At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Corewell Health Foundation
25 Michigan Street NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Oakview Community Church
4242 Plainfield Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
105 North First Street
Leland, MI 49654
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Gay Glenn VanOtteren, age 93 of Grand Rapids, passed away peacefully on May 29, 2023, while in the company of his family. He was born February 2, 1930, to the late Glenn Harry and Josephine Marie VanOtteren, and was the oldest of their three sons.
Gay was preceded in death by his beloved wife Sally in 2022; his precious daughter, Beth Anne in 1956; his two brothers Gordon and Gerard “Gerry”. Gay is survived by his sons Robert (Cindy) VanOtteren, Bruce (Lili) VanOtteren, Craig (Vickie) VanOtteren, and Glenn (Kate) VanOtteren; and grandchildren Carali, Andrew, Ava, Natalie, Nathan, and Nina; and step-grandchildren, Meghan, Brandon, Stacey, and Steven, as well as many nieces, nephews, and step-grandchildren.
Gay grew up on the northwest side of Grand Rapids and attended Sibley Elementary School and later Union High School. His father worked as a furniture manufacturer and his mother stayed home to care for the three boys. Gay had a strong bond with his family and was actively involved in various activities during his youth. He was an Eagle Scout and enjoyed yearly canoe fishing trips with his family to remote areas of Canada. His parents' adventurous spirit influenced Gay's lifelong passions for sailing, snow skiing, and aviation.
Gay met his future wife, Sally Wiersma, while attending high school class. She sat right behind him in English class, because of a seating assignment based upon the first letter of their last names. While they were cordial acquaintances during that time, their romance did not begin until a year after graduation when Gay returned home from college for Christmas break, when he asked Sally out for their first date.
Gay attended the University of Michigan from 1948 through 1952, graduating with a degree in engineering. Shortly after graduation, Sally and Gay were married on August 8, 1952, and just recently they were able to joyfully celebrate their 70th anniversary together while both were still in relatively good health.
Gay was drafted into the Army in March of 1953. He completed his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and then was sent to Baltimore to receive additional training for the Counterintelligence Core. He later was assigned to the Chicago Army headquarters; however, he was fortunate to be delegated to work in the geographic areas of western Michigan, which was close to family where they had tremendous support for their growing family. The couple had five children, with Beth Anne being born in 1954, Bob in 1955, Bruce in 1957, Craig in 1959 and Glenn in 1962. Yet, tragedy struck early on, as in May of 1956 Beth Anne was killed at the young age of two in a local automobile accident.
After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1955, Gay took his first job at Keeler Brass, in Grand Rapids. In 1964, the young family relocated to Kokomo, Indiana, where Gay worked as an engineer at Chrysler Corporation, specializing in designing automobile transmissions. Sally worked as a school nurse during this time. They later returned to Grand Rapids in 1983 after their children had graduated from high school, so they could be closer to family and friends. Gay ended his career at Nelson Metal Products and retired at the age of 68.
Gay had a passion for flying, inspired by his parents who were both pilots. From very early on, Gay would learn to fly various types of airplanes and gliders. At the age of 21, Gay completed his solo check ride and earned the certification of “private pilot”. The very next day, while flying solo, the Piper Cub’s engine decided to eject one of the spark plugs, causing an immediate engine failure. Gay would often later tell the story in vivid detail of how he needed to find a suitable emergency landing location in short order, ultimately choosing a farmer’s field where he had just enough airspeed to clear a fence row, but it required slipping below some telephone wires running along the country road, successfully gliding the plane to a safe stop.
Gay and Sally were early adopters of the concept of “experiential vacations”. Despite his limited vacation time afforded from his job, Gay would save up every bit of his time off to create a summer vacation experience for the family utilizing the entirety of his four-week vacation allotment. Each summer during their children’s youth, Sally and Gay would take the family to different areas of the country towing behind the Apache pop-up trailer, or later borrowing the motor home from his father. During the ensuing summers, the family was able check off the list various visits that would include trips to most of the western US national parks, Canada, the east coast, and sailing in the Bahama islands. With Gay being the meticulous photo-documenter, these trips have provided lasting memories for all the children to this day.
Gay also had a love for sailing and shared this passion with his family. As he had learned from his father, Gay enjoyed teaching his children and grandchildren also to sail. Gay sailed throughout the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay area, and he considered one of his greatest achievements to be part of a voyage sailing from Bermuda back to the United States. In his later years, as Gay's energy waned and he was unable to maintain his previous active lifestyle, he found joy in different activities. He stayed active in the church, enjoyed playing bridge with Sally and their friends, playing piano, and watching University of Michigan football games.
Gay and Sally both shared a deep commitment to their faith, and this was an important aspect of their lives. Gay served as a deacon and an elder in his church communities in both Indiana and Michigan. His faith guided his actions, and he exemplified compassion and care towards others. Gay had a genuine ability to see the good in all people, and he used his gifts to provide mentorship and support to those in need. Whether it was offering guidance to young families or helping those who were less privileged, Gay's caring nature shone through. He was not only a devoted member of his church but also a true servant who made a positive impact on the lives of others through his kindness and willingness to lend a helping hand.
Gay will be remembered as a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. His positive outlook on life, kindness, and servant heart will continue to inspire all who knew him.
A memorial service to remember Gay’s life will be held on Monday, June 5, 2023, at 1 pm at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home (2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504). Friends are invited to visit with the family prior to the service beginning at 12:00 noon, and there will be a reception immediately following the memorial service.
In lieu of flowers, for those who wish, memorial contributions are suggested to Oakview Community Church, The Leelanau Conservancy, or Corewell Health Foundation. To read more about Gay, to share a memory or to sign his guestbook, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.