Michael J French of Fort Branch, IN, passed away Saturday morning January 22nd at Premier Healthcare in New Harmony.
Michael is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joan Utley French, his mother Irene (Taylor) French of St. Petersburg FL, sister Marilyn (Tom) Shay of Dardanelle AR, a niece Mandy Shay of St. Petersburg FL, twin nephews Darren Shay of St. Petersburg FL and Blake (Lisa) Shay of Ft. Meyers FL, plus nephews Dr. Jonathan (Kelly) Stone of Lawrenceville GA and Elliott Stone of Auburn GA, and Godchild, Rachelle (Dewig) Wade of Haubstadt IN, brother-in-law Gary (Connie) Utley of Evansville IN and sister-in-law Donna (Paul) Stone of Auburn GA and cousins Larry (Aeri) King of Mt. Pleasant SC, Doug (Paula) French of Princeton, and Linda (Hansie) Dewig of Haubstadt IN. Michael is the son of the late Doyle French of Fort Branch.
Michael (Mike), a retired tool maker, and an avid racer, had many accomplishments. Some of the most treasured were: 1) Engineering and building the original tooling for the Century 100, 45-70 caliber handgun manufactured by Earl Keller of Evansville; 2) A member of the Vanord USAC Sprint Car Team that finished 3rd in the national point standings in 1973–driver Don Nordhorn. 3) The personal on-site mechanic for driver Bill Vukovich II for several years at various race tracks. 4) Building the street-legal sprint car for Tri-State Speedway, as well as an assist to Tom Helfrich on building the track’s two-seater car. 5) His never-ending zest to continually study and learn every facet of racing--to go faster easier, more efficiently and more cost effectively as well as sharing his knowledge to try to help fellow racers. Mike assisted many nationally known open-wheel teams throughout the years, but was always willing to help the local racers anytime as well. Racing, regardless of where or what, was his passion which began at Benny Michel’s garage in Ft. Branch. He liked fast boats too.
Then there was music… Mike was proud of his drumming career in the Fort Branch Twigs Band – especially marching band--and was the John Phillips Sousa Award winner his senior year. When the Gibson County “Old Schools” basketball games in the mid 1980’s were started, that prompted Earl “Bo” Miley, Twigs Director, to bring back the old Twigs pep band. That being so much fun, the Silver Classics Community Band was established and it didn’t stop there. Non-Twigs joined the Silver Classics and that brought in trombone player, Stanley Dunlap, who became a catalyst for even more music, thus the French Brigade Band of Swing, a 17-piece dance band, was formed and Mike stopped smoking to use that money to buy a drum kit and cymbals. He enjoyed the many practices and gigs that followed for years, and was so proud that he inspired Stanley Dunlap to join the U.S. Navy Music program for a very successful career.
Michael was a life member of the Fort Branch VFW Post 2714 Auxiliary and the NRA. Mike enjoyed talking to people and was always seeking knowledge from everyone. He always said every person has some knowledge that he didn’t have and he liked learning it. Even though Mike possessed a very colorful language and a blunt style, he cherished all his friends, relatives and acquaintances.
The funeral will be Saturday, January 29th. There will be no viewing, but graveside services will be held at Walnut Hill Cemetery, Ft. Branch, at 11:30, followed by a gathering at the VFW Post 2714, 7164 US-41 South, Ft. Branch, for fellowship and lunch - friends and relatives are invited.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Maumee Baptist Church of Johnson, IN is preferred. Maumee is a small community church motivated to serve many, Rev. Kevin Miley, Pastor.