Thursday, September 28, 2023
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM EDT
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Rosary at 7:30 PM
Life Story / Obituary
Welcoming and fun-loving, Charlene Heeren was happiest when surrounded by friends and family. Her door was always open and she never passed up an opportunity to host a party. She had a special knack for making everyone feel at home in her presence. Char will be sadly missed and lovingly remembered.
The year 1942 dawned with auto makers and other manufacturers producing weapons of war and the minimum draft age was lowered from 21 to 18. Gas rationing went into effect allowing Americans a mere 3 gallons of gas per week! Movies such as the iconic Casablanca and Bambi also premiered this year, providing people with a few hours to escape the realities of the times. For Casimier and Julia (Grabowy) Wisniewski these times were made brighter by the birth of their daughter, Charlene on December, 5, 1942 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Casimier worked at American Seating and Julia was a homemaker. Charlene joined her older sister, Mary in their West Side home.
Growing up, Charlene enjoyed a close relationship with her grandmother who lived upstairs from her family. When her grandfather passed away, Char moved in with her grandmother to care for her. Charlene attended St. Adalbert School and later, Catholic Central High School, graduating in 1960.
Char liked to drive, and she liked to drive fast! She received her first speeding ticket on the day she was legally able to drive on her own. Char owned a two-seater Triumph that Char would sometimes drive to pick her dad up from work. His coworkers would tease that he needed a can opener to get inside! Later in life, Char purchased a white convertible Camaro and had a vanity plate “Fast LDY”
While in school, Char met a young man, Bernard Gross, through mutual friends. After dating for a time, the two married shortly after graduation in October 1960 at St. Adalbert. After honeymooning by the Mackinaw Bridge and in the Upper Peninsula, the newlyweds returned to Grand Rapids. They were blessed with the birth of their two sons, Jeffery in 1961 and Todd in 1964. Char was a loving, but strict mom who didn’t let the boys get away with anything. Bernard supported his family by working in a factory, and then in sales. Char stayed home and kept everything running smoothly. Char and Bernard divorced and parted ways in 1965.
Working at Alpenhorn Haus impacted Char’s life in more ways than one. She met coworker, Pam Bogard, and the two developed a friendship that would span 50 years. A frequent diner at the restaurant, Sonny Heeren who ran his family’s produce business up the road would also play a major role in Char’s life. The two began dating and after a couple years of courtship, they were happily married at the Fountain Street Church on November 6, 1976. Sonny brought five children to the family and the couple worked hard to bring their blended families together in their home on Ducoma Drive.
When Sonny was in his 50s, he went into semi-retirement and he and Char bought a motor home so they could travel. Later, they sold the motor home and purchased a condo in Boynton Beach, Florida where they delighted in visits by their children and grandchildren. In the summer, Char and Sonny would rent a cottage on Gun Lake so the family could visit. Once Sonny fully retired, the couple chose to spend their winters in the sun and warmth of Florida. Additionally, they enjoyed some memorable trips to Europe, Poland, Hawaii, Alaska and Ireland, among others.
In her free time, Char enjoyed a good romance novel or watching Maine Cabin Masters on TV. Shopping for antiques, crafting and decorating her home for the season were also some of her favorite pastimes. Char’s home was always decorated for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the 4th of July, Halloween and Christmas, both on the inside and out. It was a tradition to bake huge batches of cookies with the kids for Christmas. Prayer was an important part of Char’s life. She liked to walk each day, praying while she walked.
Char loved to entertain and the Heeren home was perfect for any occasion. She had a real jukebox with hundreds of records from the 50s and 60s and their home had a pool in the backyard. When new families moved into the neighborhood, Char would throw a party to welcome them. She enjoyed cooking and was known to make trays of glumpki for family and friends and she was famous for her Red Haven peach pie. For her birthday dinners, Ruth Chris was her restaurant of choice.
Sadly, Sonny died in 2009 leaving a huge void in Char’s life. She turned to her family for the love and support she needed during this difficult time. Attending the kids’ events and keeping up with their interests was helpful as well.
When Char fell ill three years ago, her son, Jeffrey lived with her and was her full time caregiver. They enjoyed spending time together, going on trips to Algoma Central Railway, going out for dinner, and antiquing. How fortunate she was to having such attentive and loving care in her final days.
Vibrant, loving, feisty and generous, Char Heeren was a gift to those who knew and loved her. May we honor her memory by following her example of welcoming people with open arms and holding family close to our hearts.
HEEREN (Wisniewski) – Charlene “Char” Heeren age 80, passed away on September 24, 2023 after a lengthy illness. She was preceded in death by her husband, Sonny; sister, Mary Louise Stafanski; stepson, Tom (Rebecca) Heeren; step-granddaughter, Jennifer Heeren; step-great-granddaughter, Kamrie Heeren; and nephew, Michael Toczydowski. Char is survived by her sons, Jeffrey Gross and Todd (Elizabeth) Gross; granddaughter, Casey Gross; nephew, Chuck (Michele) Toczydowski; and niece, Kathy Toczydowski; stepchildren, James (Janice) Heeren, Denise Heeren, Dan (Jill) Heeren and Stephen Heeren. Also surviving are step-grandchildren, Joel Heeren, Megan (Todd) Blouw, Jillian (Matthew) Gajtka, Aimee (Thomas) Blease, Heather (Nicholas) Roberts, April (Samuel) Henkel, Elisha (Cameron) Menzel, Katherine (Greg) Weichhand, Daniel Jon Heeren and Courtney (Taylor Irrer) Heeren; step-great-grandchildren, Tea Heeren, Ella Roberts, Cora and Sawyer Heeren, Carter and Chase Blease, Madison and Jack Weichhand, Selene and Gryffin Menzel, and Lukas and Henrick Gajtka. Char enjoyed collecting antiques and spending time with her family. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday, September 29, 2023 at 11 AM at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, 2510 Richmond St NW. Visitation will be held from 2-4 and 6-8 PM, with a Rosary at 7:30 PM on Thursday at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – Alt and Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Interment in Holy Cross Cemetery. Contributions in her memory may be made to the charity of one’s choice. Please visit www.heritagelifestory.com to read Char’s life story, submit a favorite memory, photo or to sign the guestbook online.