CALUMET, MI. - Don Curto, 90, of Calumet and formerly of Marquette died at his home in the care of family on June 21, 2014. He had been receiving hospice care for COPD for three years prior to his death.
Don was born on August 16, 1923 in Laurium to Ruth (Tobin) and Charles Curto. While still an infant Don moved to Marquette and was raised there graduating from Graveret High School in June of 1942.
At the insistence of his father he enrolled in the University of Michigan but in December of 1942 enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. Selected by the Corp for officer training he was sent back to the university in the V-12 program. After officer training at Quantico, Virginia he was at Camp Pendleton in California on V-J day in 1945 awaiting orders. Given an opportunity to go back to school he declined and was assigned first to Guam and then to China where he served as the Public Information Officer for the 1st Marine Division and then Junior Aide to General Keller E. Rockey. During this time he took a series of photos that he has displayed over the years of life in the interior of the Shantung Providence. For exemplary service he received an award from the National Republic of China (Cloud and Banner).
Discharged from the Corp in 1946 he returned to the University of Michigan from which he received a BA in English in February 1947. He then worked for newspapers in New York City and Delaware before being called back into the Marine Corp in 1952 when he served as General Manager of the Marine Corp publication, Leatherneck Magazine. During this time he reached the rank of Major. After again leaving the Corp he became the editor of the Wilmington Sunday Times and Wilmington Morning News. In 1955 he joined the Army Times Publishing Company working in production and ending his tenure as Assistant to the President for Production Operations in 1972 when he resigned to return to Marquette.
In May of 1966 Don's life was forever changed when his wife Helen and four children-Julia age 12, Joshua age 11, Elizabeth age 9, and Rebekah age 7 were killed in a house fire in Wilmington. Dealing with this grief was a struggle throughout the rest of his life, a journey which he wrote about in March 2012 in the article When the Dream Became a Nightmare published in the Marquette Monthly. As part of this journey in February of 1973, after the return to Marquette, Don joined Alcoholics Anonymous and observed 41 years of continuous sobriety this past February 14. Until the last year of his illness he maintained regular attendance at meetings. He loved the fellowship and the people who were a part of his life in this special way and no other achievement meant as much to him as this one.
It was also in Marquette where Don found a second career as a restaurateur opening first The Kitchen Table in 1974 and the Bagel and Ladle in 1980-both in the Third Street Mall. After selling this business he spent two years teaching in the culinary school at Northern Michigan University before retiring briefly from the food business.
It was during this time he began writing a food column for the then new publication, the Marquette Monthly titled, Food and Other Important Things. He continued this column, with occasional help from his wife, Pat Tikkanen, every month since its inception including one published this month, June 2014. Selections from the column were published by the Marquette Monthly in a book titled Stirring It Up in 2002. His columns have also been recognized seven times over the years by receiving Good News Awards from the Judicatory Heads of the United Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches including one presented on June 5, 2014. Don also returned again to the restaurant business in 1992 when he opened the New York Deli and Italian Place located in the Harlow Block in downtown Marquette. Always an innovator who held his staff to the highest standard he developed, in addition to his deli foods, a menu of fresh, simple Italian dishes based on those he discovered during frequent trips to Italy starting in 1997 with the last trip in 2006. He taught cooking and food classes on occasion both privately and through organizations including the Marquette Co-op and the Peter White Library and also had a TV show, Cooking with Curto on WLUC for a brief time. He had a passion for teaching about food and cooking and whether in the class setting or visiting with people in the grocery store he was always trying to improve the quality of everyday food for everyone.
Don was also an active member of the community serving on the Marquette/Alger and Pathways Mental Health Boards for 26 years-many years as Treasurer. He was proud of the growth in services over these years and fought hard to maintain local control as he felt this was best for the clients of these services. He was also a member of the Great Lakes Recovery Board and the Executive Board for the Marquette Democratic Party. For two years he was also a County Commissioner in Marquette County.
Don was also known by many as a lover of Black Labs and had a number of wonderful companions for most of his later years.
In addition to his first wife and children Don was also preceded in death by his second wife Joan in 1979, his mother-in-law Terry Tikkanen in 2001 and sister-in-law, Toni Tikkanen in 2004. He is survived by his wife Patricia Tikkanen who he married on June 12, 1982 in Marquette; his first cousin Pat (Tobin) Mayer (Carl) of Marquette; Father-in-law Harold Tikkanen of Calumet; brothers-in-law Oren and Thomas (Babette) Tikkanen of Calumet; nephews Josh (Jennifer) of Grand Rapids, Minnesota and Rudy Tikkanen of Calumet; nieces Christina Tikkanen of Lake Ann, Michigan and Rebecca Tikkanen of Yuba City, California, and great nephew Garren Tikkanen "The Italian Grandbaby" of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
The family will greet visitors at the church from 2:00 PM until the time of the funeral mass officiated by Father Abraham J Mupparathara and Deacon Art Stancher. at 4:00 PM on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at Sacred Heart Church at 56512 Rockland Street in Calumet. Military rites will be observed after the mass followed by a supper in the church hall. Memorial gifts may be directed to the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, Michigan or to the Calumet Theater in Calumet, Michigan.