Bruce was 68 and died peacefully in his sleep, sources say
By Jim Newell
LAKE ORION — Bruce Gertz – known locally by most people simply as Bruce – has died.
Gertz, Lake Orion’s resident homeless wanderer, was found in his makeshift home behind the KFC on Lapeer Road. The Lake Orion Police Department announced Gertz’s passing on the department’s Facebook page on Monday.
“We are saddened to announce the passing of Mr. Bruce Gertz, a resident of the streets of the Village of Lake Orion for over 20 years. Bruce was a very humble man who enjoyed the village and township, watching the traffic flow, and talking to anyone that would stop and listen. Bruce lived an unconventional lifestyle and chose to not have an address, but rather enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer. No matter the season, or the weather, Bruce endured. Bruce was 68 years of age and leaves behind a community of caring and compassionate citizens.”
A post on the Bruce of Orion Facebook page, a page dedicated to providing information and updates and requests for donations for Gertz, read that Gertz died either Sunday night or Monday morning and it is believed that he died peacefully in his sleep.
Gertz roamed the Orion area for more than 20 years, becoming a fixture in the community. People would stop and talk to him, bring him food and other items, such as clothes, or even a bible.
Most days in recent years Gertz sat quietly on a bench on Lapeer Road in front of the plaza south of Atwater Street in the Village of Lake Orion, umbrella in one hand to shade him from the sun or rain, watching as the cars went by on M-24. He always has his bicycle and personal items alongside him.
Previously, Gertz stationed himself near the old Christi’s sign on the corner of M-24 and E. Clarkston Road in Orion Township.
For several years now, community volunteers have set up a GoFundMe account to help keep Gertz in a motel and off the streets throughout the winters. He then spent the past couple of years living in the wood cabins off of M-24 north of Heights Road, but became homeless again when a developer began redeveloping the area.
Kim Dunn has been helping Gertz for years: looking after him, setting up a GoFundMe drive to help keep him indoors in the winter and getting him necessities.
Dunn also set up the Bruce of Orion Facebook page. In 2019, Dunn told the Lake Orion Review that Gertz is a fixture in her life and she and her family care about him and want to help out however they can. They have donated personally to help Gertz with necessities.
“He’s been a figure in my life since I was little,” said Dunn, who has been in Lake Orion since 1986.
Although he did not intend it, Gertz became locally famous and more than one generation grew up in Lake Orion knowing that “Bruce” was, for better or worse, a part of the Lake Orion comunity.
Gertz was actually a soft-spoken, quiet man, even shy when people he didn’t know approached him. Shy, but polite. One evening, a young man approached Gertz with a to-go box of leftovers from one of the local restaurants. Gertz thanked the young man and accepted the gift.
Gertz said he talks to some people as they walk by, or stop by to check on him.
“Everyone seems nice and friendly,” Gertz said during an interview with The Review in 2019. “I know a lot of people and they know me. It’s the same ol’, same ol’.”
“He’s a kind soul. I wish more people were like him. No one should be afraid to walk up to him and talk to him,” Dunn said in 2019. “He’s not trying to be a burden on anyone. If people want to know what he needs, ask him. He’ll tell you if needs something or if he doesn’t.
Many Orion residents found ways to help out Gertz when he needed something. Kenn and Becky Osborne, who started nonprofit Holy Spokes in 2017, brought Gertz a new bike when they discovered that his old bike had two flat tires.
The police would always check on him in the winter when he lived outdoors, making sure he was getting by.
After his passing, the Bruce of Orion Facebook page left the following message for those who knew Gertz, and those who were sympathetic to his passing, whether they knew him personally, or not:
“Thank you everyone for the kind words. He was truly an amazing man, he brought out the best in most of us. Showed us compassion and a lil help can do a lot for someone. He chose his way of life and lived it. Had his hard times but loved it. He loved Lake Orion, no matter where he ended up he always found his way back home.”
“May you always have hot chocolate, KFC nuggets, Dr. Pepper, and free to ride your bike listening to your AM radio in heaven!” the post stated.