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Life Story / Obituary
A true servant of God, Ruth Van Valkenburg lived a life rich in faith and family. She strove each day to be the best wife, mother and grandmother she could possibly be and to give selflessly of her time. She will be lovingly remembered for her deep devotion to her family and her unwavering faith.
With more than a quarter of all Americans unemployed, families struggled to make ends meet in the early 1930s. Many lived by the motto “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” Families made every effort to keep life as normal as possible during such tough economic times. For Cecil and Jeanette (Reyers) Boerma, 1934 brought a glimmer of hope to their family as they welcomed their daughter, Ruth Ann, into their loving family on August 24. She joined her sister Marion in the family’s Grand Rapids home. Later, siblings Leonard and Lois would complete their family.
Growing up on the North East side of Grand Rapids, life was not always easy for the Boerma family. Cecil was a machinist in a factory and in addition to being a homemaker, Jeanette worked as a seamstress in order to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Because money was so tight, Ruth became an excellent seamstress, sewing many of her own clothes. Treats were rare, but occasionally, on a Sunday, Ruth’s father would bring home a bottle of Coca-Cola for the four children to share. Despite the hardships that they faced, or maybe because of them, the children shared a close bond that would continue on for their entire lives.
Even as a child, Ruth was disciplined and hard-working. As a teenager, she babysat for a large family. She noticed that their kitchen was quite a mess and after the children were all attended to, she set out to clean and organize it. When the mother returned home, she was so touched by Ruth’s efforts and that she broke down in tears. To show her gratitude, she also paid Ruth the exorbitant amount of $20! When she returned home, Ruth’s mother refused to allow her to keep that amount of money and she was forced to return it.
Ruth attended Palmer Elementary School and Creston High School. She had a natural talent for music and in addition to singing in the high school choir, she also taught herself to play both the piano and the organ. In the winter, she enjoyed ice skating with friends. Following her graduation from Creston High School, Ruth and a friend headed off on a road trip to California, much to the chagrin of her parents!
A few years later, while visiting Grand Haven with a group of her friends, Ruth bumped into a fellow graduate of Creston High School. Donald Van Valkenburg was a familiar face from school, but they had never really met. After getting to know each other they started dating and fell deeply in love. In 1955, they were happily joined in marriage at Ruth’s family church, Plainfield United Methodist Church. The young couple enjoyed a romantic honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains before returning home to settle on the Northeast side of Grand Rapids. Ruth and Don lived in an apartment for a time before purchasing a duplex on Coit Avenue NE.
Ruth and Don settled into married life easily. Don worked at General Motors for a time and then moved on to various positions as a sales representative. Ruth was a self-taught accountant working for a while at a dental office before moving on to Lear Siegler Company in Grand Rapids, and eventually landing at Steelcase Furniture Company where she would remain until her retirement. Her bookkeeping talents also came in handy for some of Don’s work endeavors.
After selling their duplex on Coit Avenue, Ruth and Don purchased a home on Ball Avenue NE. It was here, in 1964 after almost 9 year of marriage that they welcomed their first son, David into their hearts and home. They were blessed yet again, three years later, with the birth of their son John in 1967. As a parent, Ruth was firm and demanding, but she also encouraged and supported her sons in all of their undertakings.
Don and the boys enjoyed Ruth’s meat and potato dinners and they could count on a big Sunday dinner each week. As much as Ruth loved cooking for her family, Sunday night was “pizza night”. After making a large meal earlier in the day, cleaning up the kitchen a second time was not something Ruth cared to undertake! She preferred to order take out and keep the kitchen tidy!
Ruth and Don were very active in their boys’ lives and they were always in attendance at their various sporting events and school activities. They loved to travel as a family and it was tradition to spend Christmas vacations somewhere with a warmer climate. However, Thanksgiving was celebrated at home with all the fixings for her family and relatives. After the boys were grown and on their own, Ruth and Don continued to travel extensively visiting Australia, Europe, Mexico, Canada and many destinations in the U.S.
True to her servant’s heart, Ruth was very active in her church. She was a part of every church group, club and committee and she faithfully attended services every Sunday, singing in the choir and playing in the bell choir. She was a very active and engaged member at both Plainfield and Northlawn United Methodist Churches, where she enjoyed bible study, knitting group, Women’s Circle and various roles as a volunteer, helping out wherever needed. And, for church activities, you could always count on Ruth to bring her “brown bread.” If that wasn’t enough, she also found time to volunteer at the various non-profit organizations that her son, John, was involved with.
In her free time, Ruth enjoyed mystery novels and authors like John Grisham and Ruth Wares. As a hobby, she created and collected ceramic figurines. Her sewing machine was one of her most cherished possession and though sewing her clothes was necessity as a child, it was a source of enjoyment as an adult. Gifts from Don, like her diamonds and fine jewelry, or Obsession perfume as well as her fine China, were all things Ruth treasured.
Eating out was always a pleasure for Ruth with scallops being one of her favorite restaurant meals. Russ’, Brans Steak House, Arnie’s Bakery and Lanning’s were just a few of her favorite establishments. Ruth had a gift for making and fostering long-time friendships by keeping in touch and meeting up for lunch or dinner out.
Ruth was thrilled when her sons married and her family grew to include grandchildren: Lauren, Logan, Grant and Seth. Being a grandma, or Oma, was one of life’s greatest pleasures. She was quick to shop for the kids, and always added toys/games for them to enjoy when they visited. Whether baking, playing cards, swimming, or just hanging out, the grandkids always looked forward to spending time with their Oma. She was a strong supporter of all of their events and could be seen on the sidelines cheering, singing softly along at a choir concert, attending graduation, or sometimes just a listening ear in the privacy of her home.
Sadly, Ruth lost her soulmate when Don passed away in 2011. After 56 years of marriage, his loss was difficult to overcome. Thankfully, Ruth had the support of her faith and her family during this difficult time.
Though she was very strong-willed and not afraid to share her opinions, Ruth Van Valkenburg will be remembered as a hard-working, loving and generous woman who treasured her family. She taught us all so much, not necessarily through her words, but by her example. These lessons, as well as the memory of Ruth, will forever live on in the hearts of her loved ones.
Mrs. Ruth Ann Van Valkenburg, age 86, of Grand Rapids went to be with her Lord and Savior with family by her side, on Monday April 5, 2021. Along with her parents, she is preceded in death by her husband of 56 years Donald, who died in 2011, her brother Leonard Boerma, sister Marion York and sister-in-law Carolynne Van Valkenburg. Ruth is survived by her two sons David (Tina) Van Valkenburg, John (Aletha) Van Valkenburg and her beloved grandchildren Lauren, Logan, Grant and Seth Van Valkenburg, as well as her sister Lois, sister-in-law Irma Boerma, brother-in-law Charles (Lynn) Van Valkenburg and many special nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and many friends. A Memorial Service to celebrate her life will be held on Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 11:30 am at Northlawn United Methodist Church, (1157 Northlawn St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505) with Pastor Zach McNees officiating. Relatives and friends are invited to visit with her family prior to the service beginning at 11:00am. The Memorial Service will be available via livestream on the Northlawn UMC facebook page at 11:30am. For those who wish, memorial contributions to the Memorial Fund of Northlawn United Methodist Church would be appreciated. To read more of Ruth's life, share a memory or sign the online register book, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com