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Life Story / Obituary
Although he may have been set in his ways and had his own way of doing things, there was no denying that Gerald Nelson loved his family. A man of his generation, he showed his love through his hard work ethic and providing for those entrusted to his care. Gerald enjoyed the simpler things in life. He had an appreciation for the outdoors, and working in his gardens always brought him the greatest joy. Gone yet never to be forgotten, Gerald leaves much to be remembered.
By 1932, the economy continued to deteriorate as a result of the Great Depression. Unemployment increased to over 24 percent with an astounding 13 million out of work. Many struggled to keep their families fed and a roof over their heads. Even so, the entertainment industry grew by leaps and bounds and was a welcome deviation from everyday worries. Yet for Robert and Jennie (Buikema) Nelson, the year offered hope and promise as they celebrated the birth of their son, Gerald Leroy Nelson in Rockford, Michigan on May 17, 1932. The second of eventually seven children, Gerald grew up alongside his siblings, Robert, Carl, Ray, Duane, David and Linda. Gerald’s father was a hard working well driller while his mother remained at home as a homemaker with their bustling household.
Raised on their family farm in the Muskegon/Nunica area, Gerald learned early on the value of hard work. He and his brothers worked hard on the farm every day and plowed the field with a team of horses. Sometimes it seemed as though their work was never done, and quite often, it never was. Even still, farming naturally ran through Gerald’s blood and these years were beneficial to him in numerous ways. Yet life for Gerald was not all work and no play. He attended Hanchett Elementary School through the 8th grade, and for Gerald, there was no place like the outdoors. He led a typical childhood for the times and was always up for an adventure.
At the age of 18, Gerald joined the U.S. Air Force. He trained to become an aircraft mechanic and was stationed in Texas for a time before being transferred to Wake Island and Iceland. During the Korean War, he went on to serve at Midway Island until his honorable discharge in September of 1959. Following the service, Gerald remained in Texas where he took a job as a ranch hand for several years. For a while he was briefly married. From this union he became the father of two children, Dan and Beverly before his marriage ended.
Gerald eventually made his way back to Michigan. He worked a few odd jobs before landing a position with Voss Equipment as a diesel mechanic. It was during this time in Gerald’s life when he met the woman who captured his heart, Rena Doty. The two began dating, fell in love and soon happily married. Before long they added the love of two children to their lives with the births of Michael and Connie. They later had expected twins but sadly they were stillborn. As a family they vacationed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and also took a memorable trip out west. Later, when Gerald retired, he and Rena bought a motor home to spend the winters in Florida. They did so once, and that was all it took for Gerald to realize he didn’t like it much and they sold the motor home.
Following his time at Voss Equipment, Gerald later began working in maintenance at Grand Valley State University where he remained for several years. He then took a job, also in maintenance at the Spartan Stores warehouse was head of the maintenance department.
Farming was never far from Gerald’s reach, and his love for farming remained with him for the rest of his days. In fact, just up until a few weeks ago he was tending to his gardens. Gerald always had a sprawling garden. He grew everything under the sun including tomatoes, peppers, pickles, corn, beans, melons, potatoes, and more. He and Rena canned and froze the harvest each year and were sure to share their bounty with family and friends. While he didn’t fish or hunt, Gerald and Rena canned a lot of the venison and fish their boys caught. Along with reading his daily newspaper cover to cover each day, Gerald also enjoyed reading books on gardening. When it came to cooking, Gerald was a pretty good cook. A meat and potatoes man, he also had a sweet tooth that could rarely pass up brownies, pies or cookies. Over the weekends, Gerald was quite a grill master, too.
While his family was near and dear to his heart, Gerald was not one to be overly emotional or convey his heartfelt feelings. He was set in his ways, and he liked it that way. He remained, however, very close to his siblings and they always enjoyed getting together at each other’s homes as well as holiday dinners. He enjoyed having the grandkids for visits, although he liked the quiet solitude of his home. In his free time, Gerald loved to tinker and rebuild old tractors.
Life as Gerald knew it changed when his beloved Rena suffered a debilitating stroke in 2001. When her care required too much, she was placed in a nursing facility. For six years, Gerald faithfully sat by her side and never missed a day to visit her until she sadly died on September 27, 2007. Life went on for Gerald and his strong family ties sustained him. Before long his son, Michael moved in with him to help out which offered them both the opportunity to get to know one another in ways they otherwise never would have known.
Gerald recently became dehydrated and lacked an appetite. As his condition worsened, he was taken to the hospital where his health quickly diminished. Known as a hard working man in all he did, in the hearts of those who knew and loved him best, Gerald will be truly missed and fondly remembered.
Gerald L. Nelson, aged 86 of Grand Rapids, passed away at Spectrum health – Butterworth Hospital, on Friday afternoon, September 14, 2018. He was preceded in death by his wife, Rena Nelson in 2007. He is survived by his children, Michael Nelson, Connie Lillie, Dan (Dorothy) Nelson, Beverly (Bill) Pruitt; grandchildren, Michael (Mandy) Nelson, Jennifer Nelson, Chad (Candie) Lillie, Vanessa (Justin) Freeman, Garrett (Jennifer) Nelson, Jeremy (Stephanie) Nelson, many great grandchildren; his brothers and sisters, Robert (Maxine) Nelson, Raymond (Barbara) Nelson, Carl (Marian) Nelson, David (Ruth Ann) Nelson, Linda (Jim) Brigham; nieces, nephews and friends. A service to celebrate Gerald’s life will be held on Tuesday, September 18, at 11:00 am at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home. 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Burial in Rosedale Cemetery. Relatives and friends may meet his family at the funeral home on Monday evening from 6:00 – 8:00 pm and again on Tuesday from 10:00 am until the service begins at 11:00 am. To read more about Gerald’s life, to leave your own memory of him and to sign his guest book, visit his web page at www.lifestorynet.com