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Michigan Veteran Home of Grand Rapids
2950 Monroe Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
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Life enrichment in memory of Duane Brown
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Life Story / Obituary
On July 31, 1948, Richard and Barbara Brown welcomed their second child, Duane, into their home on Butterworth Street, located near a gypsum mine. Growing up, Duane and his 3 siblings: one brothers and two sisters, spent much of their childhood there, exploring the mining area and playing with friends in the natural surroundings. They also frequented his grandparent's farm in Stanton where he learned how to fish and hunt. In his teens, his family moved to their long-term home at 1031 Lake Michigan Drive, adding to the family four more children: one brother and 3 sisters. Duane's parents took them camping often. They traveled all over the state, and Duane fell in love with the sights of Michigan, leaving no backroad unturned!
For elementary school, Duane went to St. James Catholic School. He and his older brother, Richard always had the same tight-knit group of friends that they did everything with. He attended Union High School, and after graduating in 1967, he started working right away at the Coca-Cola bottling plant.
Duane had a feeling he would be drafted for Vietnam, so he decided to spare himself from the anxiety of not-knowing and enlisted in the Navy, the same division his father had served in. Duane was a gunner's mate on a destroyer ship. They sailed across the Pacific, and in his tenure in the military he saw many places, but much of the combat he preferred not to remember.
The story of Duane Brown and Darlene Renkema started thru Duane’s sister Debbie. Starting when Debbie asked if anyone wanted to be pen pals with her brother in the Navy, and there the conversations started; letters back and forth for over a year; finally, they were able to formally meet when Duane was home the following year for Sue's wedding, when he asked her to be his date, and their infatuation quickly bloomed into love.
When Duane was stationed in California up until his discharge, he asked Darlene if she wanted to come to San Diego to be with him until he was discharged, and she went. There, he proposed, and she said yes! Once Duane was released, they came back to Michigan, and they were married on April 27, 1973, at Saint James Catholic Church and traveled to the Upper Peninsula for their honeymoon.
Duane and Darlene first bought a home in Grandville, where they welcomed their sons Duane Jr. and Scott, but they decided to move after a few years to their long-term home in Grand Rapids township where they welcomed their third child, Jason, into the family.
Duane returned to his pre-military job at the Coca-Cola bottling plant. He started out by repairing the machines, moving on to spend many years in the shipping department, before working in inventory. He worked long and odd hours for many years. There were long periods he worked nearly 7 days a week, but he was home by the time his children were home from school. They'd have dinner, and he'd get a nap in before waking up and going back to work. Duane was always grateful for his job, and he was consistent in his rigorous work efforts. He developed many long-term relationships throughout the years, as many of the other workers were also longtime employees, and Duane appreciated that it felt like a family. His employment turned him into a faithful Coke consumer, and even scowled at the presence of other brands. He retired after 49 years with the company.
Duane was a caring and loving man who would do anything for his family. He was a hard worker, had high expectations for himself and those he loved, and liked to say it how it was. As a father, Duane didn't negotiate, he set the bar high for all his boys, and he made sure they knew where the bar was set. He instilled in all his children that work is obligated, others will rely on them, and they will need to provide.
When he called the boys home for dinner, he called each of the boy’s names one time and they knew… his voice could be heard throughout the entire neighborhood. He was incredibly supportive of his children. Either coaching or supporting from the stands, he was there for every game, practice, no matter rain or shine! He enjoyed watching the Lions, Tigers, and his University of Michigan football team! When the kids were young, they went to the Lion’s training camp, even staying at the same hotel as the team did, such any experience!
Duane wanted to show his children the state of Michigan just as he had been shown by his parents, so each summer, the last week of July and the first week of August were reserved for camping. They covered much of the state over the years, starting in tents, and then upgrading over the years. They went to Petoskey, Traverse City, and Burt Lake often, but Mackinaw City was Duane's favorite, and they went there quite often. Duane particularly enjoyed Fort Michilimackinac, going back every year to see what had been unearthed at the Fort and created.
When something broke around the house, Duane always tried to fix it himself. He was eager to get his boys to watch so he could show them how things worked. He liked building things. He was good at anything he had to do with his hands, and when nothing needed to be fixed or built, he would putter around the house and yard, tinkering with this and that, just to make sure. When his sons were out of the house, he got rid of the push mower and bought a riding mower; spending time riding the mower.
There was no such thing as “sugarcoating” for Duane, he didn't soften what he had to say, what people wanted to hear…nope, he just said it, never afraid to share his opinion. He was stern and direct, but his gruffness was only as thick as his exterior. He had a tremendous amount of care and love in his heart.
Duane searched for every way he could support his grandchildren, endlessly interested in whatever they were doing. He went to every event—countless games, concerts, practices—no matter what. Over the years, Duane's rough exterior began to soften. He never lost his regard for high expectations, but his grandchildren were the world to him, and they softened his heart.
He was a member of post 830 in the VFW for many years along with his brother, Richard.
Duane never lost his love of hunting and fishing from the time he was a young child. He savored the outdoors, but when it came to the screen, He liked watching sports, especially Football and Baseball, rooting for the Lions and Tigers professionally, and the University of Michigan on a college level. He also became fascinated with movies from Westerns to Wars.
Duane loved holidays when the whole family got together, but honestly, he loved anytime the family was together. He and Darlene had dreams of traveling more. Unfortunately, plans changed as various health issues began to compile, and Duane's focus shifted entirely to family. He valued time with family the highest. He didn't want to miss anything his children or grandchildren were doing.
Duane's death was unexpected and while nothing will fill the gap of his absence, those he impacted with his presence will carry his spirit on when they embody the principles he respected and the boundless love he demonstrated.
Duane Thomas Brown, 74, died July 27th, 2023. He is survived by his wife, Darlene; their children Duane Jr. & Lisa, Scott Brown & Becky Wesley, Jason & Kimberly; grandchildren Jacob, Hailey, Alyssa, Andrew, and Addison; brothers and sisters Richard & Donna Brown, Denise Heeren, Joan & Harold Holcom, Craig & Priscilla Brown; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law Fred Buyze, Deborah & Donald Velting, Dave & Cathy Renkema, Doug & Janna Renkema; as well as many nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Duane was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Barbara Brown; siblings Sue Buyze, Deborah (Wayne) Swartz and Rebecca (Tom) Heeren.
A service to remember and celebrate Duane’s life will be held on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, at 11 AM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel. Friends are invited to visit with his family at the funeral home on Tuesday from 5-8 PM and on Wednesday beginning at 10 AM. For those who wish, memorial contributions to Grand Rapids Home for Veterans are appreciated (more information to be provided). To read more about Duane, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.heritagelifestory.com