Life Story / Obituary
With ways all her own, Jo DeGraaf added much to the lives around her. Devoted and dedicated, everyone loved her loving and helpful nature. Although she could be opinionated at times and brutally honest, Jo was a welcoming woman who lived by way of example. It was a joy to share her company and faith-filled heart. Dearly loved by her family and friends, Jo will be fondly remembered.
Jo’s story began on October 10, 1926 in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The daughter of Ralph and Sarah (Wondergem) Winkel, it was an exciting time in our nation during the heyday of the Roaring Twenties. Major U.S. manufacturers were implementing the beginning of the first eight-hour, five-day work week, and factory towns were flourishing. Born Josephine Anna Winkel, Jo was the fifth of eventually seven children in the Winkel home. She grew up alongside her siblings with whom she was close, Dick, Cornelius, Elizabeth, Jeannette, Raymond, and Willard. Her father worked as a belt sander before later becoming the proprietor of his own grocery store while her mother was a busy homemaker. Raised in faith, Jo’s parents were charter members of East Leonard Christian Reformed Church where her family attended regularly and stayed active. In addition to her family, the Winkel’s always seemed to have a boarder. Jo often recalled saying there were always “ten around the table”, meaning her two parents, she and her siblings along with a usual boarder
The onset of the Great Depression created financial havoc from coast to coast. Jo and her family, like many, saw their share of struggles, too. They made their home in the Fuller and Leonard Street area where Jo’s father eventually had his own grocery store. Despite the times, Jo and her siblings found themselves enjoying numerous adventures, fun, and a little mischief. They especially loved cranking up the car for quick spins around the orchard in addition to Christmas traditions and other holiday celebrations making treasured memories along the way. When the store closed on Saturday nights, the family would pack up the car and go to Vogel Center to visit family. Even though they never experienced family vacations like we know today, these were memorable trips that would include a flat tire along the journey and a refreshing, cool drink of fresh water from the well that everyone always looked forward to.
Jo was a bit mischievous growing up and she certainly paid the price for it, too! Her parents would “send her to the farm” when she needed reminders of hard work and discipline, and she despised getting up early and she hated animals. She often got “stuck” mowing the grass, and she disliked that also! She found herself getting into trouble at school, too, but instead of the farm, she spent a lot of time being sent to the hall. Jo liked to roller skate and often took the bus downtown to Division Street to skate. During her teen years she worked at the family grocery store as a clerk and soon became quite proficient at math and adding up the orders in her mind so accurately that customers wanted the other worker to better their chance of getting something for free when a mistake was made!
Jo attended Creston Christian School for elementary before going on to attend Grand Rapids Christian High School. She always walked to school because there was rarely a ride available. She met Clarence DeGraaf while roller skating after he was discharged from the Navy. Before long they were married and to their union they shared the love of three wonderful children. Chuck came along in 1949, and Mary followed in 1952. Tim completed their family in 1959 because Jo was lonely for a baby to hold, or so the story goes! Jo was a great mom. She attended all the kid’s ball games and was active in their schooling. Through- out the years she peeled hundreds of apples to bake pies for fundraisers for the Christian School Association. An excellent cook and talented baker altogether, Jo’s specialty included Vamino bars and her favorite restaurants were Red Hot, Stoneys, and Mr. Steak. A strict parent, Jo kept tabs on her kids. It wasn’t easy hiding things from her because she knew everything they were up to. She’d even check if the TV was warm when the kids weren't supposed to be watching it. She made a loving, good home for her family which was always so sparkling clean one could see their footprints when you walked across her vacuumed carpet.
Having remained very close to her sisters, Jeannette and Elizabeth, Jo was always the designated driver as the other girls didn’t drive. Once a week, Jo would pick them up and they’d each get their hair done together after having a nice breakfast out. Hairspray was very important to Jo as well as looking her best. She was a nice dresser and was always well put together. She also traveled with her sisters twice a year each spring and fall to Traverse City for a few days.
When it came to music, Jo was fond of country and western music, particularly the sounds of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Saying Jo was an avid reader would be an understatement. She so enjoyed reading, especially mysteries and romance novels. She absolutely loved the “Little Women” series by Louise May Alcott and books by James Patterson. In her free time she also liked doing word searches, or as she called them, “Circle Books”. She was truly proud of her clean car, and the fact that it was a fast car, too!
Jo had a servant’s heart and prison ministry held a special place in her heart. For many years she provided bible study lessons to inmates through correspondence all while adding much needed support and encouragement in her letters to those incarcerated. Yet near and dear to Jo’s heart was the love she held for her grandchildren. She reveled in being a loving grandparent and spoiled her grandkids as much as she could. She took them to breakfast every Sunday morning and on their way home from somewhere they’d stop by her house where she’d always treat them to a cold coke and candy or ice cream.
For many reasons, Jo DeGraaf was beloved by all she encountered. She could be a little feisty at times with her honest demeanor, yet that was only one of the many things to love about her. Generous and always lending a helping hand, Jo was empowered by her strong and active faith. She will be lovingly remembered for the many ways she loved her family and for her strong faith in Jesus through all circumstances. Dearly missed, Jo leaves behind a legacy of cherished memories never to be forgotten.
On June 26, 2018 at the age of 91, Josephine A. “Jo” DeGraaf of Grand Rapids left her earthly body and is now in heaven with her Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Mourning our loss and celebrating her gain are her children, Chuck (Nita) DeGraaf, Tim (June) DeGraaf; grandchildren, Chris DeGraaf, Angela Lorenz, Michelle (Paul) Realini, Aaron (Jessica) DeGraaf, Sarah (Robert) Rose, Matt (Bridget) DeGraaf; step-grandchildren, Mark Savara, Mike Savara, Susan Savara, David (Julie) Savara; great-grandchildren, Paige DeGraaf, Dylan Lorenz, Caden Realini, Lauren & Henry DeGraaf, William Rose, Jack, Marshall, & Hazel DeGraaf. Also surviving are her brother, Raymond (Dorothy) Winkel; sister-in-law, Henrietta Winkel; and many nieces and nephews. Jo was preceded in death by her daughter, Mary Young; two sisters and by three brothers. According to her wishes cremation has taken place. A memorial service will be held Friday, July 6 at 2:00 PM at Fulton Manor, 1540 Fulton St NE. Friends may visit beginning at 1:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Hope for You, c/o East Leonard CRC. Please visit Jo's web page to read more of her life story, leave a memory or condolence at www.lifestorynet.com.