Roots, History, Ancestry. We all have our own. And together, one with another, they form the rich fabric of life that we often refer to as our heritage. There's a heritage in everyone's life story, and there's a heritage in the life story of our business, too.
The heritage of our business is about people, the decisions they made, and why they made them. It's a story that knits together the realities of past and future, of dreams and determination, of courage and attitude. It's a story about the beauty of the human connection and how essential we all are, one to another, from generation to generation. People like Mart Hollebeek, Ron Karelse, Ron and Tim Oele. They gave careful thought to the issues of the day, were compassionate professionals, and looked to the future. Before them it was folks like Fred Hollebeek, Joe Oele, Lawrence Van Zee, the Van't Hofs, the Van Striens, the Almans, the Alts, and the Derezinskis. Today, all of the characteristics and history associated with these names falls under the care of locally owned Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes. The strong will, character and kindness of all these people are part of everyone who follows in their footsteps.
Today it's Matt Hollebeek, Lee and the rest of their dedicated staff who listen to the families they're serving, look for new and better ways to serve them, and then make business decisions based on what they feel in their hearts. Funeral service, you see, is all about feelings; guiding people through the loss of someone they love by helping them remember treasured moments and celebrate them.
Every life has a story, just like the story of Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes. In a world where the pace of life is becoming ever faster, we need things to remind us of what life is really all about. To remind us of the meaning of friendship, of the uniqueness of each individual, that each life makes a difference and deserves to be celebrated.
Matt HollebeekLife Story Funeral Director
Matt always thought funeral directing seemed to be the way for him to go and he liked the idea of following in father's and his grandfather's footsteps. He grew up on the West Side in a funeral service family and began working at the funeral home as a teenager. After getting his business degree at Hope College Matt went to Mid-America College of Funeral Service. While he was there he furthered his funeral service experience by working in a funeral home in Sellersburg, IN.
As a little boy Matt says he was the kid who'd make other couples say they were never having children. Matt has a twin brother, Dirk, and a sister, Emily. He had fun growing up with his twin brother; he was by nature the instigator of things and then would tease Dirk to follow-through. After graduating from Grand Rapids Christian High School Matt and Dirk went to Hope College together and lived in the same dorm. But is quick to point out, not room mates! Matt's been a swimmer since he was eight years old and also is a runner, participating in long distance races like the Old Kent River Bank Run and Triathlons.
After college Matt returned to Grand Rapids and joined the staff at Heritage Funeral Service. About the same time he met a girl from Fremont. Her name was Robin Essebaggers who was his cousin's roommate and lived near where Matt lived in Grand Rapids. You've heard the saying that opposites attract. Well, Robin is the quiet side of Matt and together they make a great couple. They are proud parents of Jack, Avery, Kacie, and Charlie. They are members of LaGrave Ave Christian Reformed Church.
In his spare time Matt likes being with his family. He also likes fishing on the big lake at Port Sheldon, bow hunting, and just spending time outside. Being with family and friends is important to Matt and so is his heritage in funeral service. He knows that all lives gain something special by combining with the meaning of other lives.
Lee KarelseLife Story Funeral Director
Lee truly enjoys people, meeting them, getting to know them and learning about their lives and families. His desire to help people, a natural inclination to interact with people and steer them through a difficult time are just the skill set that a life story funeral director needs.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, the lone boy in a family of four, Lee had a memorable childhood. As a youngster his life was one of wonderful family times; summers at Sand Lake and memorable family vacations to the great landmarks of our country, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore. Summers were also spent mowing lawns at the summer resort at Sand Lake. Formative years of fun and learning mixed with work; the type of balance that creates a person who can lend balance to families at their time of loss. Schooling included Creston Mayfield Christian Elementary and then Grand Rapids Christian High School. Lee went on to earn his degree at Calvin College. Sometime in his sophomore year his ideas of being a doctor changed to being a funeral director. Following graduation he attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science and served his internship with Heritage.
