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Life Story / Obituary
Tom Van Ess was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. He had a natural passion for people as well as the outdoors. Spending time with his family meant everything to him and he treasured their many special holiday traditions over the years. His warm personality and steadfast love will be deeply missed and lovingly remembered by all who knew and loved him.
The 1940s were characterized by WWII. Some of the most significant inventions that would impact lives for many years to come were created during this time period including the Transistor and the Mobile Phone. Anthony and Geraldine (Crawford) Van Ess were delighted when Thomas Lee arrived on September 21, 1946, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Born the youngest of five children, his birth brought his parents great joy and happiness.
Raised by a hard-working father, who immigrated from the Netherlands, and worked in manufacturing, and a mother who was a wonderful homemaker, Tom learned the value of a hard day’s work and was proud of his heritage. He lived a typical childhood of the times at the family home on Diamond Street. Raised with enough siblings to cause a little mischief from time to time, there was never a dull moment in the Van Ess household! He attended Stocking Elementary. As a teen, he enjoyed working with his hands in shop and woodworking class sparking a passion for the skilled trades. Graduating with the Class of 1964 from Grand Rapids Central High, he set off to complete his degree as an apprentice. Later, he worked as a journeyman before landing in design work. Anything Tom set his mind to accomplish, he did with a strong desire to succeed. His career in the field included working for several well-known companies including; Quality Die and Mold, Plastic Mold Technologies and General Die. Tom’s strong work ethic and ability to connect with others were unsurpassed.
Not to be forgotten, was the meeting of Bonnie Mann, his first wife and mother of his two sons, Tim and Tom. Married in the fall of 1967, they shared their years on Arthur Street downtown adjacent to where Fountain Street comes to a dead end. Just like clockwork, when Tom’s Volkswagon Beetle came up the road, the boys knew it was time for dinner! Although their marriage ended in divorce, they made many lasting memories together as a family. The boys spent their weekends with Tom going bowling in the winter months and fishing on the boat that Tom owned with his brother who was nicknamed, “Double Trouble” in warmer weather. Sadly, the boys moved to Texas with their mother and Tom lost a large part of their growing years. He made every effort to stay in touch, yet the distance made things difficult. It wasn’t until his oldest son, Tom, turned twenty-two and was getting married that they reconnected.
A few years after he and Bonnie divorced, he met Marcia Kleibush on a blind date. The two of them hit it off and were married on October 4, 1974. Together they raised two wonderful children; Joseph and Jessica. Moving to Carol Street SW, the family shared many memorable moments. Tom was a strict dad when it came to family mealtime and never liked food to be wasted. Joe and Jessica learned at an early age that he would have no trouble waiting them out until the food on their plate was gone, even if it meant the lights were turned off and it was time for bed! As much as he was strict, he was equally as generous! When Jessica wanted a new pair of jeans, for example, he’d grab his wallet and lay down the money for her! At Christmastime, no gift was too big or too expensive in his eyes. He loved to treat them with special surprises. Most of the time they celebrated at their grandfather’s home in Cedar Springs where they made the best of memories. They enjoyed many family vacations, saving one week in the summer for camping at Salmon Run on Muskegon River as well as going deer hunting in the fall. Despite their many years together, by 1999, he and Marcia also divorced.
Tom lived his life to the fullest and held many special interests. Although he worked six days a week, he saved Sundays for his sports! He was an avid fan of the University of Michigan football and basketball teams as well as the Detroit Lions. He had an uncanny ability to remember stats from players and could literally pull them out of thin air! In addition to the stats, he also had a real love of history and was always interested in having conversations about current events over a couple of Heinekens! Tom loved cars, especially fast cars, as long as they were American made! He loved to tinker with them for hours and fix them up until they met his standards. Often paying cash for them, Tom kept his cars in meticulous condition making them last far longer than most their age!
A true planner and organizer, Tom never missed an opportunity to plan the annual walleye fishing trip with his brothers or special friends and co-workers for the past thirty-five years! He had the trip so well planned that they knew exactly what they would be served on each night of the trip! The would book their stay at the Woods Cabins along Oba Lake in Ontario, a fly-in destination and a fisherman’s dream! They normally traveled by way of the Algoma Central train up to mile marker 212 and unloaded their supplies onto a barge. One year, however, they flew in and underestimated their cargo needing a second plane just to haul their beer! Each and every trip held its own special story and memories and no one could ever forget the taste of the fresh walleye they reaped as a benefit! Sadly in 2017, Tom lost his close brother, John. These past few years without him were an especially hard time for Tom. He never truly was able to accept the loss and his health began to deteriorate. Tom leaves behind countless memories of shared happiness and special moments spent with his loved ones. May they always look back fondly on his generosity and his easy-going personality knowing they always held a special place in his heart.
Thomas Lee Van Ess, age 73, of Grand Rapids, passed away on February 15, 2020. He was preceded in death by his siblings; Jim, John, and Sally; and grandson, Jory Van Ess. Tom is survived by his children; Tom (Deborah) Cook, Tim Cook, Joseph (Angela Andrews) Van Ess, and Jessica (Brandon) Vidal; grandchildren; Brenton, Breanna, Haley, Sophia, Quinne, Griffen, Myles, Avianna and Rorke; great-grandchildren; Jacob, Haevin, Merik, Judson, and Owen; brother, Tony (Bonnie) Van Ess; and many nieces and nephews. Visitation will be held from 2-4 PM on Saturday, February 22, 2020, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Bissell Pet Foundation. Please visit www.heritagelifestory.com to submit a favorite memory, photo, or sign the guestbook online.