Life Story / Obituary
With a ready smile and a love for people, Pete VanderMeer lived a life rich in family and friends. Pete was a social butterfly who never met a stranger; everywhere he went, he would run into someone he knew or walk away with a new friend. Though never loud, he had a natural way of connecting with people, listening with interest and genuine affection, and reflecting the goodness of others at every turn. Never one to shy away from hard work or life's challenges, Pete embraced every moment as a gift to treasure. He celebrated life's joys fully and, in doing so, proved a powerful role model for all who were lucky to spend time with him. A devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend, Pete inspired all who were blessed to know him and will long be remembered by those he so dearly loved.
Despite the obvious gloom of the Great Depression, 1935 gave birth to many celebrated firsts. While reeling in the heartache of Black Sunday, our nation's 20.1% unemployment rate and the gathering war clouds as Germany passed the Nuremberg laws, Americans found much hope in Amelia Earhart's first solo Pacific flight, the inventions of parking meters, fluorescent tubes for light, and the game of Monopoly, as well as the first Orange Bowl, first Pacific Airmail delivery, and the first technicolor film; Mickey Mouse. Locally, Peter and Grace (Wright) VanderMeer held much hope for the future as they celebrated the birth of their son Earl Peter on October 9 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Born Earl Peter, he was always known as "Pete."
The middle of the three VanderMeer children, Pete grew up with the good company of his older sister Marilyn and younger brother Larry on the west side of Grand Rapids. He attended Harrison Park Elementary and then Union High School. His childhood was rich in family traditions and playing at Richmond Park, where he especially enjoyed sledding and ice skating. Though he admitted he couldn't skate well, he had fun with his family and friends. Pete always felt that he had a good childhood that included some innocent mischief and participating in the Mackinac Bridge walk each year with his family.
When the opportunity to work at General Motors presented itself, Pete left high school to pursue the opportunity. He worked for the company for over 47 years, predominantly driving a truck and hi-lo for them. He loved working, his job, and the people. He typically worked the first shift but picked up hours when he could. He had a lot of friends at work and even got to drive the GM truck in parades from time to time. Pete enjoyed working his job so much that he would have gladly worked longer, but the company was downsizing, and staying on was not an option. From time to time, Pete liked to pick up side jobs. Over the years, these included working for a while as a pin setter at Wengers. When he was older, he tended the bar at Frolic and later at Kale's Corner Bar.
Pete was blessed to welcome five children to his life while married to Joyce Kulhawik. Though they eventually divorced, Pete was always grateful the marriage gifted him his children. When he married Diane Gray, she brought her daughter into his life, who he embraced as his own child. He and Diane had two sons together, but sadly, Jason passed away in infancy. After this marriage ended, he was introduced to Sherry. They married in 1987, and Sherry brought her two children into the marriage. Once they both retired, she was never far from his sight.
As a father, Pete never differentiated between all the kids. He enjoyed his role and was a laid-back person parent. He only raised his voice to yell at the football game – but never at his kids. He was the parent the kids wanted to doll out their punishment because it was always lenient and rarely enforced. Some of the kids remember Sunday afternoon car rides as he would smoke a cigar; others remember trips to Cedar Point and special days going to the movies with him. After work, Pete would come home and read through the paper. Pete enjoyed the gift of the friendships he shared with close friends. Saturdays were often spent visiting his close friends' houses with family; a poker game was sure to be played during these visits. Summer Sundays were often spent at Long Lake with other family friends as well.
A longtime member of 6th Street Hall, Pete enjoyed gathering with friends, watching games, and hosting many family gatherings there through the years. He loved to golf and bowl, playing many games with the core group of friends he had through much of his life. He also enjoyed going to deer camp with his friends, though for many years, he went without a gun because, for him, it was more about the cards, food, and conversations than hunting.
Though easygoing, there were a few things he was very particular about, including the way he kept his cars. He loved his cars and had to keep them immaculately clean. He often struggled to even drive them out in the rain after a fresh wash. He took great pride in a well-manicured yard, enjoying the years riding his mower with a kid on his lap and beer in his hand. He was fussy over his grill, insisting there was a right way to clean and leave it for the next use. Though particular and attached to managing some things around the house, he knew the limits of his abilities and was quick to call a repair person when facing a job he did not have the skills to tackle successfully.
Never one to pinch a penny, Pete encouraged folks to buy what they wanted. This freedom to spend on desired things carried over to his love of watches and collection of bald eagle figurines. Over the years, he grew impressive collections of both. Pete also loved to watch his Michigan Wolverine football team on Saturdays in the fall and any NFL game on Sundays; he particularly enjoyed cheering on his beloved Lions. In later years, Pete relished the great companionship of his beloved dogs, who spent much time on his lap. His loved ones always knew where he was, if not by his smile and good nature, by his signature cologne which smelled so good.
Twenty-five years ago, Pete faced a cancer diagnosis and a prognosis with the goal of a five-year remission. With his typical good nature and quiet determination, he was quickly known as "the miracle man," outliving that prognosis by many, many years. When he faced a different cancer nearly twelve years ago, he beat the odds again. Unfortunately, in the last year, Alzheimer's disease aggressively revealed itself, presenting some very difficult months. With the loving care of his beloved and his children, Pete was able to live his final days in the comforts of his home, surrounded by those he loved so deeply.
Without a doubt, life feels less certain in the absence of Pete's steadfast companionship. May we find much comfort in our many treasured memories and in the honor of carrying his legacy forward. In each moment we meet the day with gratitude, nurture our friendships, cheer on our loved one's endeavors, gather for a meal and card game, or face life's challenges with humble confidence, we celebrate the many ways Pete showed us how to live a wholehearted life. In this way, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired each of us.
Pete VanderMeer, age 87, of Grand Rapids, passed away at his home on December 5, 2022. Pete loved his job, working at GM for over 47 years. He is survived by his wife, Sherry; his children Kim (Dave) Hall, Kurt (Maria) VanderMeer, Kelly (Gary) Bartolatto, Kris (Rick) Cunningham, Kevin (Brenda) VanderMeer, Dustin (Stephanie) VanderMeer, Cindy (Rob) Zajkowski, Danielle (Joe) Maike, Steve (Dora) Wildey; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; brother, Larry (Karen) VanderMeer. Pete was preceded in death by his infant son, Jason, and by his sister, Marilyn Welmers.
The service to remember and celebrate his life will be held on Thursday, December 8 at 12 Noon at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home- Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family beginning at 10 AM. For those who wish, his family suggests memorial donations to the Alzheimer's Association. To read more about Pete, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.heritagelifestory.com