Cover photo for Joel Elliot Riling's Obituary
Joel Elliot Riling Profile Photo

Joel Elliot Riling

August 3, 1957 — November 10, 2022

Gaylord, Michigan

Joel Elliot Riling


Joel Elliot Riling, 65 of Gaylord, died Thursday, November 10, 2022, in a tragic accident in the woods on his property where he loved spending time.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Melanie (Glasser); children, Katie (Ryan) LaMott, Elliot (Katherine) Riling and Justin (Chloe) Riling. He also leaves behind beloved grandchildren: Paige and Garrett LaMott, and Jackson, William, and Henry Joel Riling; his mother, Joyce Riling; brothers and sisters, Jackson (Diane) Riling, Jill Tracy, Jim (Karen) Riling, Jan (Jerry) Winkel, Jody (Tom) Arthurs, Jon (Christina) Riling, Jay Riling, Jeff (Shannon) Riling and Julie (Rance) Charboneau; mother-in-law, Joan Glasser; brothers and sisters-in-law, Laura (Dave) Hansmann, Ken (Vicky) Glasser, Ruth (Al) Lorenzo and Melissa (Dale) Edwards, and many nieces and nephews.

He is preceded in death by his father, Jackson Riling; father-in-law, Jerry Glasser and brother-in-law, Ron Tracy.

Joel was born on August 3, 1957 in Trenton, Michigan, to Jackson and Joyce Riling. He moved from Wyandotte to Gaylord in 5th grade and graduated from Gaylord High School in 1975. He met the love of his life, Melanie, in 1979, at her family's cabin in Ralph, MI. They married on September 20, 1980, at First United Methodist Church in Gaylord, MI. Joel graduated from Northern Michigan University in 1980 before earning a Master’s Degree in Forest Management from Michigan State University in 1982. Joel commissioned into the Navy in March 1984 as an Officer earning his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1985. He served 26 years on active duty and in the reserves. His Naval career took him to Florida, Virginia, Texas, California, Michigan, and Rhode Island. He initially flew the RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter and deployed to the Persian Gulf as a minesweeper in 1987. He then instructed in the T-34 Mentor before flying the C-12 Huron for the remainder of his career. Joel earned a second Master’s Degree in National Security Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2004 and retired as a Commander in 2009. 

In addition to his Naval career, he built custom furniture, was a licensed general contractor, taught high school JROTC, and most recently sold specialized portable x-ray systems for use in explosive ordinance disposal to government agencies around the world. He was a master craftsman with a relentless work ethic. Joel was always building or improving everything around him and was quick to lend a hand to anyone in need. He was an outdoorsman at heart, living in a cabin he built on Blue Lakes Ranch in the Pigeon River Forest, thru-hiking Isle Royale, to sheep hunting in the mountains of Alaska; he was always game to do something outdoors, especially if it involved being with his loved ones.

Above all else, Joel was a family man. “Papa” was especially beloved by his five grandkids and will be remembered as a relentless tickler, teaser, and teacher. The Lord took Joel before any of us were ready, but he had a life well-lived. There is no questioning the great love between him, his family, and his friends. 

The family will visit with friends from 4:00 - 7:00 PM Thursday, November 17, 2022, at Gaylord Community Funeral Home & Cremation Service. Funeral services will be held at 11:00 AM Friday, November 18, 2022, at Gaylord First United Methodist Church where visitation will begin at 10:00 AM. Burial and military honors will take place at Fairview Cemetery in Gaylord. For those who wish, memorial contributions can be made to the Wounded Warrior Project or the Gaylord First United Methodist Church.

Live streaming will be available on the Gaylord First United Methodist Church Facebook Page. Please share your memories and personal messages with the family on his guestbook below.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Joel Elliot Riling, please visit our flower store.

Past Services


Thursday, November 17, 2022

4:00 - 7:00 pm (Eastern time)

Gaylord Community Funeral Home & Cremation Service

850 N Center Ave, Gaylord, MI 49735

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service

Friday, November 18, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Eastern time)

First United Methodist Church

215 S Center Ave, Gaylord, MI 49735

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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