Life Story / Obituary
Humble and hardworking, honest and caring, friendly and funny, Jesse Oakes lived a life rich in faith, family, and friends. Having grown up in the south during a time of global challenge, Jesse devoted himself to ensuring his loved ones had a better life. He never shied from hard work and also knew how to have a good time. Smart and positive, he carefully cared for others, wisely inspiring humor and hope at every turn. Jesse embodied the principle of his faith, greeting each person as a friend and welcoming every moment as a gift. Regardless of life’s hardships, Jesse always found something to be grateful for, and in so doing, proved a powerful role model for all who were blessed to know him. An inspiring husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend, Jesse will long be remembered and so very missed.
1928 continued to ride the decade’s roaring wave of peace, prosperity, and hope. The nation celebrated the recent inventions of Penicillin, the iron lung, bubble gum, and the Yo-Yo, as well as Charles Lindbergh’s Congressional Medal of Honor and Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. As the wave of sweeping social and economic growth rapidly increased, nowhere was there more hope for the future than in the home of Luther Ciscro and Elizabeth Margaret (Davis) Oakes as they welcomed their son, Jesse to their family on May 26, in Madison County, Alabama.
The second youngest of the seven Oakes kids, Jesse’s early days were filled with activity and family values. Both of his parents were born in Georgia, where his father worked in textile mills. His dad was a sharecropper in Madison County and was a janitor at Kelvinator. Jesse’s mom was a homemaker. Sadly, the family knew its hard times, especially in the fall of 1927 when the Oakes’ 18-month-old son, Louie, died, and later in 1934, when Jesse’s mother died. Despite the hard times, Jesse grew up knowing the comfort of sharing the closeness of a tight-knit family. His siblings, Faye, James, Elbert, Dorothy, and Richard, were his first and longest friends.
When he was little, the family lived in Georgia and Alabama. As a young boy, he eventually moved in with his brother Elbert and sister-in-law, Eva, and attended Model High School in Shannon, Georgia. Gifted, talented, and outgoing, Jesse liked to hunt, fish, and play baseball. He was a prayer master too, and a member of Enon Baptist Church in Floyd County, Georgia. He also possessed an uncanny ability to perfectly deliver a hilarious one-liner at the most appropriate time.
Like many in his generation, Jesse proudly answered the call to serve his country. On March 29, 1946, he enlisted in the Army at Shannon, Georgia. After completing basic training, he had advanced Medical Technician training. During his service, he was stationed in Denver, Colorado, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and in Medical Detachment, 53rd Field Artillery Battalion in Korea.
At 19, while shopping at the local grocery, Jesse met the love of his life, 18-year-old Agnus “Aggie” Gustinis, who was working the meat counter. Instantly smitten by Aggie’s beauty, Jesse returned to the store day after day, buying a single slice of bologna and relishing the chance to see and talk to Aggie. As this continued for quite some time, Aggie couldn’t help but notice the handsome young man who returned day after day. Finally, Jesse gathered his courage and asked Aggie for a date. Without hesitation, Aggie accepted his invitation, and their love story began. It didn’t take long for the young couple to recognize their good fortune in finding true love. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, the sweethearts married at the Justice of Peace in Grand Rapids, Michigan, officially beginning their more than 70 years together.
The newlyweds settled in the Heritage Hill area of Grand Rapids, and though Aggie had also been working as an aide in the local hospital, she stopped working there once she and Jesse married. Jesse and Aggie welcomed five children to their family. Rick, Ron, Janet, Betsy, and Connie were the centers of their worlds. Jesse dedicated himself to creating a loving and supportive home for his family. He provided for his family by working in retail sales at Sears and Roebuck Co., eventually advancing to management. During their semi-retirement years, Jesse and Aggie worked together installing draperies. Jesse installed the drapes, and Aggie made them look perfect.
Jesse was a life member of VFW 702 and volunteered at the Wyoming VA Clinic. Faith was the foundation of Jesse’s life. He served as Deacon and Trustee at Standale Baptist Church, and his favorite book was the Bible. He preferred Gospel and Country music, and “I’ll Fly Away” was his favorite song. Jesse enjoyed summer travels to Shannon and Rossville, Georgia, to share time with relatives and, in retirement, traveled much of the midwest and Florida too. While Jesse loved his sweets and a good meal with fried chicken, pinto beans with whole sweet onions, or one of his excellent hot dogs, he was never taken in by possessions. Instead, his greatest treasure was his relationships, especially with his beloved Aggie, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Without a doubt, the world feels less certain in the absence of Jesse’s steadfast companionship. May we find comfort in the faith that he and Aggie have been reunited in a home on God’s celestial shore in a land where joy shall never end. May we also find comfort in the honor of carrying his honorable legacy forward. Each time we choose faith and hope over fear and despair, confidently face life’s challenges, indulge in a Moon Pie, gather with those we love, and share a hearty laugh, we celebrate the many ways Jesse gifted our lives. In this way, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired each of us.
Jesse W. Oakes, of Tallmadge Township, MI, passed to eternal life on Thursday, December 15, 2022. Along with his parents, Jesse is preceded in death by his wife, Agnes (Gustinis). He was also preceded in death by his son, Rick Oakes, grandson Michael Sahlberg and son-in-law, Michael Huber. He is survived by his children, Ron (Kathie) Oakes of Grand Rapids, Janet (Bill) Sahlberg of Coopersville, Betsy Huber of Sparta, Connie (Doug) Wiers of Allendale, and daughter-in-law, Jan Oakes of Grand Rapids, as well as by his grandchildren, Eric (Missy) Oakes, Lana (Brian) DenHarder, Laurie (Randy) Brummel, Mindy (Eric) Kiliszewski, Dani (Jeff) Duncan, Amanda (Ben) Jansen, Jacob (Chrissy) Oakes, Ben (Jessica) Sahlberg, Matthew (Kristen) Sahlberg, Andy (Lindsey) Wiers, Traci DeVowe, Nikki (Jake) Wolffis and great-grandchildren, Morgan, Addison, Cole, Lauren, Quinn, Gavin, Marisa, Mikayla, Lindsey, Cammy, Benji, Ellary, Edison, Emmalyn, Caroline, Violet, Lainey, Levi, Nicholas, Evelyn, Emily, Carter, Aiden, Ava, Lyla, and Emma, and many nieces and nephews.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday, January 4, 2023, at 11 AM at Standale Baptist Church (3714 Lake Michigan Drive NW). Friends may visit family Tuesday, January 3, 2023, from 5-8 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home (2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504) and beginning at 10 AM at the church before the service. Jessie will be laid to rest next to Agnes in Rosedale Memorial Park.