In the summer of 1960, Dan E. Karn stood near the shore of Saginaw Bay alongside his family. His long career with what was then Consumers Power culminated in the company’s newest power plant being dedicated in his honor.
The Dan E. Karn Generating Plant, which defined the landscape near Bay City for decades, was one of the largest electric generating systems when it first opened in 1959. Within its first two years of operation, it could supply the energy needs of half a million homes across Michigan.
In June, its two coal-fired units will be retired in the transition to clean, sustainable power. We will be among the first energy providers to provide electricity without the use of coal by 2025. The plant’s two other units powered by natural gas and oil will continue to operate through 2031.
Karn’s family continues to honor his memory, remembering a man who worked hard to improve the lives of his fellow Michiganders.
In addition to serving as a former president of Consumers Power, Karn was a trustee for Alma College, sat on the Blue Ribbon Committee on education, was actively involved in the Michigan College Foundation and was a delegate to the 1963 Constitutional Convention. He passed away in 1969.
“I have a lot of pride in his legacy,” said Karn’s granddaughter, Kathy Arens, of Grand Blanc.
Born in 1890, Karn came from modest beginnings. He worked as a waiter and janitor before earning his degree in mechanical engineering in 1915 from Purdue University, where he also served as drum major. He then joined the Central Illinois Light Company and transferred to Consumers Power in Grand Rapids a year later in 1916 to work as a steam heating superintendent. He rose quickly through the company and in 1951, he was named president of Consumers Power.
When he retired in 1967, his 34-year tenure on the board was the longest in our history.
What his grandchildren remembered most about him though, was his generosity, his humble nature, and his lake house outside Jackson that served as a gathering place for extended family.
“It was always about family,” said his grandson, Dave Karn, of Grand Blanc.
He liked to make pancakes for breakfast for his visiting grandkids, and his home is the first place Dave Karn and his sister Kathy, remember seeing a color TV.
Dave recalled his grandfather’s preference to keep things simple. He didn’t drive a flashy car and remained modest, despite his success.
Dave was with his grandfather during the generating plant’s dedication. A young child at the time, it was difficult to recall the event, but he continued to take an interest in the plant.
When his daughters were young, he returned to the plant for a tour and was awestruck by the size and scale of the facility.
“I was impressed,” he said. “It was huge.”
Karn’s grandson, Dan, was also with his grandfather at the plant’s dedication, and always kept a picture of the facility hanging in his aircraft maintenance business.
“I’m really proud of what he did,” said Dan Karn, of Satsuma, Fla., who worked on overhead lines for the company before starting his own business.
In articles in the former Consumers Power News magazine, Dan E. Karn’s colleagues described his steadfast honesty, integrity and deep respect for everyone he worked alongside.
“There’s no deviation from what’s right,” one coworker recalled in a 1960 article. “He’s thorough and extremely conscientious… and he works well with people and always has.”
Dave Karn said he likes to tell his grandchildren about their great-great grandfather, even if they are still too young to understand.
“The legacy of his involvement means a lot,” he said.
To learn more about the history of Karn and the plan for a clean energy future, visit our website.