Lots of good things happen when you attend church; for Lee one of those was meeting his wife Kelli there. Kelli is the balance for Lee, her openness, and joy help temper his organized and disciplined ways. They were married October 16, 1999, Sweetest Day. The highlights of their life together are their children: Emilee, Molly and Nate. Lee loves his family life and off days are still filled with being on or near the water, traveling, and tinkering. They live in Rockford and attend Ada Bible Church where they enjoy the way the pastor makes things relevant for people from all walks of life. No surprise there; that's exactly what Lee does as a life story funeral director. When someone dies, he helps their family create a ceremony that is relevant to the life that was lived.
Lee Karelse, a man who loves his family and feels blessed to have a profession where he can touch peoples' lives.
Scott BurdickLife Story Funeral Director
With a servant’s heart, Scott Burdick fulfilled a desire to work in funeral service. Born on December 14, 1964 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Scott was the youngest of three children in their family home in Madison, Wisconsin where he was raised. His father was a minister while his mother was a busy minister’s wife, mother and homemaker. After moving to Raytown, Missouri, Scott attended Raytown South High School where he played the French horn in the school band and orchestra. He graduated from Raytown South with the Class of 1983.
Having always enjoyed sports, Scott played baseball, basketball, tennis and golf, and is an avid Detroit Tiger and Kansas City Royal fan. He worked at the local gun club and participated in trap shooting, as well.
Scott furthered his education at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Michigan where he earned his bachelor’s degree in religious studies. While in college he also worked as a youth minister in Niles, Michigan, and before long he also met Vicki Green whom he happily married in 1986. Together they have three children, Tyler (Brenda), Carly (Nate) and Emery. Now joined by granddaughters, Hazel and Azariah.
From 1988 to 1996 Scott served as the senior minister at Michiana Church of Christ in Dowagiac, Michigan and volunteered as Chaplain of Cass County Hospice. He then moved his family to Kalamazoo, Michigan when he took a senior pastorate position at Comstock Church of Christ where he remained for 16 years. Scott’s strong desire and calling to be a funeral director came to fruition when he took a step of faith and began working with Langeland Family Funeral Homes in Kalamazoo. In 2013 Scott earned his degree in mortuary science, becoming a licensed funeral director.
Scott loves spending time with his family and enjoys various types of music genres. In January of 2016, Scott secured a funeral director’s position with Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes in Grand Rapids where he now lives with his wife and daughter, Emery.
Ted OostendorpLife Story Funeral Director
Ted Oostendorp is a Grand Rapids native who grew up in the South East side of town. His professional career began in Ann Arbor, MI, at the University of Michigan where he was Coordinator of the Anatomical Donations Program. Eventually, he moved back to Grand Rapids where he served as a Medical Examiner with the Kent County Health Department. Now Ted is pleased to have the opportunity to use his education and experience as a Funeral Director at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes.
Ted has fond memories of growing up in the Eastown neighborhood along with his three brothers and one sister. Being active in their church, Calvin Christian Reformed, was always important to the Oostendorp family. Ted remembers participating as a young boy in Sunday School, church pageants, and in other church life experiences. The same goes for his early school days at Oakdale Christian Elementary. Summers were a time for camping. Ted and his brothers and sister always looked forward to the family camping trips to Canada with family friends.
A job change for his father led to the family moving to Kalamazoo where Ted attended and graduated from Kalamazoo Christian High School. He enjoyed high school sports there and was on many of the high school teams. Following graduation from high school, Ted continued his studies at Calvin College followed by Worsham College of Mortuary Science where he graduated in 1987.
Maybe you’ve heard of the annual “Blessing of the Bikes” in Baldwin, MI. The riders gather there and receive a blessing for a safe and happy riding season. Well, that’s where Ted, in the Spring of 1991, not only received that blessing but met his future bride, too! A year later the two were married in Grand Haven, MI. They honeymooned in Yellowstone National Park. Children soon followed. First Benjamin in 1999, followed by Nathan in 2000. Ted relished his role as a father and the family made many happy memories of traveling, camping, and cottaging in Northern Michigan. They also had great times with the Grand Rapids vintage Bicycle Club and at the Grand Rapids Yacht club on Reeds Lake. Today, in his spare time, Ted can often be found tinkering in his garage with one of his antique motorcycles, bicycles or boats.
