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Life Story / Obituary
James Peterson was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. His mantra in life was to approach any challenge with positivity and an adventurous spirit! His grandchildren along with others witnessed his undaunting zest for life when he completed a bucket list item by riding the luge at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex! With plenty of people cheering him on, Jim lived a lifetime of accepting whatever challenge he was given. He was no ordinary man of his time and is deserving of every remembrance and special memory he passed along to his many special friends and loved ones.
Despite the tough times of the Great Depression, Helen (Larson) Peterson welcomed the arrival of her baby boy, James, who was born just months after his father, Herman Peterson, died suddenly. Born the youngest sibling to his brother, Howard, and sister, Doris, they remained close as Helen was tasked with working and raising three young children as a single mom. Along with Helen, the children were raised by supportive extended family and church members. By the age of twelve, Jim's mother remarried a wonderful man, Carl Johnson, who accepted each and every one of them as if they were his own.
Growing up in Detroit, the children learned the value of a good education, shared a steadfast faith, and pitched in to support the family. Carl took Jim fishing building wonderful childhood memories. Jim attended Cass Tech high school and in 1954 he enlisted in the United States Army. Stationed in Germany as a vehicle mechanic, he developed his love of cars which later led him to a twenty-year project of rebuilding a 1966 springtime yellow Mustang convertible. Smitten with his high school sweetheart, Joyce Niemisto, whom he met at his church youth group, those two years in the service didn’t seem to phase their commitment to one another. As a matter of fact, they continued dating for another four years while he was an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Jim and Joyce were married in the Evangelical Covenant Church of Detroit on September 10, 1960. With little funds, they set off for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula returning through the state of Wisconsin for their honeymoon. As luck would have it, their marriage vows of in sickness and in health were most certainly put to the test when they both came down with the flu during the first two days of the trip! Theirs was a special kind of love that outlasted even the most intimidating challenges.
Their daughter, Pam arrived on July 24, 1961. Nearly three years later to the day, Karole was born on June 19, 1964, and Greg, who completed their family on November 23, 1966. Jim treasured their annual trips to Portage Lake Covenant Bible Camp as well as a special trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with the Turnquist family. As a father, Jim was protective and loving. He wanted nothing more than the best for each of his children and worked tirelessly to provide for them over the years. His Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Marketing landed him a position with the Ford Motor Company Management Training Program. One of Jim's professional traits was the ability to remember anyone's name, a trait he aquirred while working as a student at Michigan State University's Kellogg Center. Through his job as a server, he had the opportunity to wait on Michigan Governor " Soapy" Williams taking note that the governor knew Jim by name. Jim worked over 35 years for the company, and after a short period of retirement, Ford Motor Company recognized the loss of Jim's expertise and hired him back as a consultant for Sales and Marketing. Over the years the family had homes in Dearborn and West Bloomfield, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri before retiring to Muskegon, Michigan and finally residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Due to the fact that he traveled so much for work, he longed for home cooked meals! He’d eat just about anything, yet favored fish, especially salmon or any fish he had caught. Jim never turned down a bowl of rice pudding or his ultimate favorite, ice cream! Jim also looked forward to the annual event of making potato sausage with special friends.
During his many years of travel with Ford, Joyce was able to join Jim on several trips including Hawaii and South America. They cultivated their love of travel by visiting many countries in Europe including favorites Sweden, Germany and Great Britain. They also toured to Australia, New Zealand, and Alaska. A point of pride was a very memorable trip they took for their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebrating with the whole family on a Caribbean cruise! Jim was one of the founding members of the Thor Stock Club of Detroit, a professional men's club that met monthly to discuss investment opportunities. Jim was a life-long member of the Evangelical Covenant Church and throughout the years held positions on the Trustee Board, including Chairman of Trustees. Jim's hobbies included ice skating and ice hockey, pheasant hunting and sailing. He spent summers participating in weekly sailboat races while a member of the Pontiac Yacht Club in the Detroit area and Muskegon Yacht Club on Muskegon Lake.
Jim enjoyed his role as a father, and felt truly blessed with the addition of five grandchildren (Brittany, Courtney, Alex, Sarah and Drake). Jim shared his love and talent of dancing by teaching his grandchildren how to "line dance," and his love of fishing with outings on his boat in Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan. Jim loved to give them encouragement and each could quote his heartfelt challenge, "If you work hard and get good grades, you can be anything you want to be." Attending sporting events or school activities was important to him. Jim instilled in each of them to govern themselves with integrity and honor.
No greater example of these values were given than when Jim moved so courageously through his twenty-one year journey with Parkinson’s Disease, using his inner strength and sense of humor to get through the many challenges. Committed to helping others, he entered a study at the Cleveland Clinic that involved deep brain stimulation so that others may one day have a chance for a cure. A man of simple pleasures, Jim’s most prized possessions were both his family and his faith. In his opinion, his best investment by far was his marriage license! Described as "one of a kind", strong, and courageous, Jim leaves behind a beautiful example of living life to the fullest. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered by all who knew and loved him.
James H. Peterson age 81, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away on September 19, 2017, with his loving family at his side. Jim was born on November 28, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan the son of the late Herman and Helen (Larson) Peterson. On September 10, 1960, he married Joyce Niemisto. Jim retired from Ford Motor Company after 35 plus years, and he was a lifelong member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Jim is survived by his wife of 57 years, Joyce; children, Pam (Greg) Guest of Norton Shores, Karole (Chris) Baar of Comstock Park, Gregory Peterson of Norton Shores; grandchildren, Brittany, Courtney & Alex Guest and Sarah & Drake Baar; sister, Doris (Al) Erickson of Brighton; nieces and nephews. Jim was preceded in death by his parents; stepfather, Carl Johnson; and brother, Howard Peterson. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, September 26 at 10 AM at First Evangelical Covenant Church, 1933 Tremont Blvd. NW. Friends may visit with Jim's family on Monday from 4-7 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW and from 9-10 AM at the church. Memorials may be made to Covenant Village of the Great Lakes Benevolent Fund or Safe Harbor Christian Communities Endowment Fund. Please visit Jim's personal web page to leave a memory, condolence or sign the online guestbook at www.lifestorynet.com.