CADILLAC - You can't drive through Cadillac, Lake City or even Big Rapids without passing by buildings and projects designed by Cadillac architect Patrick Birtles. He is most known for designing the original Rotary Performing Arts Pavilion, a focal point of the downtown lakeshore for more than 25 years.
Since Birtles' untimely death on June 30 after a brief illness, friends and family are remembering his life and legacy.
Birtles, a graduate of Ferris State University and a licensed architect, was the founder of Birtles-Hagerman-DeKryger Associates and in retirement, the president of PKB Architects PC and Birtles Home Design, LLC.
According to longtime friend Mike Lueder, Birtles had architectural vision "ahead of his time."
"For a small town architect, he went outside the box to look at progressive designs," Lueder said. "His work will be around forever. He was a visionary."
Birtles designed the entrance to Cadillac from the south, creating a pleasing highway median with black street lamps. He also designed and built two of the first medical buildings in the complex on Professional Drive for Lueder, including Dental Health Professionals.
"Those buildings were his vision for my dream," Lueder said. "People have dreams but it was the architect that made my dream a reality."
Birtles also designed Lueder's earth sheltered home 40 years ago, an early showcase for energy efficiency.
In Lake City, Birtles designed the Ardis Missaukee District Library. And in Cadillac he is known for the Lake Mitchell Condominiums, the Sunset Shores Condominium complex and the Carl T. Johnson Museum. Lueder credits Birtles, an avid hunter, with promoting the whole concept of the Carl T. Hunting and Fishing Center and "making it a reality."
"The whole sidewalk renovation in downtown Cadillac, that was Pat's project," said Mark Sohocki, former director of the Downtown Development Authority.
Sohocki, now the director of the Big Rapids Housing Commission, worked with Birtles again in Big Rapids.
"He did all our architectural work here for 23 years, including the historic renovation of the Nisbett-Fairman residences...a catlyst to a lot of good things that happened in our downtown," he said. "Pat always looked out for his clients' best interests."
"Who knows how many hundreds of projects Pat did, like factory additions and houses," said Dean DeKryger, who worked with Birtles from 1991 to 2004 and owns DK Designs with Scott Kleinsorge, also a former Birtles partner.
"Pat built an architectural business in a small community, that's distinctive in itself," DeKryger said. "And he was a real man of integrity."
Jennifer Goodwill remembers a lesson she learned in integrity from her father while doing homework in his office. When he was reviewing billings, he discovered that the hours he put into a project were more than the projected cost.
"I told my dad that he should bill for the work he did, but he said that's not the way to do business," Goodwill said. "It really stuck in my mind that your word and relationships are more important than getting every last dollar you can."
"I learned about priorities from my dad," said Kirk Birtles. "For him it was faith first, then family and then business. He learned that later in life. And we could all count on him. For him, his word was his worth."
Last year, Linda and Pat Birtles celebrated their 50th anniversary with their three children, 11 grandchildren and extended family. Although their anniversary date was Jan. 20, 1968, the large celebration was held in May 2018.
"It was a beautiful celebration," said Goodwill. "We had a slideshow of my parents' life together with video tributes from my brother, sister and I."
"Dad would always take us to his work sites and we would walk through the homes being built," Erin Gregorski said. "But for me, I most remember the Pavilion down by the lake. I love driving through Cadillac and seeing the houses he built, seeing his mark. He always gave his all to everything he did. He was such a good man."
A tree will soon be planted in honor of Birtles in the City Park near the Pavilion.
A memorial service will be held on July 22 at Rehoboth Church, 8372 S. Lucas Rd., McBain. visitation is from 1 to 3 p.m. and the service is at 3 p.m. A full obituary will appear later in the Cadillac News.