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Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Joe Veenstra would agree that he was an exceptionally caring and generous person. He especially loved his family and was no stranger to the hard work it took to provide for them over the years. Joe leaves behind a rich tapestry of memories shared with those he loved. There is no doubt that he will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by his many special loved ones.
Welcomed home by Joseph and Minnie (Van Houten) Veenstra on August 18, 1925, Joseph brought great joy to his loving parents. The Roaring Twenties held a significant time in our nation’s history with jazz music booming and the automotive industry gaining momentum. However, by the end of the decade, the nation was hit by tough economic times leaving nearly every aspect of life deeply affected by an era known as the Great Depression.
Growing up at 1313 Courtney NW, Joe lived a typical childhood of the times. His father, who immigrated from the Netherlands, worked for the City of Grand Rapids water department and his mother, a Chicago native, was a wonderful homemaker. He was born the fifth child out of a family of seven children who were raised in the Christian faith. They regularly attended both the West End Christian Reformed Church and also the Seventh Reformed Church throughout their upbringing. As a family, vacationing normally revolved around visits with their extended relatives in the Atwood area. On one trip up north, when Joe was seven years old, he survived a roll over accident while traveling in a vehicle with friends and family. Luckily, they all survived but the memory remained throughout his years. During these trips, Joe especially grew fond of fishing in the Betsie River.
Challenged with tough times, his family always grew their own vegetables and Joe continued his love of gardening into his own adulthood and beyond. Joe attended West End Elementary School and a memorable time was when he once mistook the school bell ringing during his recess to be the end of the day bell and walked himself home! His frugalness was noticeable from a young age when his parents would give him a nickel to ride the city bus to school when there was inclement weather. Joe would walk anyway and save his nickel for spending money! He later transferred to Harris Middle School and then to Union High School. Joe was the only one of his siblings to graduate high School. Ambitious as well as driven, Joe had acquired enough credits to finish up early and enlist with the Army Air Core. Joining the Army, afforded him many opportunities. During his time as an airplane mechanic, Joe was able to travel to California and Texas. Thankful to serve, he always reflected positively on these years.
Returning to Grand Rapids after his three years of service, he accepted a wide variety of jobs. His excellent people as well as business skills helped him purchase Standale Sales and Services. He was immensely proud of his business as well as installing the very first mechanical car wash in the area. Successful in his business, he made frequent deposits to the Old Kent Bank in town. As a result, he fell for the charming young lady, Betty Lou DeGraaf, who worked as a teller behind the counter! They wasted no time in spending the rest of their lives together and married on February 9, 1962, in Lamont, Michigan. Joe adopted her son, Ken, and raised him as his own. After their romantic Florida honeymoon, they settled in their home at 1865 Pheasant Street NW in Walker. It was here that they welcomed home their remaining five children; Glen, Mark, Jon, Betty Jo, and Kathy completing their family.
Family was always important to Joe and Betty. Later, when his mother passed away, they also took in his father as well. During their child-raising years, all of them were expected to be at the dinner table. Meal times were essential to developing the close relationships that carried them throughout their lives. Always resourceful and looking for innovative ways to support his family, Joe made furniture for the household and maintained a large garden to grow their own food. With sacrifices both large and small, he provided them with a swimming pool for their backyard as well as their own bicycles. For leisure time, they often enjoyed riding together as a family on long bike rides or car trips as far as Tennessee or South Dakota. Much like his own childhood, they also traveled to northern Michigan to share time with relatives. Many of their summers were spent in their pop up camper or a rental cottage when the kids were older. Traditional Christians, Sundays were for services at Remembrance Reformed Church and no one was expected to do work on these days. Joe believed in keeping the Sabbath Holy to the point that when the Shell Oil Company insisted his station remain open on Sundays during the 1980s, Joe refused which later cost him his business. Never one to remain idle, Joe found a part-time job for Kenowa Auto Parts where he happily remained for twenty years.
Retirement afforded he and Betty time to travel together and enjoy their many special pastimes. They visited all of the states except for Hawaii! They were happy to also tour Austria and Australia. Physically active throughout their years, Joe and Betty were known to ride their bikes for ten or fifteen miles at a time. Many of these trips included a stop for an ice cream cone! They were blessed with one special trip just a year before Betty passed in 2012 to beautiful Mackinac Island with some of their children and grandchildren. After sharing fifty wonderful years together, her loss was difficult for Joe. He continued meeting with his close friends for morning coffee as well as sharing meals at the Rainbow Grill and Russ’ Restaurants. In his spare time, he cherished building wooden toys for his grandchildren and dabbling in his coin collection. In 2017, he experienced a stroke that slowed him down considerably. With the support of his loving family, he was granted his wish to be able to remain in the home he had built. Always optimistic and never one to complain, even on his worst days, Joe never let on and enjoyed the company of his family and special visitors. A remarkable man who walked in faith, Joe leaves behind a generous amount of many wonderful memories to be enjoyed by his special friends and loved ones for generations to come.
Joseph Veenstra died July 27, 2020 while in the comfort of his home and in the company of his family and is now in the arms of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Joseph was born in the summer of 1925 in Grand Rapids, MI to the late Joseph and Minnie Veenstra. Along with his parents, he is preceded in death by his wife of 50 years, Betty Lou [DeGraaf]. Joseph is survived by his children, Ken (Stacy), Glen (Nancy), Mark (Kristi), Jon (Wendy), Betty Jo, and Kathy; his grandchildren; Kate (Andrew), Kelly, Ben, Drew (Brooke), Taylor, and Grace; 5 great-grandchildren; brother-in-law Robert DeGraaf and many nieces, nephews, and friends. A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 11 AM on Saturday, August 1, 2020 at Remembrance Church, (4575 Remembrance Rd NW, Walker MI 49534). Friends may visit with family from 5-7 PM on Thursday, July 30, 2020 at Remembrance Church, and for one hour prior to the service at the church on Saturday. Contributions in his memory to Edison Christian Life Services, (1000 Edison Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504) would be appreciated. Please visit Joseph’s personal memory page at heritagelifestory.com, where you can share a favorite memory or photo, and sign the online guestbook.