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Woodhaven Reformed Church
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Life Story / Obituary
With an unwavering commitment to the care of those she loved, Harriet Reiffer lived a life rich in family. Naturally quiet, Harriet thrived in routine and was a very hard worker. Together, with the love of her life, Staff Reiffer, Harriet dedicated her life to serving others and ensuring their well being.
The early 1920s were marked by tremendous confidence, prosperity, and previously unknown comforts. The economy boomed, wages rose for most Americans, and prices fell, resulting in a higher standard of living for most. With the inventions of the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, self-winding watch, bulldozer, instant camera, drive-in restaurants, Band-Aids, and the convertible, the post-war era marked significant advancement and morale flourished throughout the land. While the US census proved for the first time in history that more Americans lived in urban areas than rural ones, the wave of sweeping social and economic growth grew exponentially with the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. More than a million women worked in white-collar jobs while the automobile industry nearly doubled. During this exciting time, William and Alice (VanderGallian) DeJager welcomed their daughter Harriet into their family on May 17, 1924, in Cambria, Wisconsin.
The youngest of the DeJagers’ two children, Harriet had several older half brothers and sisters, as each of her parents had been previously married. She and her sister, Sally, who was just three years older, grew up together and formed a friendship that would last their entire lives. William and Alice immigrated from the Netherlands in their 40s and raised Harriet and Sally on a Wisconsin farm.
Life on the farm was far from easy. There was no indoor plumbing, and the girls had to walk nearly six miles to attend school. From an early age, they also worked the farm, tending to many daily chores. Their parents only spoke Fris, and their mother longed for her home in the Netherlands. During these formidable years, Harriet’s work ethic became the firm foundation upon which she built the rest of her life.
When Harriet was around 16 years old, she moved to the greater Grand Rapids area. There, she lived with an aunt and uncle and helped in their household. She also worked for several other families in East Grand Rapids. Moving to West Michigan also resulted in joining her best friend and sister, who had previously moved to the area.
Harriet and Sally’s bond grew even stronger when they married the Reiffer brothers. Sally married Peter, and Harriet met Peter’s brother, Stafford. While Staff was in the service, Harriet lived with Sally and helped raise her oldest child. The sisters also worked in the local war factories during this time.
Once Staff safely returned home from serving in World World War II, the happy couple married, and the brother-sister couples spent a lot of time together. For many years, Harriet and Staff lived very close to Sally and Pete. Whether next door or down the street from one another, the couples stayed pretty close to the SW area of greater Grand Rapids.
In time, Harriet and Staff were blessed to welcome their three children to their family. Shirley, Stafford III, and Alice were the centers of their lives, and the couple worked hard to create a good home for them. As a mother, Harriet was strict and disciplined. A woman of routine, she kept a clean and orderly house. Thursdays were for grocery shopping, and Saturdays were all about cleaning the house. Harriet usually woke early in the morning to do laundry or meal preparation before leaving for work. Though cooking may not have been a passion for Harriet, she did make wonderful bread, cakes, and pies. She loved sweets! Peanut M&M’s, cookies, and ice cream were just some of her favorites.
Harriet worked through much of her life. She loved work and would likely have worked well into her 90s if she’d had her way. She worked many jobs over the years. For a time, she worked for Steelcase, then as a secretary at a department store. Her longest time at a job was working for Spartan Stores in the corporate office for the meat department, where she worked for about 18 years. Upon retiring from Spartan, she worked various part-time jobs, including time with Heritage Funeral Service.
While raising their children, Harriet and Staff enjoyed traveling, often with Sally, Pete, and their children. They camped throughout Michigan and also enjoyed a memorable two week road trip to California. The family attended Godwin Heights Christian Reformed Church for many years before Harriet and Staff spent their senior years associated with Woodhaven Reformed Church.
Never one to demand the spotlight, Harriet was content to keep her own company while Staff socialized. It was common to find Staff sitting outside talking with others, while Harriet was more comfortable indoors tending to the home or working on needlepoint. As they neared retirement, they bought property at Nettles Island, near Port St. Lucie in Florida. Though they did some traveling out west, to the New England states, and Hawaii, Florida became their home during the winter months. Over the years, they spent more and more winter months enjoying their coastal community.
As she grew older, Harriet mellowed and even developed a bit of a sense of humor. Though she was shy and preferred living quietly, once her husband passed away in 2006 and Sally in 2013, Harriet found herself wondering why she was left to live so long in their absence. She missed being able to converse in Fris with Sally and Staff’s good company. Though Harriet wanted to live independently, she required some additional care in her last years. Fortunately, she was able to live with her daughters, who afforded her much comfort.
Those who knew her would unhesitatingly agree that Harriet’s life centered on her family. She was a proud and devoted sister, wife, and mother. Though the world is undoubtedly less certain in the absence of Harriet’s steadfast presence, we find comfort in knowing that she has been reunited with her beloved husband and sister. May we find additional comfort in carrying her legacy of love, hard work, and family forward.
Harriet N. Reiffer, age 96, went home to be with her Lord and Savior on September 9, 2020. She was preceded in death by her husband, Stafford; her son-in-law, Robert Tofferi; her sister and brother-in-law Sally and Peter Reiffer, and several other nieces and nephews. Harriet is survived by her children Shirley Tofferi, Stafford (Janet) Reiffer III, Alice Reiffer; grandchildren Todd Tofferi, Amy (Steve) Greenway, Chad (Briana) Reiffer, Tamara Tofferi; great-grandchildren Drake, Brielle, Joshua, Aaron, Kyla, Kristin, and Elliana; as well as nieces and nephews. A private graveside service will be held. For those who wish, memorial contributions to either Faith Hospice or Woodhaven Reformed Church. To read more about Harriet, to share a memory, or to sign her guestbook, visit www.heritagelifestory.com