Ted is very thankful to have been given the opportunity at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes. He knows that sharing people’s stories and preserving memories is important to do at the end of life. Ted says, “Stories and memories are the fabric of life, after all, the very thing that connects us one to another.” He cares about what people are feeling and experiencing and wants you to know he is willing to share his time and experience.
Rob BergmanResident Trainee
To Rob Bergman, helping those around him has always been a priority in life. Growing up in a family of nurses, Rob witnessed his family serve the community in many ways. He grew up in Muskegon where he enjoyed spending time with family and cruising around in his Jeep Wrangler. He fondly recalls many family camping trips in his growing up days.
Two things have always been important to Rob: working with his hands and serving others. After attending an annual gala celebration event for Kuyper College with his grandmother, Rob felt a stirring to relocate to Grand Rapids to attend Kuyper College. This was a wise decision because not only did he earn a degree in social work but he also met his wife-to-be, Stephanie, there – what a lucky guy! After graduation from Kuyper, Rob stretched his wings again and enrolled at Western Michigan University with the goal of completing a master’s degree in social work.
Upon graduation from Western, Rob took a job at Metron Integrated Health serving as the social worker and discharge planner for the rehab facility. Rob had a desire to serve those in a grief and death journey, so he began working at Faith Hospice in a roll supporting patients and their families. Again longing for change – for something he could use his hands to serve those around him – he decided to make a move to funeral directing.
In August of 2021 Rob was privileged to enroll at Worsham College of Mortuary Sciences located in Wheeling, Illinois and is on track to graduate in January, 2023. He began serving an apprenticeship at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes in June of 2021 and has felt at home ever since; Rob is delighted to be able to use his God given gifts to support grieving families and help provide a lasting and meaningful funeral experience,
When not working or doing schoolwork Rob enjoys spending time with his wife and two young boys. He enjoys time spent outdoors and around the house.
Paul UzarskiLife Story Funeral Director
When he was just eight years old, Paul Uzarski’s mom began taking him and his brothers and sister with her to the funeral home for visitations and rosaries. The impressionable young Paul always marveled at the professionalism of the funeral director, and as he sat wide-eyed in the chapel chairs, he thought to himself, “That’s exactly what I want to be.” Today, that boy is now a man, with 25 years in the job of his dreams, helping people in their time of need tell and share their stories. This story is his.
Paul grew up on the West Side just a block and a half away from Sacred Heart Church. It was a great neighborhood for kids; friendly people who cared about each other and there were lots of fun things to do. Besides John Ball Park there was Lincoln Park which was a great place to swim, and there was Valley Field for baseball games. The kids walked or rode their bikes everywhere and knew where all the corner stores were. It was a great neighborhood with a wonderful heritage of food, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals.
After high school Paul got a job making cabinets at Stowe-Davis. Paul like the job and was good at it. With some coaxing from the older guys he worked with he decided to look to the future and signed up at Grand Rapids Junior College. He went to school full-time and worked part-time at the furniture factory and also at Van’t Hof Funeral Home. The job at Van’t Hof’s came through Paul’s uncle who knew Paul was interested in funeral service and told him to go see a man named Joe Oele at Van’t Hof’s. Joe Oele took one look at Paul and hired him; Joe knew a good thing when he saw it.
As soon as he got the credits he needed at JC Paul left for Chicago and the Worsham College of Mortuary Science. He graduated in 1982 and was licensed by the State of Michigan. It was a milestone in Paul’s life story.
Another milestone in Paul’s life story started with a motorcycle accident when he was on his way to work at Van’t Hof Funeral Home. He was only going 20 miles an hour but ended up in the hospital with a broken back. Elizabeth Patin, from Sand Lake, was one of his nurses—and you can guess the rest of the story. Elizabeth and Paul were married at St. Mary’s Church in Sand Lake in 1983.
