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Life Story / Obituary
With ways all her own, Willa Bauer was a woman of strength and an example for her family to live by. Those who knew and loved her can attest to her unwavering faith in her Lord and Savior as well as the family she so dearly loved. Willa was kind and thoughtful, and her caring generosity of spirit knew no bounds. Although she will be deeply missed, her memory will forever be remembered in the lives of those she leaves behind.
Willa’s story began at a time of great political unrest the world over. Although it was turning point of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl years created havoc on American farmlands from coast to coast. Actor Clark Gable was at the height of fame and musician Duke Ellington serenaded all with his infamous style. Yet in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the birth of Willa Joan on February 12, 1934, brought forth hopeful tomorrows in the hearts of her family. The daughter of Frebus “Fred” and Johanah “Joan” (Jelles) Bos, her parents immigrated from The Netherlands as young children. Although her mother was born in The Netherlands, her mother’s family first moved to South Africa due to the discord in Holland before eventually making their way to the U.S.
To support their small yet growing family, Willa’s father worked as a tool and die maker for General Motors while her mother was a homemaker and worked as a secretary. Willa was merely two years old when a baby brother was sadly stillborn, and it was also during this time when her father became quite ill. At the age of ten, Willa was able to welcome a sibling to call her own when her younger brother, James came along. Even though there was a tad of resentment, Willa had said with a smile, “I was the star of the show for ten years and now I had to share limelight!”
Willa grew up in their family home at 1105 Watkins Ave. SE in Grand Rapids. Raised in faith, Willa and her family were members of Neland Christian Reformed Church. Even though Willa’s parents were quite liberal by CRC standards, faith and their church home played an integral part in Willa’s life. During the holidays and other special occasions, treasured memories were shared and enjoyed in the Bos home as it was the place to gather and celebrate anything and everything for all of Willa’s immediate and extended family alike. February was an especially busy time for celebrations as it was not only Willa’s birth month, but that of her father, brother, uncle and aunt, also!
During her youth, Willa enjoyed roller and ice skating with neighborhood friends. She attended Oakdale Christian School through the ninth grade. She went on to graduate from Grand Rapids Christian High School with the Class of 1952 before obtaining her BA in music education from Calvin College in 1956. A talented young girl, Willa played the piano and had a talented singing voice. During her school years she taught piano lessons and sang in the glee club at school and the choir at church. In fact, Willa played the organ at her high school graduation and for recitals while attending Calvin.
Willa met the young man who would forever hold her heart while serving as a substitute organ player at St. John’s Evangelical Reformed Church (now St. John’s United Church of Christ). A handsome young Roger Bauer was singing in the church choir and the two became quite smitten from the moment they met. He was especially taken with her sweet smile. Being four years older, Roger worked in purchasing at a local company and had his own home. Having asked for her hand in marriage, the couple waited two years until Willa earned her college degree. She went on to graduate on a Friday, and the following Friday, June 8, 1956, Willa and Roger were joined in marriage at the Calvin Seminary Chapel in Grand Rapids.
The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon to Canada before heading to the East coast. While in Montreal they even tried smoking cigarettes for the first and last time together, along with sharing a glass of wine! They made Roger’s house their first home at 558 Spencer NE where they welcomed two sons. Randy came along in 1957 followed by Brian in 1959. A duplex, they rented the other half as rental income for seven years until building their family home on Charlotte Ave. NW. With two little boys under foot, it was a lot of hard, rigorous work as they did most all of the finishing work on the house themselves. To celebrate, they actually burnt their work clothes, stiff as a board from paint and varnish! In time, they were blessed with the birth of their third son, Ken in 1968 who completed their family. Willa and Roger raised their boys in faith. They were members of St. John’s UCC before transferring to Central Reformed Church where they dedicated their time and talents for 15 years. They eventually began attending Mayflower Congregational Church where they could serve with their musical talents.
As a mother, Willa was usually the disciplinarian who balanced their home with much love, fun and affection. She was an attentive and involved mother, and supported not only her husband, but her sons in all their endeavors. She made a delightful home for Roger and the boys as a homemaker in addition to teaching piano lessons and playing the organ when needed. As a family, they did a lot of camping through the years, starting out in a tent and making their way into a camper. One of their favorite places to camp was on Manitoulin Island where cherished times were spent making numerous memories. The outdoors was always a place of enjoyment for Willa, Roger and the kids. They also spent time traveling out west, to the east coast and north to Canada. When her sons married, Willa counted their wives as her own daughters, and treated them as such.
Over the years, the Bauer home was always open for entertaining and having guests. Willa knew her way around the kitchen and some family favorites included her roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy dinners, and her homemade Kartoffel dumplings were simply the best!
With her giving nature, Willa selflessly gave of her time and talents. She volunteered for the Circle Theater at John Ball Park and bought candy to sell at the concession stand there. She also served as a volunteer at a local mission chapel, UCOM, area blood banks and food panties in addition to serving on the board at church and in other church capacities. She and Roger were longtime volunteers at Meijer Gardens and just recently retired from serving at the reception desk there after 13 wonderful years.
Willa and Roger both had a penchant for travel. After retirement, they spent the cold months of winter for 25 plus years in their Naples, Florida condo and made special relationships with those they came to know there. They also took in destinations such as the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Japan, England, and Europe. In her free time, Willa enjoyed listening to classical orchestral and guitar music as well as church music. In her younger years she was an avid reader and later she became a fan of watching game shows. Willa counted her Carl Forslund bird figurine collection as treasures and also vases from Europe handed down to her from her grandmother. These are now in safekeeping with one of her sons.
After retiring, Willa and Roger sold their family home on Charlotte and moved to a condo in Allendale. As the years wore on, it was clear they both needed assistance. Although they did not care for the confines of senior living, they made the move to Covenant Living of the Great Lakes. It was a hard move but nonetheless needed as Willa’s health began to fail. She and Roger felt miserable having lost so many dear friends as the years went by and often said the task of getting older can be disheartening. Even so, Willa and Roger made the most of the last two and a half years together at Covenant and felt blessed just simply being together.
Willa Bauer, by her own account, lived a long and blessed, fruitful life filled with the love of family and many dear friends. She considered herself a woman of simple means yet rich in all God had given her. She added much to the lives of others and in those she loved, she found her greatest joy. Gone yet never to be forgotten is the very heart of Willa whose memory lives on forevermore.
Willa Joan (Bos) Bauer, age 88, of Grand Rapids, MI, went to be with her Lord and Savior on Thursday, August 11, 2022. She was born in 1934 to Fred and Johanna Bos in Grand Rapids, MI. Willa is survived by her husband of 66 years, Roger and their three sons: Randy (Leslie), Brian (Debbie) and Ken (Kristin). Willa’s grandchildren are Steven Bauer, Emma (Jon) Elms and Becca Bauer. Also surviving is her great-granddaughter, Piper Elms; and brother, James (Marybeth) Bos, as well as nieces and nephews. Funeral services, officiated by Rev. Steve Armfield, will be held at Mayflower Congregational Church, (2345 Robinson Rd SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506) on Friday, August 19, 2022, 11:00 AM. Friends may meet with the family on Thursday, August 18, 2022, 6-8 PM also at Mayflower Congregational Church as well as one prior to the funeral service on Friday beginning at 10:00 AM. The service will be live streamed for those unable to attend in person. A link to the livestream will be added below before the service. For those who wish, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, (185 Oakes St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503). To share a favorite memory of Willa and to sign her online guest book, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.