Honoring Tradition.
Celebrating Life.

Harriet Gillesse

May 2, 1926 - October 13, 2018
Grand Rapids, MI



Thursday, October 18, 2018
5:00 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
(616) 453-8263
Driving Directions


Friday, October 19, 2018
11:00 AM EDT
East Leonard Christian Reformed Church
1027 Leonard Street NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505


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.

Christian Rest Home Foundation
1000 Edison Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Ball Park Floral
8 Valley Ave.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 459-3409
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


With unending devotion to her family, Harriet Gillesse made a significant impact in the lives of her loved ones. She understood the value of hard work and did everything to the best of her ability. Harriet took her roles as a wife, mother, and grandmother to heart, and later in life she was blessed to become a great-grandmother as well. A woman of faith, she also volunteered within the community she called home throughout her entire life. Deeply loved, Harriet will never be forgotten.

Peter and Jacoba (Doorn) Timmer announced the birth of the baby girl they named Harriet Rolena on May 2, 1926, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was the younger of two in her family as she was raised in the family home on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids alongside her sister, Wilma, who was three years older. Both of her parents were Dutch immigrants, so Harriet could speak Dutch as this language was spoken in the home. As a family they were members of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, which is where she learned the fundamentals of the faith she held near and dear to her heart throughout her life. Harriet attended Baxter Christian School and later graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. She and her sister helped out around the house and also cared for their mother. This experience inspired both Harriet and her sister to attend college and become nurses. She graduated from Mercy Central School of Nursing in 1947 and then went into public health, which was an early form of home healthcare.

Not to be forgotten during her years as a young woman was Harriet’s introduction to the man who would change the course of her life forever. His name was Paul Gillesse, and he was the milkman who couldn’t help but notice Harriet. He waited to ask her out for a bit as he was five years older, but once she was in nursing school Paul asked Harriet out on a date. After he returned from the Navy, they spent more time together and were married in January of 1948 at Eastern Avenue CRC. The newlyweds initially lived on Alexander Street and they later moved to Dickinson Street, then to their long term home on Emerald Street with their three children, Daniel, Jane, and Donald.

Around the home Harriet was amazing. She was an exceptional cook, and even though she worked in her nursing career outside of the home the family always had meals together. Harriet was a meat and potatoes kind of cook, and she also made wonderful Dutch apple pie, banket, peanut brittle, German potato salad, and vegetable soup. If she knew of someone’s favorite dish and they were coming over for a meal she was sure to make it for them. Harriet was a volunteer at her children’s school, and in the mid-fifties the family began attending East Leonard Christian Reformed Church. As a family they took a memorable trip to California, and they also rented a cottage each summer at Big Star Lake. When the kids were a little older, Harriet and Paul built a cottage on Silver Lake near Hart, which became the backdrop for many fond family memories.

While raising kids and caring for her family, Harriet continued working as a nurse. She was passionate about helping others, and she truly loved her job at Butterworth where she worked for 20 years. Harriet then began working in occupational health. First, at Steelcase for many years, and from there she worked as the head nurse at the post office for 16 years until her retirement in 1988. Even then Harriet kept on going as she worked in a temp service for nurses in the industrial areas. As she retired, she regularly volunteered with Northview Seniors and Salvation Army Seniors, and she also took blood pressure for seniors.

As her family and friends can attest, Harriet was rarely one to be still. She bowled twice a week and also delivered Meals on Wheels. Retirement found Harriet spending more time with her grandchildren, and she enjoyed treating them to stays at her house. All of Harriet’s grandchildren loved going to visit their grandma and grandpa. Harriet and Paul enjoyed going to Florida during the winter for years, staying a bit longer each time they went. As Paul grew older, Harriet lovingly cared for him until his death in 2009. In 2013, Harriet was forced to slow down after suffering a stroke. She then moved to the Christian Rest Home. A second stroke in 2016 began a slow deterioration of Harriet’s health.

With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around her, Harriet Gillesse made a big impact. At her core she was one of the most giving and loving people around, and nearly her entire life was spent caring for others in ways both great and small. Harriet was so devoted to her family, and everyone knew they could count on her to be there when needed. A dear woman to many, she will be forever missed.

Harriet Gillesse, age 92 of Grand Rapids, passed away and went home to be with her Lord and Savior on October 13, 2018. She was preceded in death by her husband, Paul; son-in-law Tom Orange; and daughter-in-law Karen Gillesse. Harriet is survived by her children Daniel Gillesse, Jane (Tom) VanderHyde, and Donald (Jackie) Gillesse; 9 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren; sister, Wilma Roeters; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law William (Shirlee) Gillesse and Marie (Albert) Hart; as well as several nieces and nephews. The service to remember and celebrate Harriet's life will be held on Friday, October 19, 2018 at 11 AM at East Leonard Christian Reformed Church, 1027 Leonard Street NE. Friends are invited to visit with her family on Thursday from 5-8 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. The family expresses their sincere appreciation to the staff of Christian Rest Home for their compassion and care shown to Harriet and encourage memorial contributions to the Christian Rest Home Foundation. To read more about Harriet's life, to share a favorite memory or to sign her guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com