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.
Grace Christian Academy
1000 Ball Avenue NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Plymouth Christian School
965 Plymouth Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Life Story / Obituary
Humble, faithful, and kind, Donald "Don" Engelsma lived a life rich in family and friends. Don was a hardworking man who liked to be in control but also possessed a great sense of humor. Proud and private, he generously gave all he could in service of others. Don never required the spotlight and was content in the simple pleasures of sharing the companionship of others, the satisfaction of a job well done, and a well-received joke. Whether tending the farm, serving his country, supporting his community, or encouraging his family members to follow their dreams, Don welcomed each moment as a gift. Don was a cherished brother, uncle, and friend who will long be remembered and so very missed.
The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. Post-war peace, a booming economy, rising wages for most Americans, and falling consumer prices gave rise to a higher standard of living for most. The world quickly changed with the inventions of wash machines, vacuum cleaners, the band-aid, and the first automobile with a combustion engine. Tremendous confidence, prosperity, and previously unknown comforts marked this roaring decade when a person's success was largely determined by their ability to identify their desires and then work to make them a reality. Locally, this vibrant decade grew even brighter for George and Cornelia (Neele) Engelsma as they welcomed their son Don to their family on May 1, 1923.
Born at home in Walker, Michigan, Don was the son of first-generation immigrants. From the Netherlands, his mother Cornelia was birthed on the ship heading to America. The third of the six Engelsma children, Don grew up on the family-owned farm at 3884 O'Brien Road. His childhood centered on the many responsibilities that came with such a project, including raising red raspberries, which were taken to market. In time, customers were allowed to pick their own. While the girls were in charge of the garden, the boys worked the horses and milked the cows. The family purchased their first tractor in 1940, and all of the kids attended McCarthy School, a one-room schoolhouse with 40 students and one teacher. Barbara was the only sibling to attend high school as the older kids were required to help meet the work demands of the farm, and there was no transportation to school.
During his leisure time, Don loved baseball. He mostly just played pick-up games and felt confident in his skills as a pitcher; he was known to say he was good enough for the Tigers. In 1944, Don was drafted into the military. He and his friend from church traveled to Detroit for their physicals and were given the opportunity to choose between the Army, Navy, or Marines. Don's friend chose the Navy, so Don did too. He and his friend were sent for Basic Training at Great Lakes in Chicago; as the war was ending, they were never deployed.
After completing his service in the Navy, Don returned to the family farm. Don and his brother worked for the owner of Widdicomb Furniture Company, and eventually, he and Ted purchased 80 acres. Having secured/borrowed all but $4,000 of the $12,000.00 to buy the farm, they sold the standing timber on the land to Elenbaas Saw Mill of Hudsonville and made the farm their own. Over time they expanded to 120 acres and then 160 acres; growing apple trees and caring for 50-60 dairy cows kept everyone very busy.
Don and his sister Nellie lived together. They made their home in their parents' house before building a home on the property they shared in the O'Brien Neighborhood. a close community where Don was well-known by all his neighbors. While he never had a family of his own, he loved children. Several generations of nieces and nephews and children at church enjoyed his love and generosity, which often took the form of a pocketful of peppermint candies. He loved to tease the children, especially about his missing finger and what "caused" it. Local trips with his family to the ice cream parlor and McDonald's were always a treat. He also treasured taking day trips to Shipshewana and joining his family on vacations to Mackinac and Ohio.
A man who enjoyed the simple joys of routine, Don started his mornings, six days a week, at McDonald's for coffee and visiting with the other regulars. On Sundays, he faithfully attended church. A lifelong member of Heritage Reformed Congregation, Don lived his faith and, by example, encouraged others to do so as well. Don enjoyed listening to Detroit Tiger Baseball on the radio, the good company of his dog, Honey Boy, and sweets. On Saturday nights, he would pick up his friend Jim DeMeester for supper at Ponderosa Steak House.
Though the world feels less certain in the absence of Don's steadfast companionship, may we find much comfort in our many treasured memories. May we also find comfort in the honor of carrying his legacy of faith, generosity, and kindness forward. In each moment, we freely give of our time and talents, encourage our loved one's endeavors, and enjoy the simple pleasures of a McDonald's coffee, dish of ice cream, slice of pie, or dinner out with a friend, we celebrate the many ways Don gifted our lives. In this way, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired each of us.
Donald Engelsma, age 99, passed peacefully on April 11, 2023. Don was born at home on May 1, 1923, in Walker, MI, to the late George and Cornelia (Neele) Engelsma. He was also preceded in death by his brothers, sisters, and brothers-in-law, Theodore and Corinne Engelsma, Jeannette and John DeMaagd, Nellie Engelsma, Marie Engelsma, and Herman Koning. Don is survived by his brother, James Engelsma; his sister, Barbara Koning; and many nieces, nephews, great and great great nieces and nephews. A funeral service will be held Saturday, April 15, 2023, at 11 AM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. Friends may visit with family Friday, 5-7 pm, and beginning at 10 AM Saturday. Interment will be in River Bend Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Grace Christian Academy or Plymouth Christian School. To read more of Don's life story, and leave a memory or condolence, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.