Honoring Tradition.
Celebrating Life.

Lester "Les" Gilbert

December 15, 1942 - May 9, 2021
Belmont, MI



Friday, June 11, 2021
4:00 PM EDT
Pathway Church of Saranac
4960 Portland Rd
Saranac, MI 48881
(616) 642-6210

A light dinner will follow the service

Web Site


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Web Site

Ronald McDonald House of Cincinnati
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Ball Park Floral
8 Valley Ave.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 459-3409
Driving Directions
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Life Story / Obituary


When reflecting on the life of Lester James Gilbert Jr., it is easy to see his unwavering faith in his Lord & savior Jesus Christ through an unconditional love for his family. He valued his loved ones above all else, and he never took a single moment with them for granted. A genuine passion for service and helping others allowed Les to touch the lives of almost everyone he met. He constantly had a positive attitude and was a source of strength, even in the most difficult of times. Dearly loved, Les will be deeply missed.

During the first half of the 1940s, the eyes of our nation were focused overseas as countless Americans served our nation during WWII. Those who remained stateside became familiar with rationing on common goods like rubber, paper, and canned goods. The reality of war was very prevalent in the lives of Lester Sr. and Johanna (Smits) Gilbert as she welcomed the birth of their son, Lester James, Jr., without her husband as he was a soldier at that time and a WWII POW. Born in Corsica, South Dakota, Les spent his earliest days living with his mother and her brother’s family during the war.

In many ways, Les grew up as a typical young man of his generation. As a young child, he suffered from many allergies, and until the age of two, he could only eat goat milk and bananas. The Gilbert family moved to Michigan when Les was 11 as this is where his father’s family was from. His father took a job as a cabinet maker with Hekman Furniture in Grand Rapids. Les attended local schools in Wyoming and Unity Christian High School until the eleventh grade. He didn’t like school very much and instead began working on muck farms. Les then went on to pursue a career at Imperial Furniture/Bergsma Brothers, where he would continue to work as a sander for twenty years similar to his father.

New and exciting changes were on the horizon for Les when he met the woman of his dreams as a young man. Her name was Cheryl Burgess, and the two were originally set up by a cousin. They went on a blind date with the cousin and their parents for a night of dancing. From there Les and Cheryl continued dating for two years as their relationship blossomed into something much deeper. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, they were married on October 5, 1963, at Beverly Reformed Church. At the time, Les was 20 while Cheryl was 18 and had just graduated from high school. For their 10th anniversary, Les & Cheryl had a formal marriage recommitment ceremony. Then they took a long belated honeymoon to Bay City and Frankenmuth to celebrate.

Eager to begin their future together, Les and Cheryl soon settled into a duplex on Broadway, NW. Their first home was very close to Les’ work, which meant he could easily walk to work and then home for lunch. Les and Cheryl welcomed two beloved children, Jim and Jeff, into their hearts and home. In 1973, the Gilbert family moved to a home on Westgate, and soon after Cheryl’s grandmother also came to live with them for several years.

They felt called to open their home and begin foster care in 2001. They later relocated to a larger house in Nashville, Michigan, and then became a licensed foster home that was able to serve up to six boys at a time. Les and Cheryl eventually adopted John, who was about to age out of foster care. John is now a beloved member of the family. Of all the things Les loved in life, he treasured his family above all else.

Les enjoyed his role as a foster parent and did his best to provide the foster boys and his own children with a loving, caring home. Later in life, he was overjoyed to become a grandfather and even a great-grandfather, and he cherished time with the little ones when he was able to.

Family meant so very much to Les, and he considered himself blessed to be surrounded by so many loved ones. On his last day with us, he visited with his sister, Great Grandchildren and other relatives. That evening he proudly told Cheryl “that was a wonderful day!”

In his free time, Les enjoyed pursuing various hobbies. His coin collection includes over twenty thousand wheat back pennies and a variety of silver coins. He loved the great outdoors, and he enjoyed hunting with family near Bitely. Les was a Boy Scout leader for his children, and they enjoyed the scouts camping trips together. There were also many family camping trips. A favorite memory was traveling in their small Mazda wagon with a large canoe on top filled with tent, sleeping bags & supplies. He always loved meeting new people and could start a conversation with anyone, especially if they were going passed while walking their dog. Les enjoyed country and western music, favoring almost everything by Johnny Cash.

Faith became an important element in his life when his sons were born. Les was baptized on the same day as Jim. Les and Cheryl became members of Trinity Reformed Church where he was very active. Most recently he also served as a trustee at Pathway Wesleyan. Les’ love for numbers allowed him to serve as a treasurer for many organizations including employee Credit Union, a bowling league, the neighborhood association, and church boards.

One of the things that is most remarkable about Les’ active lifestyle is that he had more than a few health struggles to contend with. He had his first heart valve replacement at age 52. A few years later was diagnosed with lymphoma stage 4 that miraculously went into remission. In 2010 Les was diagnosed with esophageal junction cancer, again stage 4 with a miraculous recovery. Shortly after, had a heart attack and needed another heart valve replacement. Then in 2019 after routine blood test, Les was diagnosed with AML that required chemotherapy. Finally in 2021 he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He then spent several weeks at Butterworth 5 Center in isolation before returning home for his final week with his family. His faith never wavered during these trials.

As family and friends can attest, Lester James Gilbert Jr. truly understood the secret to a life well lived. He always managed to keep a positive attitude, even in the midst of hardships and health struggles. Les was a shining example of hard work and generosity. He considered himself blessed to share his time and love with so many friends and family members. Though he will be dearly missed, Les leaves behind a priceless legacy that his loved ones will proudly carry on in his footsteps.

Mr. Lester “Les” James Gilbert age 78, of Belmont, passed peacefully on May 9, 2021 at his home. Les is survived by his wife of 57 years, Cheryl; sons, Jim (Beth) Gilbert, Jeff Gilbert and John Gilbert; grandchildren, Andrew (Sarah) Gilbert, Amanda Gilbert, Adam (Traci) Gilbert, Justin Gilbert, Jordan Gilbert and Megan (Graham) Ferris; and 7 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his siblings, Thomas (Marieta) Gilbert and Nancy (Larry) Couturier; brothers-in-law, Tom Burgess, Dale Carpenter and William (Nancy) Burgess; sister-in-law, Alleen (Carl) Aardsma; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his sisters-in-law, Lenora Carpenter and Darlene Burgess. A memorial service will take place at Pathway Church in Saranac on June 11, 2021 at 4:00pm with light dinner following. Contributions in his memory may be made to Lymphoma and Leukemia Society or to Ronald McDonald House of Cincinnati. Please visit www.heritagelifestory.com to read Les’s life story, submit a favorite memory, photo or to sign the guestbook online.