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Grace Life Bible Church
3020 Lake Michigan Drive NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
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Life Story / Obituary
In many ways, Don Chrysler defined the meaning of devoted family man, teacher, scholar, and a man of many talents, yet his most humble, heartfelt commitment was dedicated servant of his Lord. Don lived a long and fruitful life touching the lives of not only his family, but many in his pastoral care in addition to the lives of countless children he mentored and taught throughout his teaching career. A gracious man, he lived a faith-filled life bringing wisdom, friendship and a kind word to all he encountered. Gone yet never to be forgotten are the numerous memories he leaves along the way.
By 1925, the Roaring Twenties brought a sense of gaiety to the air and jazz was all the rage. Amidst this time in history, the national monument, Mount Rushmore was dedicated to the delight of many while the founding of the Chrysler Corporation was the shape of things to come for the automobile industry. Despite the busyness of the world around them, Ray Freeman and Gearldean (Chalmers) Chrysler had much more on their minds when on March 10, 1925, they welcomed the birth of their little boy, Claude Donald into their hearts and home.
To support their growing family, young Don’s father worked as a contractor, tax assessor, and building inspector for the City of Walker while his mother was a homemaker and helped his father. One of two sons in the Chrysler household, Don was merely 21 months old when he was joined by his younger brother, Arthur. Both boys were born in the home of their grandparents, Fred and Grace Idella Chrysler at 12320 14th Avenue in Tallmadge Township, Michigan as their family all lived together for a time. Don and his brother were always very close and made for the best of companions throughout their lives.
Eventually, Don’s family moved to a home at 1117 Kusterer Drive where they were raised and attended Zinser Elementary School before going on to attend Union High School. As a young boy, Don enjoyed softball and roller skating. There were always large Christmas and birthday gatherings at either the Chalmers or Chrysler home where great times were enjoyed by all. A family of faith, they were longtime members of Coopersville Bible Church.
Don and his family took a memorable trip to California to visit his Grandma Della Chrysler and while there they attended the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco which made quite an impression on young Don and his brother. On their way to California, they took in The Badlands and the Black Hills of South Dakota, also visiting Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, The Grand Tetons, the Boulder Dam, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Pikes Peak and Garden of the God’s in Colorado. They made quite a trip out of it which was a cherished event in each of the boy’s lives.
In high school Don played the saxophone for four years in the school band. As a first lieutenant in Union High School’s ROTC program, Don, as a senior, proudly received a medal for being the best ROTC officer in the city of Grand Rapids before he went on to graduate in 1943. Don proudly went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII where he earned his Bombardier/Gunner’s Wings on a B-24. He served from December 1943 to November of 1945.
Don furthered his studies at Frontier School of the Bible where he received his BA in Biblical Studies. From there he went to Wayne State University, receiving his BS in Education. He then attended Michigan State University where he attained his MA in School Administration. He continued his quest for learning and received his Honorable Doctor of Education in School Administration from Breyer State University. In all, Don acquired and held the accomplishment of having received his Master Graduate School of Divinity and his Doctor of Divinity.
It was during this time when Don met Larilla “Merle” Newtown while at the Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music where they both sang with the Choralines. She worked as a car hop at one of the local restaurants, and a pretty, young woman with a beautiful singing voice, she captured Don’s heart. With much in common and a shared love for the Lord, Don and Merle dated for a year and on September 1, 1951, they were happily married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids They honeymooned at Niagara Falls before heading to the home of Merle’s brother in Boston, Massachusetts where they visited the Lexington Concord Bridge and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. It was not long before Don and Merle were blessed with the births of three fine sons, Claude Donald Jr., Arthur Bud and William Freeman.
When their family was young, they took a coast-to-coast, border-to-border trip during the Bicentennial year of 1976. Don and Merle also took a trip to the Holy Land and visited Rome, Athens, Cairo, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Switzerland in 1979. In 2001 they flew to his ancestral Chrysler home in Guntersblun, Germany which was a trip to remember. Family celebrations were always a big part of their lives where memories were made and cherished. When dining out, Don always loved a good meal at Pop’s Restaurant, especially to savor their chicken or turkey dinners, yet nothing compared to Merle’s beef or pork pot roasts.
Over the years. Don enjoyed stamp and coin collecting, bike riding and he was an avid Detroit Tigers fan. He enjoyed playing gospel songs on his saxophone and played in the Salvation Army Band for a while. He also sang in several gospel musical groups throughout his life.
For 54 years, from 1951 to 2005, Don served as a pastor at Coopersville Bible Church, Warren Grace Church, Croton Community Church and at Happy Days Bible Church. As always, Merle was right beside Don as his helpmate. In addition, he was also a schoolteacher and administrator at Conklin Elementary School, grades four through eight; Cummings Elementary School grade six; he was a principal at Cummings, Riverbend, Sand Creek and Delaney Elementary Schools all while touching the lives of many, many children. He also served as principal at Grandville East and Central Elementary Schools and was the Director of Special Services at Grandville Schools. For a time, he taught at Grand Valley State University and Jordan College.
With such a wide expanse in his career, it also found his family moving often. He and Merle began their life together in Grand Rapids on the city’s northwest side. They moved for a time to Coopersville, Warren and then back to the northwest side of Grand Rapids. After retiring, they bought a retirement home in Betmar Park, wintering in Zephyrhills, Florida. Following an accident that left Merle with health issues, they then took to living at Covenant Living of the Great Lakes where Don would eventually spend the last of his days. His beloved wife sadly died in October of 2015.
Following Merle’s death, Don carried on in faith and perseverance. An avid reader, some of his favorite authors included Cornelius R. Stam and Charles Baker, and most certainly, his bible was never far from reach. He counted his bible, photo albums and a few of the Chrysler family antiques as his most prized possessions.
A friend of many, Don was quite involved in his community. He served and was a life member of the Kent County Phi Delta Kappa, the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the Standale Optimists, was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the Michigan Association of School Principals and was chairman of the Walker Bicentennial Committee. Through the years, Don forged many friendships that became near and dear to his heart.
Early in 2016, at the age of 92, Don met Elizabeth Goudzwaard who soon became his “person of interest”. They enjoyed time spent together which brought shared joy. Later that year, the two were married at Covenant Village. Don’s love for Betty was felt by his children and grandchildren and they credit her for bringing love, laughter and dancing to his world.
A man of honor and integrity, Don Chrysler was a man of faith who lived by his convictions. Although deeply missed, he will be remembered fondly and affectionately for all that he gave, and more.
Rev. Claude Donald Chrysler “Don”, aged 95 of Grand Rapids, went to be with his Lord and Savior on Monday, January 25, 2021. Along with his parents, Don was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Merle (Newtown), their son, Don Chrysler II and by his brother, Arthur and his wife, Joyce Chrysler. Don is survived by his sons, Arthur “Bud” (Cheri) Chrysler and William (Binnie) Chrysler; 15 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. After the passing of Don’s first wife Merle, Don met Elizabeth Goudzwaard and the two dedicated their lives to each other in the eyes of the Lord.
The service to celebrate Don’s life will be held Saturday, January 30, 2021, 12 noon at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504. Relatives and friends may meet his family at the funeral home prior to the service beginning at 10:30 AM. Contributions in his memory may be made to Grace Life Bible Church, 3020 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504 or to Faith Hospice, 2100 Raybrook SE, Suite 300, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. To read more about Don’s life, to sign his online guest book and to share a favorite memory or photo, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com