Wednesday, March 24, 2021
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM EDT
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Hills Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Masks, social distancing and 25 person capacity.
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.
Riley Hoeksema Memorial Endowment Fund
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Walt Hoeksema was a vibrant person who loved life. A practical jokester, lover of all people, and anything Spartans, he lived his life to the fullest. Walt saw the good in all people and valued the importance of education. He made many lasting friendships during his career as an educator and wanted nothing more than to share in his growing family’s many successes. Gone too soon, his legacy of being generous with both his time and his resources will be treasured by his close friends and loved ones.
1942 was a period of time marked by WWII; where families in the United States were experiencing a gas rationing of only three gallons a week and a new breed of movies with war themes were hatching. During the years of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walter and Hazel (Slikkers) Hoeksema were pleased to announce the birth of their baby boy, Walter David, on April 22nd, in Holland, Michigan. Later joined by his sister, Barbara, his birth brought much joy and promise in an era of great change.
Walt’s mischievous side was found at a young age. He often hid rotten apples in boots. Growing up, he had two close friends and whenever they were in a disagreement he referred to them affectionately as Piss Frog and Toilet paper! He and his high school buddies, EJ and Paul were into all things as teenagers, especially cars. The moment he had the keys to his first real car, a Buick Gran Sport, he picked them up for a spin around town. He and Paul Van’t Hof remained lifelong friends. Walt did his best to participate in the band, but music was not his passion and he would often throw his music case down and kick it down the sidewalk! His short stature in high school earned him a bench-warming spot on his high school basketball team until he later sprouted to a lean 6’8”. Graduating with the Class of 1960 from Holland Christian High School, he set off for Calvin College to study biology.
As fate would have it, attending Calvin wasn’t only about getting his education, it was for the chance meeting of Jan Hopkins who would later change the course of his life forever! His sister, Barbara had asked him if he could give her friend, Jan a ride back home to Hudsonville. He gladly accepted as well as charged her the full fifty-cent rate even though the drive was on his way home to Holland! Later, he asked Jan out on a date. Afterward, she didn’t hear from him for a full year. After Calvin, he went to Western Michigan University for his Master's degree. It was here he fell in love with microbiology and his passion for science. Walt proudly graduated in 1966 and wasted no time in rekindling with Jan and proposing.
With a spark for learning, he enrolled at Michigan State University in pursuit of his doctorate. The happy couple married on December 20, 1966, at Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville before returning to married housing after a romantic honeymoon in Miami. Four years later, he had completed his thesis, "The Biochemical Basis for Sulfate and Riboflavin Accumulation by Salmonella Pullorum" was presented to the American Society for Microbiology at a national convention. It was perfect timing for their move to Big Rapids where he took a job teaching pharmacy and other health science students at Ferris State and Jan accepted a position as a nurse in the area. They made their home in Rockford where they welcomed home their two wonderful children, Matt and Jen.
A highlight in his career was taking a nine-month sabbatical at the University of Wisconsin doing research for Howard Temin, who won the medical Nobel Peace Prize. His work was vast yet he was consistently aware that time is fleeting. As a result, family dinners remained a priority for Walt. As a dad, although his work life was demanding, he was very active in his kids’ lives. He also took time to play countless hours of one on one basketball with Matt and his friend and supported Jen in her many endeavors over her developing years. When the kids grew older as adults, Walt loved to treat them out to special dinners. Surrounded around a table together was where they shared great stories, laughter, and memories. When the table grew to include their spouses, he savored finding the best restaurant around to satisfy his need to spoil them to the fanciest meal in town! He would glance at the bill then smile proudly whenever he set a new record on the cost! There simply wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his family.
Before his retirement in 2010, Walt had earned Teacher of the Year from Ferris State in 1997 as well as Michigan University Teacher of the Year in 1999. He shared a great love of learning and remained close with his teaching partner, Mike Ryan, from Ferris. Close for many years, they were otherwise known as the “smiling assassins.” Quick-witted and extremely smart, Walt enjoyed playing local trivia where he normally won! With an immense passion for his MSU Spartans, Walt enjoyed many years cheering them on. He and Jan enjoyed many travels including several cruises and trips to Europe and South America. They also bought a winter home in Englewood, Florida where they enjoyed getting away from the harsh coldness of Midwest winters. He shared many joyous moments as a grandfather. Walt cherished any amount of time his family was together especially at Christmas time watching them open presents and sharing in family traditions. Patient, approachable, and well-respected, Walt will be deeply missed. He always looked on the bright side of life and added humor to any situation. His special friends and family will always remember him for his genuine kindness and compassion toward others. May his warm memories continue to warm their hearts whenever they are gathered together.
Walter David Hoeksema, age 78, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, passed away with his family by his side on Monday, March 15, 2021. He died as a result of complications from a serious auto accident on February 10, 2021. Walt was preceded in death by his parents, sister, Barbara Van Laar and much loved and missed grandson, Riley Hoeksema. Walt was a graduate of Calvin College, Western Michigan University, and Michigan State University and went on to teach Microbiology at Ferris State University in Big Rapids for over 40 years. Walt achieved many awards and accolades for his achievements as an educator, but his true passions were his family and Michigan State athletics. Saturdays with his family in Spartan Stadium was Walt’s most favorite activity. Walt leaves behind his beloved wife of over 50 years, Janice (Hopkins) along with his son Matthew (Lynn) Hoeksema, daughter Jennifer (Erik) Cliff, and grandchildren; Allison and Christian Hoeksema and Wyatt and Ryder Cliff.