Kristin Arola (Jeff Kuure) and great grandson Cecil of East Lansing, grandson Adam Arola (Caitlin Hickey) of Los Angeles, and numerous cousins, nephews, and nieces.
A graveside service will be held in the spring in the Lake View Cemetery in Calumet. Online condolences for the family may be left at www.ericksoncrowleypeterson.com. The Erickson Crowley Peterson Funeral Home in Calumet is assisting the family with the arrangements.