Paul and Elizabeth have four children, Matthew, Joseph, Laura and Michael. Dr. Joe works as a Bio Medical Engineer at Northwestern University, Matthew and Michael work at Kenona Industry a local Manufacturing Co, and Laura works at Terryberry Mfgr and is active in local theater.
Paul’s wife Elizabeth is an RN at ABC Pediatrics, and the couple has been happily married for more than 32 years. Paul has been a licensed funeral director for the same length of time, and a proud member of Heritage Life Story Funeral Home® since 1979.
Paul knows how important family life is. He’s had his share of loss in life, from his dad when he was only a year and a half old, to losing his sister in auto accident, and his brother Bob in 2007 and his mother in 2008. So Paul spends as much time as he can with his family, and they do as much together as possible.
The family attends Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, where Paul is a lector. Paul also is a member of the Polish Falcons Aid Society and a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Sacred Heart of Jesus Council #13641. Paul loves all things Polish, including Polish music, food, halls, Pulaski Days, Polish food (did we mention the food?), and especially the people.
Paul cares about many things, though. Integrity, honesty, and caring about people just comes naturally to Paul, which makes him an excellent funeral director. And as Paul often says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Thankfully for all of us, he doesn’t have to.
Ron KarelseLife Story Funeral Director
Ron is a first generation funeral director but he has a life-long history with the business. He grew up on the West Side and funeral service became a part of his life story at the tender age of 13 when he started washing cars and mowing grass at the Van't Hof & De Meester Funeral Home on W. Leonard St.
Ron went to Grand Rapids Community College thinking he wanted to be a high school biology teacher. He continued working at the funeral home during college and with a little coaxing from folks at the funeral home decided he might as well serve his apprenticeship because he was there all the time and he might change his mind someday about being a teacher. Ron did just that. He served his apprenticeship, changed his mind about teaching and decided to pursue a career in funeral service. Ron went to Detroit, enrolled at Wayne State University and graduated with a degree in Mortuary Science.
In 1968 Ron became part owner of the Van Strien-Alman Funeral Home on Plainfield Ave. A few years later he was instrumental in the purchase of the Edison homestead on Lake Michigan Dr. which became the Shawmut Hills Funeral Home. Eventually, Ron joined forces with Hollebeek, Oele, Van Zee and together they formed Heritage Funeral Service would over time include the Van't Hof Chapel on W. Leonard St., Van Strien - Creston Chapel on Plainfield, NE, Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel on Lake Michigan Dr, Achterhoff Chapel in Muskegon, and Stephens Funeral Home in Scottville.
Ron is married to the former Priscilla Graf whom he met in a history class at Grand Rapids Community College. Ron and Pris have four children who are married and all live in the Grand Rapids area: Lisa and Joel DeVries, Lee and Kelli Karelse, Becky and Brian Tubergen, Beth and Dan Triezenberg. He also has 13 grandchildren.
Ron is a member of Riverside Christian Reformed Church and the Grand Rapids North Kiwanis Club. In his spare time he enjoys the outdoors, especially biking, boating, fishing, and watching birds. Birders, as you may know, are inspired by the enjoyment and protection of wild birds; they know the identification features of birds and also the details of their distribution. Ron keeps a life-log of his bird sightings which stretches from his cottage on Pentwater Lake all the way to Africa. In a world where the pace of life is becoming ever faster, we all need things to remind us of what life is really all about. Birding does this for Ron and says a great deal about the value he places on the awesome beauty of life and the world we live in.
Mart HollebeekLife Story Funeral Director
Martin is a natural at helping people celebrate the life of someone they love. This is partly the result of some valuable life lessons he learned at an early age. Growing up in his family’s funeral home on W. Leonard St., he saw first-hand how fragile life can be and then, as a young boy stricken with polio, he saw the compelling potential of human strength and determination.
