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Life Story / Obituary
There was much to love and admire about Bertha Vis. A woman of faith, she placed her trust in the Lord and sought Him for guidance. Bertha was loving and dedicated, and just as strong-minded, she served with a full heart without ever asking for anything in return. With her family as her greatest joy, Bertha will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.
Bertha’s story began at a time when the U.S. was reeling from what came to be known as the Great Depression. The jobless rate continued to soar and it was becoming more and more difficult for families to put a roof over their heads and to keep food on the table. Despite these troubling times on a small farm near Manhattan, Montana, Henry and Maggie (Visser) Visser, who had shared the same surname prior to marriage, were happy to welcome the birth of their little girl, Bertha Ann on December 1, 1929.
The fourth of eventually twelve children, Bertha was raised on their family farm alongside her siblings. Like many of her generation, Bertha went through the eighth grade at Manhattan Christian School. She loved reading and always wished she could have had the opportunity to further her education. However, the mindset of the times often found girls learning from their mothers to be housewives. During her youth and as the oldest girl, Bertha kept busy helping her mother care for the growing family.
Bertha often spoke of her fond memories of meeting the young man who would forever hold her heart, John Vis. They met at a Protestant Reformed youth convention held in Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1949. John’s brother had recently become the pastor at Bertha’s church so John had to meet the youth from his church at the convention. Bertha was taken with John’s good looks, although to this day he maintains her eyesight must have been poor!
Smitten from the start, Bertha and John corresponded for two years, during which John also visited Montana twice. Bertha also came to spend a winter housekeeping for a family in Iowa just so she and John could get to know each other better. After falling deeply in love, the two were happily married in Montana on August 8, 1951. The newlyweds honeymooned on their way to Edgerton, Minnesota where John was teaching. Once settled in Minnesota, Bertha offered sewing instruction in the school where John taught. Their family soon came to include the love of children when Bill and Marge were added to their fold.
In 1955 John and Bertha moved their family to Grand Rapids, Michigan so John could complete his teaching degree at Calvin College. They made their home in a little house on Quimby Street NE. While John studied full time, including summers, he worked fulltime at the old Kent County Juvenile Detention Center for delinquent and neglected children. This experience led John to pursue a degree in counseling and guidance from Michigan State University.
True to her nature, Bertha was her husband’s devoted helpmate and sidekick throughout all of their shared endeavors and spent her days caring for their children. Her beloved John was always grateful to have Bertha’s devotion through these years as she encouraged him on. In 1961 their Protestant Reformed church disbanded and it was then that Bertha and her family decided to join West Leonard Christian Reformed Church where they remained faithful members over the years.
Eventually, the Vis family grew to include two more children, Brenda and David. Their family also became Westsiders in 1957 when Bertha and John bought a home on Richmond Street NW where they remained until 1963, when they moved to 1145 Powers NW. Throughout these years, wonderful memories were shared and enjoyed as a family. Bertha made a good home for John and the children, filling it with faith, learning, and love. She often walked her kids to the library, and loved reading to them. She canned fruits and vegetables in their basement with the kids, and they were each involved with church. Their family spent time almost every summer camping at the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds, making trips to Montana and Iowa to visit family, and enjoying sites of natural beauty.
Bertha placed a high value on education. Her children attended West Side Christian School. Bill and Marge went to Grand Rapids Christian High School and later, Brenda and David attended Calvin Christian High School. All four of Bertha’s children went on to attend college which made Bertha extremely proud and glad. An education was so important to Bertha that while her kids were in school, she went on to earn her GED.
With a sweet tooth for anything raspberry, Bertha’s favorite meal included anything with shrimp. She loved listening to hymns, but her singing was another matter. She was always sure to make a joyful noise. Bertha enjoyed watching the Pensacola Christian College worship service on TV, and spent much time sewing, cross-stitching and knitting. She was also good at reupholstering. Through the years, she used these talents in service for others. She sewed dresses and shorts for an orphanage in Haiti, made surgical blankets for a mission hospital, and gifted her cross-stitch.
In 1987, John retired early so the couple could spend more time together. In so doing, their retirement years were rich with volunteer opportunities. For 21 years they volunteered with the Mississippi Christian Family Services in Rolling Fork, Mississippi and for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, now known as World Renew, in places damaged by natural disasters. In all, they made 19 trips with World Renew. Locally, Bertha gave of her time and talents to The Other Way Ministries’ food pantry. She and John also worked together at the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds the first five summers after he retired where Bertha served as director of Vacation Bible School. She was also a discussion leader in Bible Study Fellowship and later in the Coffee Break women’s Bible study at West Leonard Church.
In 1994 John and Bertha moved to a condo on Rolling Greene Drive in Standale. In 2015 Bertha began developing blood clots, lesions, and had broken some vertebrae. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, doctors thought she had no more than three months to live. Thankfully she responded well to chemo and the family enjoyed four additional years of her love. In 2017 Bertha and John made the decision to move into Edison Manor where Bertha was blessed to live pain free. Leaving behind their condo, with its flower garden, workshop, and sewing room was an adjustment, but their choice created a sense of relief for their whole family.
Nothing made Bertha happier than serving her Lord and time spent with family. She absolutely loved time with her grandkids and great-grandkids. It didn’t take much to satisfy Bertha. She never asked for much, and although they didn’t always have a lot of money, she made the kids feel loved and special. Gone but never to be forgotten are the precious memories Bertha leaves behind.
Bertha Ann Vis, age 89, of Grand Rapids, went to be with her Lord and Savior on June 24, 2019. She was preceded in death by her siblings, Isaac Visser, Bud Visser, Albert Visser and Hermena Visser and her son-in-law Larry Kelderman. Bertha is survived by her husband of nearly 68 years, John; children, Bill (Sandy) Vis, Marge (Doug) DeBoer, Brenda (John) Jaszczyszyn and David (Amy) Vis; 14 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are her siblings, Pete Visser, Herman Visser, Arie Visser, Cornie Visser, Jeanette Kerssies, Mary Eccleston and Les Visser; sisters-in-law, Kathryn Van Kley, Cornelia “Nene” VanderMolen, Margaret Teunissen, Jean Visser, Gert Vis and Edith Vis; many nieces, nephews and friends. The funeral service will take place at 1:00 PM on Friday, June 28, 2019 at West Leonard Christian Reformed Church, 1053 Leonard St. NW. Visitation will be held from 2-4 & 6-8 PM on Thursday, June 27 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Contributions in her memory may be made to Mississippi Christian Family Services, Edison Christian Foundation or to Emmanuel Hospice. Please visit www.heritagelifestory.com to submit a favorite photo or memory and to sign her guestbook online.