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Life Story / Obituary
A faithful follower of Christ, Robert Eugene Kole lived a life centered on being a good steward of God’s earth, providing for his family, and serving the community. Bob was a hard worker who saw reason for gratitude in life’s challenges, as well as its joys. Over the years, Bob helped build every community he was a part of, whether by hosting hayrides for the church youth group, serving as church elder, or using his roofing skills at a Habitat for Humanity build. A committed husband, father, grandfather, brother, and community member, Bob was a man of principle and integrity who earned the respect of all who knew him.
The middle of the three children born to Andrew and Venus (DeBrot) Kole, Bob grew up on a dairy farm in the good company of his older brother, Earl, and younger sister, Betty. From a young age, all the children were expected to contribute to the care of the farm, doing chores before and after school. As the younger son, Bob ended up doing the least desirable chores. In spite of that, he developed a love of hard work and the sense of accomplishment that it brought. This, and his love for God, were the twin foundations on which he built his life.
Throughout his life, there were moments when Bob felt the protection of angels. The first was when he was three years old and was caught in a corn binder. What could have ended in tragedy resulted only in a broken leg.
Bob attended local schools, including Dayton Center School, which was just across the pasture. As a high schooler, he was an active member of 4-H and earned the honor of attending the National 4-H Club Congress in Chicago. After graduating from Fremont High School, Bob furthered his education for a year at Michigan State College.
While in high school, Bob had the good fortune of meeting the love of his life, Ruthan Vontom, at a 4-H meeting. The pair dated, and they were soon setting their hearts on sharing the future together. On November 24, 1951, Bob and Ruthan exchanged their marriage vows at Blufton Chapel in Muskegon, officially beginning their nearly 69-year adventure together.
Encouraged by his brother Earl, who was in the Army, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Airforce. For four years, Bob served his country as a weather observer. During these years, he was stationed in Florida, Greenland, and finally, Ohio. When Bob was stationed in the states, Ruthan was able to stay with him, and the couple welcomed their first three children in as many years into their family. Compared to the hard work of his childhood, military life was less demanding for Bob. He loved going on flights, particularly over the polar ice cap, and he believed that angels stepped in again, keeping him from boarding two different flights that ended tragically.
After safely returning home to West Michigan, Bob formed a farm partnership with his dad, but it didn’t last long. He started his primary job with the US Postal Service, which afforded the opportunity for a full career. He began by doing general mail-handling duties, then moved into several other positions, including a time as interim postmaster. His favorite years were those when he had his own rural mail route.
In the late ’50s, Bob and Ruthan purchased a 102 ½-acre farm for $7800 at 520 S. Brucker, where they lovingly raised their family (which by now had grown to six children) and built countless memories. As in his childhood, the land provided Bob with the satisfaction of his toils. He loved farming more than anything; seeing a successful crop harvested and stored filled him with contentment. About the time they bought the farm, Bob experienced loss with the death of his brother and mother.
As a father, Bob dedicated himself to being a provider and role model. He was strict and had high expectations for his children, especially when it came to their chores and contributing to the family’s well-being. The kids quickly learned to do as they were told and to give their best efforts. Many of their memories involve working alongside him, tending the large garden, harvesting wood from the woodlot across the street, and spending countless hours picking up stones from the fields (in the never-ending quest).
Bob was determined to make every acre a productive acre, in one way or another. With hard work, frugality, and resourcefulness, the family transformed the entire farm into a picturesque, high-yield property. In addition to working at the Post Office and farming, he also continued the roofing business begun by his father. Roofing afforded yet another way for Bob to work alongside his children and give instructions like, “Don’t look down. Your work is right in front of you,” which proved to be good advice not only for roofing but for living life, in general.
Though a place that required constant work, the farm was also a place of great fun. With an understanding of the need to balance hard work with at least occasional play, Bob loved pulling his children behind us the tractor on “tin rides” in the winter or figuring out how to make his toboggan go faster. He possessed a terrific sense of humor and often lightened a moment with his quick wit. If their work was done by 7 pm or so, a dip in Crystal Lake by Wooster was in order, and he also sometimes capped off a particularly long day of haying with his favorite indulgence, A&W Root Beer floats.
Bob and Ruthan fostered an active faith life in their home. The family had devotions every night after dinner, and though not always punctual, they never missed a Sunday morning or evening service, or a Wednesday night catechism class.
Bob firmly believed “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,” (Luke 12:48) and so he gave back. At First Reformed Church in Fremont, Bob was a Sunday School teacher and a deacon. He and Ruthan were also RCYF youth group leaders and were very active in hospitality. As founding members of Church of the Living Christ, a Reformed Church in America congregation also in Fremont, Bob and Ruthan gave much of their time supporting their faith community. Bob joined many of his fellow churchmen in installing the first roof on the new building, and he served as a Sunday School teacher and an elder. Bob and Ruthan’s hospitality included inviting church new-comers for dinner at their home.
Bob and Ruthan’s pride and joy are their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. As their children married and moved away, Bob and Ruthan were intentional about gathering the growing family for reunions. For many years, at two-year intervals, the family gathered at various venues around the U.S. to spend a week building memories. Bob took joy in simply listening to the chatter, laughter, and interaction between the six siblings, their spouses, and children, and he especially loved playing cards with the grandkids. Bob and Ruthan also made time to travel, even before retirement. Two of their most memorable trips include a trip to Israel and an excursion to the Netherlands.
Upon retiring from the USPS in 1990, he continued his volunteerism. He became involved with Habitat for Humanity and engaged his fellow churchmen to serve the disadvantaged in Newaygo county through roof repair, roof replacement, and many other projects. Bob and Ruthan were active members of the local Farm Bureau, and Bob was a long-time 4-H leader in the Tractor Safety Program.
For many years, Bob continued to farm. However, when it became difficult to find help, he leased out the tillable acres. Never one to be idle, he worked for Frens Nursery for a time, rising very early in the morning to get and spray trees while the winds were quiet. Before retiring, Bob had a pole barn purposely built for re-conditioning his beloved Cockshutt tractor collection. In time, he managed to completely restore a Cockshutt 20. In 2004, when Parkinson’s sapped the muscle strength needed to do this work effectively, Bob and Ruthan moved to Covenant Village of the Great Lakes. There, Bob was active as a member of the woodshop committee. He also enjoyed narrating bus outings to Newaygo County, filling people in on the county’s history.
Whether lending his talents to serve his community, hosting a hayride, harvesting rocks, or encouraging his children’s and grandchildren’s pursuits, Bob planted the seeds of God’s goodness and grace. With integrity, unwavering faith, and a “can do” attitude, Bob lived a full and robust life.
Bob (Bud) Kole died at sunrise on Thursday, November 19, 2020, of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Bud lost much to Parkinson’s, but he never lost his sense of humor or sight of God’s goodness.
He was preceded in death by his brother, Earl. He lives on in the hearts and work ethics of his beloved wife, Ruthan; his children, Andy and Linda (Austin) Kole; Mary and Joel Apol; Bev and Al Kraker; Julee and Jon Bode; Margaret and Doug Dosland; and Christine and Brad MacLean; 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren; and his sister Betty Shetterly.