Martin is a graduate of Calvin College and Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science. With the war in Vietnam going on after college, Mart enlisted in the Army Reserve. He and his long-time sweetheart, Mary Dekker, were married three days before he left for basic training. After a two-day honeymoon in Chicago, Mary dropped him off at O’Hare Airport to catch a flight to Ft. Polk, LA (an unconventional start to a marriage).
In addition to being a life story funeral director, Martin is a leader in funeral service as a business and as a profession. After his military training Mart joined his dad and Joe Oele at the Van’t Hof Chapel on W. Leonard St. Eventually they bought the Creston Funeral Home on Plainfield, NE, merged with Ron Karelse and the Van Strien-Alman Funeral Home, then bought the Alt Mortuary and merged it with the Shawmut Hills Chapel. Heritage Funeral Service believes every life is special, that every life has a story, and that every life deserves to be honored.
Mart has made a major contribution to funeral service in the State of Michigan by playing a leading role in the Michigan Funeral Directors Association including serving as association president in 2000-2001. This important work requires countless hours of meetings and consultations all devoted to improving and strengthening the commitment of funeral directors to meeting the needs of the families they serve. He followed his father’s footsteps in this endeavor as his dad, Fred Hollebeek, served in the same capacity in 1986.
Mart and Mary have three children. Matthew and his wife, Robin, live in Grand Rapids and Matthew is a licensed funeral director and Robin is a physical therapist. Dirk and his wife, Stacy, live in Holland, MI where Dirk is the Middle School Principal at Holland Christian School. Stacy is the Communications Manager for the school system. Emily and her husband, Phillip Brechting, live in Hudsonville, MI. Phil works for Herman Miller and Emily is using her doctorate in psychology to teach some classes at Hope College.
Mart has been an elder and a deacon and has served on the board of West Side Christian School and also Grand Rapids Christian High School. Mart and Mary are members of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church.
Mart enjoys spending time at Big Star Lake and loves fishing and boating. Also, he and Mary enjoy traveling, especially on his Harley motorcycle; it renews his connection with the world in general and refreshes his outlook on life. Probably his favorite activity in the winter is to spend time on woodworking projects for the family. Obviously, Mart’s eleven grandchildren continue to play a big role in his own life story as he lives the stories of tomorrow each moment of each day.
Melissa Snead-MitchellAdvance Planning Advisor and After Care Specialist
Melissa has passion for her work and the people she serves. Every family has a unique dynamic and every life has a story to tell and celebrate. As an advance planning specialist, she works with people and strives to understand what their wishes are for their final goodbye and burial, as well as what their loved ones will need at the time of death. Whether that celebration is simple or more elaborate, it is important to document those wishes to alleviate unnecessary burden later.
Melissa has served several thousand families by helping plan their final arrangements. A natural people person, she has developed programs and groups that support widows and grieving families. She possesses an expertise on Medicaid planning as it pertains to funerals and burials and holds the necessary licensing required by the State of Michigan.
But there is more to life than work, and Melissa loves spending time with her family and friends. She is a proud Mom of 5 boys and is happily married to her husband Andrew. She has recently transitioned from a 20-year hockey and wrestling Mom to an empty nester. She loves her faith and enjoys leadership and study with Bible Study Fellowship. She loves having people around her dinner table!
Rich KarelseCertified Pre-Planning Consultant
Many families have become the grateful beneficiaries of Rich’s passion for helping people talk about the end of life and pre-arrange their services. He gives wise counsel and brings peace of mind to all those who seek his guidance.
Rich was born and raised on the West Side of Grand Rapids, just two miles from the Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel. Rich has always been a resident of Grand Rapids and attended local West Side schools and graduated in 1971.
Rich’s interest in funeral service came in 1986 when Michigan law for pre-funding funerals changed and allowed payment plans through the use of limited life insurance for the payment of pre-paid services. Rich pursued the required training and licensing and has been serving families ever since. For the past 35 years, Rich has guided thousands of families through the process of funeral planning and helping them create a ceremony that focuses on the significance of the life that was lived.
