Grand Haven Daily Tribune  September 15, 1961

Nunica Youth Washed Off Pier Here
Drowns;  Pal Clings to Catwalk Leg

Jerry Busman, 18, Nunica, Dies;  Ron Tipsword Survives


By Bill Michael

THE ARROW shows the approximate spot where Jerry Busman was washed into the storm-whipped lake.  Winds of 35 to 40 mph whipped 10 to 12 - foot waves and sent spray over the foghorn station.

   A suppertime walk on the wave-drenched south pier ended in a nightmare Thursday when huge breakers knocked one youth into the lake to his death and left his companion clinging helplessly to a catwalk stanchion.

   Jerry S. Busman, 18, 1009 Cleveland, Nunica drowned as a spunky Coast Guardsman tried to swim to his aid.      

   The tragedy and the heroics began about 5:40 p.m. Thursday when Busman and his friend, Ronnie R. Tipsword, 19, 1138 Park, ended their work for the day at  Schulers and went for a ride to the Oval.

Jerry Busman

   Tipsword told city police officers that Jerry was going to give him a ride home but that he, Ronnie, had  suggested they drive past the lake.  Jerry parked his car at the fisherman’s parking lot.  Ronnie said they began walking and ended up on the pier.

   They walked to the foghorn station at the end despite the heavy waves that poured over the pier.  “We just got our feet wet,”  Ronnie said.  They were met at the end by BM2 David E. Sparks, 22, who was manning the station.

   He told them that they had better return.

   The pair started towards shore and were about halfway between the two lights when the first of two giant waves crashed into them, Ronnie said.

DAZED  by the tragedy that took the life of his friend Jerry Busman, Ronnie Tipsword is taken ashore by Chief Rex Coulson.  Tipsword clung to a catwalk support.  (Tribune photos)

   TIPSWORD was walking close to the stanchions on which the overhead catwalk is built.  Jerry was walking to Ronnie’s right, the young man said.  The first wave caught them unawares from behind. 

   Ronnie said  he grabbed a stanchion and held on.  Then the second wave hit.  “The wave washed my feet out from under me.  I was flat with the pier,” Ronnie said.

   It was that wave that carried Jerry into the lake on the south side of the pier, Ronnie related.  He said he saw his companion “washing off the pier on his back, feet first.”

   THE YOUNG NUNICA man landed close to the pier but the broiling waves, estimated by the Coast Guard at 10 to 12 feet high, quickly carried Jerry south, away from the pier.  Ronnie, a member of the Senior High swimming team last year, said he was going to try to swim to Jerry but realized he could not make it in time.

THE MOTOR LIFEBOAT is riding the crest of a giant wave here.  At other times she was completely hidden on her trip around the south pier to eventually pick up BM2 David Sparks who tried to rescue Jerry Busman.

   Sparks, meanwhile, had returned to the lighthouse and was watching the pair. He saw Jerry being washed overboard. He grabbed a life ring and ran to where Ronnie was standing.  He tossed the life ring towards Jerry but the youth was too far out.  And Jerry, whom Ronnie said was a good swimmer, was unable to reach it.

   Quickly, Sparks pealed off his trousers and shoes.  He yelled at Ronnie, a halfback and fullback on last year’s grid team to run to the lighthouse and call the lifeboat station for a boat. 

   THEN SPARKS DOVE into the heavy surf and struggled towards Jerry who was still trying to swim against the waves and terrific undertow.  Sparks worked his way to within 20 feet of Jerry before the young man disappeared beneath the waves.  He said Busman hollered for help a couple of times before he vanished.

   The Coast Guardsman then aimed for the life ring himself and made it.  He said later that he too would have drowned if he had been unable to reach the ring.  It would have been impossible for him to have swum back to the pier, Sparks said.  He could do nothing but hold on to the ring and drift with the waves and the undertow he said.

   Ronnie had carried out his instructions.  The lifeboat station sent out the 36-foot motor launch manned by:  FA Dennis Simonis;  FNEN Joseph Lesovsky;  ENI Thomas D. Hunter;  SA Gilbert Duley;  SA Richard Darr;  and SNBM Dennis Bauchan.

   Sparks saw the launch 65 yards away and yelled and waved against the gale-like winds.  The men aboard finally spotted him.  They thought  he was the youth washed out, unaware that Sparks had tried to rescue Jerry.

FAILED IN RESCUE — David Sparks tells EN1 Thomas D. Hunter how glad he was to see the lifeboat after 20 minutes in the broiling lake.

   THEY TOOK SPARKS to the lifeboat station where they wrapped him in blankets before allowing him to go home. 

   Chief Rex Coulson, commander of the station, was called at his home.  He climbed to the catwalk, went to the foghorn station, and brought Ronnie ashore.

   Carl Henni, 33, Lincoln Park, a visitor at the park, also witnessed the tragedy.  He told city police he saw the pair park their car at the lot, walk to the end of the pier, talk to Sparks and start back.  He, too, said they were about half-way between the lights when the waves hit.  He said he saw Jerry carried off and Ronnie clinging desperately to the stanchion.

   THE  LIFEBOAT station notified city police.  They started to take the fire department rescue boat to the Oval  but realized it would be of no use in the wild surf.     

   Officer Jack Koster, who investigated for the police department, took Ronnie home, then went to the lifeboat station to check with Sparks.  When Sparks verified the tragedy, the sheriff’s department told Jerry’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tony Busman.  A doctor had to be called to take care of Mrs. Busman, deputies said.  Jerry is an only son.

   Ronnie and Jerry had known each other since July when Ronnie had begun working Schulers as a stock boy.  He said Jerry worked mostly in the kitchen.

   The boiling seas prevented any search for the body Thursday night.  The waves completely hid the 36-footer at times during her trip.

   Coulson said his department would drag the lake if the body did not come ashore during the night.  He said if necessary he would call in state police skin divers.    

   City police and the Coast Guard made plans Thursday night to patrol the beach this morning when dawn broke.