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City Pulse remembers Dylan Soper Tarr

Former arts and entertainment writer drowned earlier this month

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In the end, the Rev. Peter Yoshonis said Dylan Tarr’s death could only be summed up as “an unexplainable tragedy.”

“Don’t try to fill in the gaps,” said Yoshonis, pastor of All Shores Wesleyan Church in Spring Lake. “This was a young man with a great life and a great future.”

Tarr, 25, who wrote for City Pulse, died this month, his body found drowned in the Grand River near Lake Michigan in Grand Haven after a three-day search. 

His parents were at a similar loss for explanation. Grand Haven Police reported no signs of trauma or foul play, and his parents, John Tarr and Nan Soper, praised first responders and detectives, first for “pulling out all the stops” to search for their son, and then for what they felt was a thorough, but fruitless search for answers.

“He definitely did not have any mental health issues,” said Tarr. “He was in a bit of a funk, but he took it by the wings.”

Tarr said the detective had searched his son’s laptop and interviewed his friends multiple times, and they were consistent, with none of the usual red flags appearing. He wasn’t picked up by any cameras on his walk to the river, and there are no signs of where he entered the water. He’d had a few drinks but nothing excessive.

The Grand Haven Police would not answer any questions from City Pulse.

Tarr had been out with his dad and some friends on July 11, a Thursday, at the local brewpub, Odd Side Ales, in Grand Haven before continuing with a small party of friends at a house down the street, across from the public safety station.

He left his friends at about 12:30 a.m. Friday, carefully walking down a set of stairs to the sidewalk. He said he wanted to get up in the morning and would just walk the half mile to his parents’ house. He was never seen alive again.

“He went the wrong way,” said his father. When he hadn’t shown up by midday Friday, his parents notified the authorities, which called in other jurisdictions to help and put out alerts to the citizenry for help. 

On Sunday, the Ottawa County marine patrol came upon his body in the swollen waters of the Grand, east of the U.S. 31 bridge, meaning he likely crossed the busy highway that splits the town rather than stroll through the easy quiet streets on the route home.

Dylan Soper Tarr was a 2012 graduate of Grand Haven High School and a 2017 alumnus of Michigan State University, where he majored in English literature and writing. He wrote for City Pulse as a wisecracking music writer, first as an intern and later as a freelance contributor. He plucked choice quotes to illustrate Lansing’s underwhelming live music scene: “Mac’s Bar is the cockroach that will never die.”

But he compared Lansing’s GTG Records, housed in a City Pulse “Eyesore of the Week,” favorably to the dumpy origins of SubPop Records and famed music producer Rick Rubin.

He was in the running to be the arts and entertainment editor at one point, but ultimately he decided to go on with the new direction in his life as he settled into Grand Rapids and set his eyes on the Pacific Northwest.

Tarr, who lived in Grand Rapids, had been accepted to a master’s program at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he planned to study library science. He loved his work at a branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library, but he felt frustrated and stuck, unable to get a promotion without something beyond his English degree from MSU.

His dad wanted him to stay closer to home and pursue programs in Ann Arbor or Madison, but Tarr wouldn’t have it. He was going off to the seawater city in the shadow of Kurt Cobain, Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Peninsula, where he could also explore his love for alternative rock music and backpacking.

A high school friend, Peter Van Winkle, had moved to Seattle and not looked back. Tarr was gearing up to re-create a road trip they’d made to move him out there, across the northern tier of the U.S., stopping at national parks such as Theodore Roosevelt and Glacier on the way. Another friend, Jonah Yoshonis, son of the pastor, said the goal was to load up Tarr’s Honda Element — the “Red Toaster” — and “get Dylan the hell out of Michigan.”

Tarr was born on Dec. 18, 1993, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but the family moved across the lake when he was 5. His father worked as an art teacher and cross-country coach in the Grand Haven Public Schools. He was an only child but fostered a large group of friends, whether skateboarding, playing in bands and developing his love for writing and literature at Michigan State.

Tarr served as best man for a high school pal, Schalk Van Niekerk, who said he was toasted as “the brother Dylan never had.” Van Niekerk played with Tarr in their first band, The Gimmes. Tarr later played in Convenient Trash while in East Lansing and later the west Michigan band “tim.” Tarr was usually at bass guitar but could also play rhythm guitar. 

He’d also parlay menial work like his deli job at the Better Health Market & Cafe in the Frandor Shopping Center into friend-making opportunities.

“It was one of the worst jobs ever. We both hated it,” said Mikey Halt, his coworker and later roommate. Halt recalled Tarr goofily holding up a Black Forest ham like a trophy as he proceeded to slice it for customers. “He had the ability to take a dull boring day and make some memories.”

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