Obituary: Joseph Lee Ervin

March 10, 1943 ~ May 31, 2020

 Joseph Lee Ervin, 77, died at his farm on Washington Island, on May 31, 2020, following a decade of dementia.

He was born March 10, 1943, in Lansing, Michigan, to Grant Devalson Ervin and Queene Laura Belle Munger. Joe graduated from Michigan State University with a Master of Science degree and worked as a water quality scientist and research manager at the University’s inland lakes facility and Freshwater Physicians, a lake management company.

In Cass County, Michigan, he partnered with the EPA and Cooperative Extension for ground water contamination studies and championed at-risk residents. Conducting field studies, he wore waders, walked in streams, picked up rocks to look at the underside, and identified bugs to evidence water quality. Building tree house stands, bow hunting, fly fishing and gardening were his passions. He cut pictures out of magazines and kept scrapbooks of photos demonstrating compassion. He was comfortable with himself and did not try to fit another person to his image. He listened and wanted the best for others. He married Valerie Ann Fons in 1994, became a foster parent, adopted six children, and hosted eight foreign exchange students.

Joe is survived by Valerie with their children Steven, Micala, Joshua, Shammond, Korrina, and Kayla. From a previous marriage to Barb Matthews, he is survived by his children Jon Ervin, Becky (Tim) Kuznicki, Jin Marie Shirey, and his grandchildren, Emily, Margo, Brayden, Fletcher, and Gretta. Joe is survived by his brother, Gary (Sue) Ervin.

In early stage dementia, he wrote “Tell the kids I am sorry that the last part of my life wasn’t very dynamic but that I love them forever.”

A memorial service will be held at Washington Island Cemetery on August 27, at 10:00 a.m. with lunch served in the Sanctuary and Joe’s Memorial Gardens at Tipping Bucket Farm, 987 Townline Road, Washington Island. In time, a portion of Joe’s ashes will be returned to the Au Sable, his favorite trout stream.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Butterfly House, L.A.U.N.C.H., Inc., the not-for-profit environmental education center Joe founded on Washington Island, which grew from the nature club his mother taught when he was a boy.

Expressions of sympathy, memories, and photos of Joe may be shared with his family through his tribute page at