Rich and his wife, Linda, have three daughters: Melanie (Travis) Buys, Bonnie (Mark) Sytsma and Valerie (Kevin) Palmer all living in the Grand Rapids area. They have seven grandsons, Lucas and Dylan Buys and Seth and Levi Sytsma and Eli, Joshua, and Micha Palmer. Rich and Linda met in 1971 and married in December of 1975. Rich and Linda enjoy traveling and have done so domestically as well as in the Caribbean and throughout Mexico. Linda is a retired employee of the Grand Rapids Press now known as M-Live Media Group.
In 1999, Rich became a Certified Pre-Planning Consultant through the National Funeral Directors Association. The recipient of this certification is required to know and understand all of the laws pertaining to pre-planning and pre-funding of funerals. This certification requires on-going training and verification of such training to retain the certification. In the past 35 years Rich has helped countless families through the process of Medicaid spend downs. To educate families and to simplify the understanding of Medicaid, Rich has written a brochure on allowable assets for those going on Medicaid and is available by contacting the chapel.
In 2011, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association offered the Certified Michigan Advanced Planning Professional Certification which Rich also holds.
Many changes have come to funeral service in the years that Rich has been serving. In June of 2008, Rich became a Certified Celebrant through the industry’s highly accredited In-Sight Institute. A celebrant is one who is specifically trained to design a service for loved ones that is completely personal, incorporating those unique stories, songs and experiences that define the life of a loved one. The three hundred eulogies Rich has written and delivered include attendees of as many as two thousand or as few as a gathering of eight people. Rich’s eloquent delivery and personalization of services makes every service different and personal.
Rich is a past board member for both West Michigan Advisory Board for Hospice of Michigan and Christian Rest Home Association.
Melanie PrinsFamily Service & Pre-Planning Specialist
Serving others just seems to come naturally for Melanie. A native of Muskegon, Michigan, she grew up along the Lake Michigan shoreline enjoying all it had to offer. Melanie began her funeral service career in 1997 at Clock Funeral Home where she served as the administrative assistant, eventually transitioning into Aftercare. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in 2002 and in 2004 joined the Heritage team assisting the funeral directors and families we serve administratively with a compassionate and listening heart.
With her experience, Melanie has now transitioned yet again into another area of funeral service where her experience and knowledge can be most useful. As Heritage Life Story Funeral Home’s Family Service and Pre-Planning Specialist, Melanie continues to offer a kind word and listening ear to those in need all while being an integral part of making the end of life celebration a true reflection of a life well lived.
Faith and family are at the very heart of Melanie. She enjoys spending time with her two daughters and her six grandchildren in addition to spending time working in her yard. She finds joy in the little things in life and having felt called to funeral service, she feels it is an honor to share this part of life’s journey with those experiencing loss.
Amy PostmaFamily Service / Front Desk
West Michigan born and raised and a country girl at heart, Amy considers herself fortunate to have raised her family in West Michigan as well. She grew up in the country with dirt roads and, to this day, appreciates taking the road less traveled – perhaps both literally and figuratively.
She is mom to two adult children and even though parents are not supposed to have favorites, she often brags about her “favorite son” and her “favorite daughter” and considers herself blessed beyond measure to bear the title of MOM.
Amy’s tender heart is evident as she works behind the scenes to care for the families we serve. She considers her work at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes personal as she has experienced the loss of both her brother and sister. The sudden, tragic death of her brother at his young age of 25 and the prolonged illness and loss of her sister many years later provides her an element of empathy for others facing loss. Although Amy has worked in an administrative role in a variety of settings, this is where her heart feels at home; she is honored to be a part of the Heritage Life Story team.
Amy embraces life to the fullest. She has an eclectic taste in music which can often be heard blaring from her house or car. She loves to dance and, while she readily admits she’s not very good at it, she doesn’t let that stop her from trying! Amy enjoys a good laugh and is frequently known to remind herself and others to “work hard, but don’t forget to play hard too”.