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.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Richard Lee Burke was a man who knew how to have a good time. Naturally social, Rich made friends easily and inspired a party spirit wherever he was. Whether tinkering, boating, playing billiards, listening to music, or sitting around a campfire, Rich enjoyed the spotlight and pursued his interests with a singular focus. Though Rich's life included many challenges, his final years as grandfather and husband were his best. It is these years and memories that will be fondly recalled for many years to come.
Despite the obvious gloom of the growing conflict in Europe, 1939 held much to celebrate, including the end of the Great Depression, the premieres of the classic film Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, regular television began to broadcast nationwide, and The World's Fair in New York. As the US actively armed up for war, families continued to center their lives on love and hope for a brighter future. Nowhere was that hope more evident than in the home of Kenneth and Dorothy (Riley) Burke as they welcomed their son Rich to their family on November 9 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The sixth of nine children, two girls and seven boys, Rich grew up on the lower west side of Grand Rapids. With a large family, there was a lot of roughhousing and some struggles, and Rich always had a way of finding trouble. He started attending Union High School but quickly went in the front and out the back because school wasn't for him. For a time, he participated in Golden Gloves boxing and was really into CB radios; he made lots of friends this way.
As a young man, Rich met Leatrice "Lea" Mercer through mutual friends. When he was fifteen, he moved in with her parents, and he and Lea eventually married. In time, Rich and Lea welcomed four children to their family. While Lea devoted herself completely to creating and maintaining loving and supportive structures for the kids and home, Rich's energies were more self-focused. His kids did come to find that their dad's relaxed ways of being and absence of rules made the house a great place to bring their friends to enjoy the pool table.
Always up for a good time, Rich made friends easily and kept them through the years. He loved to hang out with friends, play music, shoot pool, and play cards and poker – figuratively and literally, there was always a party where Rich was. He loved boating, camping, fishing, and especially cars. He owned a '68 Mustang for a time as well as a 90's Mustang later on. He loved his Shelties and had many canine companions over the years, including Blue, Huck, Sabrina, and Chaka. In later years, he collected coins.
Mechanically inclined and inquisitive from a young age, Rich was good at working with his hands. He could tear anything apart to see how it worked and put it back together successfully. Building an addition to the family home was a pride point for Rich. He held some jobs through the years, starting as a transmission mechanic, then becoming a heavy equipment operator in the construction industry. As he grew older, he started driving a truck and became an over-the-road truck driver. Sometimes Lea would accompany him on these long hauls. In his later years, he worked for Dave's Batteries.
Upon becoming a grandpa, Rich seemed to find his best self. Full of fun and adventure, he was a wonderful grandpa, and his grandchildren thought the world of him. Many fond memories of their time with him and Lea will be long treasured, especially summer weekends spent together at their campsite at Big Bend campground near Newaygo. Rich often had a boat and loved pulling them on a tube, working on throwing them off, all while Lea told him to be careful. He also enjoyed attending some of their special events. Rich's grandparenting joy grew even greater upon welcoming each of his great-grandchildren to his family.
Although life was not always easy, and Rich didn't make the best choices, his devotion to Lea lasted his lifetime. Just prior to the pandemic, as her health declined and she needed more care, Lea moved to an assisted living facility. Her absence and the ensuing isolation were hard on Rich. Eventually, he later joined her at Samaritas, where he lived for the last 15 months.
Richard Lee Burke, age 83, of Grand Rapids, passed away May 23, 2023. He is survived by his wife, Leatrice; children Sheree Tatar, Rick & Cindy Burke, Marjorie & Mark Swenson; grandchildren Sherice Tatar, Jill (Matt) Boisonault, Jennifer (Matt) Fullmer, Rick (Nicole) Burke, Josh (Crystal) Burke, Kelley Blik, Steven Fischer, Justin Sivens, Brandon (Carly) Burke, AJ (Becca) Burke; many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Rich was preceded in death by his daughter and son-in-law Colleen & Dennis Bacca; brothers and sisters Evelyn Collins, Bob Burke, Donald Burke, Kenneth Burke, Chester Burke, Tom Burke, George Burke, and Pluma Burke.
The service to remember and celebrate his life will be held on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at 11 AM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW. Friends are invited to visit with his family at the funeral home on Friday from 6-8 PM and on Saturday at the funeral home beginning at 10 AM.
For those who wish, memorial contributions to Mackenzie's Animal Sanctuary are appreciated. To read more about Rich's life, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.heritagelifestory.com